24/12/14

The failure of reconstruction after the 2004 tsunami

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It was 00.58 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) on 26 December 2004 — ten years ago today — when a magnitude 9 earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, unleashed energy estimated to be equivalent to 23,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. The tremor triggered a series of waves. In the open ocean, these travelled at hundreds of miles an hour. As the waves approached the coastlines of 14 countries in regions from Eastern Africa to South-East Asia they slowed, but rose to up to 30 metres in height. According to the UN, the Boxing Day Tsunami killed nearly 230,000 people and left millions homeless or without access to food, water and the means to make a living.

In the years that followed the devastation, governments and international organisations started to rebuild streets, piers and entire villages. Today, many of these areas are full of life again. But the traces of the wave have not disappeared from everywhere. On Ko Phra Thong, a small island on Thailand’s west coast, there is what looks like a ghost town. Baan Lion is a village that was built to house those who survived the destruction of Pak Chok, a nearby village of 85 homes that the tsunami completely wiped out.

Seventy five of its inhabitants died in the disaster and many more lost their boats and fishing equipment. In response, US charity the Lions Club International Foundation embarked on a project to build new homes for the surviving villagers. Baan Lion, which means ‘lion’s village’ in English in reference to those who funded its construction, was completed in 2009. 

But today the village seems deserted and the school is abandoned. So, what went wrong, what lessons have been learnt and does the village’s future lie along a different path: with ecotourism and nature conservation?