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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 11:25 GMT
Thai village struggles to rebuild
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Khlong Prasong, Thailand

In some ways the small island community of Khlong Prasong counts itself lucky.

Like much of Thailand's west coast it was hit by the devastating Asian tsunami, yet no one in the 400-strong community died.

Boats being rebuilt, near Krabi
Repairing livelihoods and communities will take years
But the tsunami changed the lives of far more people than those now mourning loved ones. Away from the famous resorts and tourist beaches, hundreds of small communities like Khlong Prasong now face a long, difficult challenge to rebuild.

Before the disaster, the people of Khlong Prasong had two sources of income - fishing and tourism.

Now they are struggling to make money from either.

"We're afraid we're going to get forgotten, and all the aid is going to go to Phi Phi island and other areas where the destruction is greater," said Donjit Hafah.

Mr Hafah, like most people in his predominantly Islamic village, is dependent on boats for a living - boats which are now mostly strewn around the island needing to be repaired.

"Boats are our life. If we don't have a boat, we don't have a livelihood," said village elder Maad Oonbutr.

Even if they find the money to mend their boats, the villagers stand little chance of earning enough to live on.

It is meant to be high season for the tourist town of Krabi on the mainland, just 25 minutes away by boat from Khlong Prasong.

Villagers face uncertain future

But Krabi's hotels and restaurants are empty, as almost all those holidaying in the area have decided to leave in the aftermath of the tsunami.

So there is little call for the boat drivers from Khlong Prasong, who used to come to the mainland every day to take tourists on trips around the islands.

Fishing is little better. Most of the community's nets have been washed away by the tsunami. And few people want to eat fish now anyway. Those involved in hauling corpses from the beaches, washed up entwined with fish and other ocean life, simply have not got the stomach to eat seafood.

Continuing fears

Two weeks on from the tsunami, the people of Khlong Prasong are still suffering from the trauma of their experience.

"I still can't sleep. I keep thinking another tsunami is going to come. The waves and the tides are still not normal and I'm very scared," said Samari Koonlong.

"Last night I was just sitting watching the waves," Maad Oonbutr said. "I thought about the children who ran towards the sea when the tsunami came, and how near they were to drowning."

Some people on the island are even thinking about leaving for the mainland.

Maad Oonbutr
Maad Oonbutr is worried about the village's future
Mr Hafah's house has been badly damaged - his bed ended up in a bush on the other side of his shrimp pond.

"I want to stay on the island and sell shrimp," he said. "But if I don't get enough money to repair my house, I won't have much option."

Everyone in Khlong Prasong and other affected island areas have so far received food parcels and 2,000 baht ($50) in aid, which - while very welcome - is not enough to pay for many of the repairs.

"I haven't cried yet," said Mr Hafah. "I keep smiling to try to stop the tears. But my wife has cried until her eyes swelled up."

For others in the village, there is simply no option but to stay. "This is the only life I know," said Boonchuai Madohsot.


As head of his village, Maad Oonbutr is scared for the future of his community.

"I never imagined something like this would happen. The tsunami has made me aware that the village is not a safe place to live in. It's changed the whole way I look at the world," he said.

According to Sophia Buranakul, project manager for a local non-profit foundation, this is a worrying sign.

"If even a community leader is questioning the whole existence of his village, I don't know whether the people will have the strength to rebuild," she said.

"There is huge insecurity here. These people trusted the sea, but when it does something like this to you, you feel a lot less comfortable about it," she said.

Added to that, many villagers think that somehow the tsunami was their own fault, because of years of over-fishing and pollution.

"Too much has been taken from the sea, and now the sea has taken something from us," said Ampan Netbussarakham, the principal of the island's Khlong Yai school.

There are some signs, however, that the community is getting back on its feet.

A bridge has already been rebuilt, and many villagers can be seen hammering at their boats and the walls of their houses, to repair damage done by the tsunami.

On the mainland, too, boatyards are crowded with people - many of whom have lost friends and family - all repairing their vessels in the hope they can carry on as before.

In the words of Mrs Buranakul, "People have lost those they love. They don't want to lose their livelihoods as well."

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