South Asia tsunami information   |   Information on Aceh

Thais whose homes have gone fear
losing their land to tourism

10 January 2005

Thai villagers fear the tourism industry could try to exploit the tsunami devastation by buying and developing their land.

With many parts of the country, such as the holiday island of Phuket, already taken over by tourism, pressure has been mounting on less developed areas in the past decade. Now Thais who lost their homes in the disaster are worried that they could also lose their land to unscrupulous developers.

Many villagers displaced by the tsunami do not have documentation proving they own their land, though their families may have lived there for generations. This makes it easy for developers to exploit them.

The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, a non-governmental organisation, is trying to prevent villagers being forced off their land.

"A lot don't have land certificates or documentation of any kind," Tom Kerr, of the ACHR, said yesterday. "Someone who wants to put up a resort hotel could easily push them out.

"The tsunami presents us with an opportunity to help these people to make their ownership of the land more permanent and secure."

In a refugee camp at Baan Bang Muang, 60 miles north of Phuket, nearly 4,000 Thais from the destroyed fishing village of Namkhem are living in tents. Many fear they may never go back to Namkhem because they do not have land certificates to prove they lived there.

"I am worried there is no chance of getting my land back," said Senasana Temjit, 38, a fisherman's wife with two children. My family survived, but our house was made of wood. Nothing is left.

"It is very depressing here and there is nothing to do. I am scared of going back to the village because our house was near the beach and the water frightens me. But 80 per cent of the villagers want to go back."

Architecture students from Bangkok, working for the Community Organisation Development Institution, are drawing up redevelopment plans. "The plans will be a powerful tool when the villagers start talking to the authorities about rebuilding the village," said Mr Kerr.

"Then they can say, `This is how we want to rebuild our village and, please, now we want it on a more secure and permanent basis'."

Sally Pook

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