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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 December 2005, 00:23 GMT
Rebuilding livelihoods after the tsunami
By Jon Cronin
BBC News business reporter

Workers in Aceh fix a damaged fishing boat
Thousands of fishing boats were destroyed by the tsunami

When the Asian tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean a year ago killing more than 200,000 people, it also washed away the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

In tourist resorts along the coasts of Thailand and Sri Lanka hotels were left in ruins, while in poorer regions such as Aceh in Indonesia tens of thousands of fishing boats were destroyed and prime agricultural land left contaminated under sea water.

In the 12 months since the Boxing Day 2004 disaster, governments of many of the countries hit by the tsunami have faced the daunting task of rebuilding the economies of the areas affected.

And in spite of a huge international relief effort - a total of $13.6bn has been pledged in humanitarian and reconstruction aid - agencies are warning that it will take years for the local economies of the region to fully recover.

Poverty line

Indonesia's troubled Aceh province was by far the worst hit.

Some 167,000 people were killed or reported missing in Aceh and the nearby island of Nias following the tsunami, according to the latest figures from the Indonesian government.

What we are trying to do is establish livelihoods as quickly as possible, but you can't just repair thousands of fishing boats overnight
Niall Sookoo, ActionAid

The disaster is estimated to have caused $1.2bn of damage to the local economy.

Almost half of the population of Aceh and Nias has been pushed below the poverty line.

"The challenges remain huge," says Joel Hellman, the World Bank's deputy country director for Indonesia, who has been overseeing the international lender's operations in Aceh.

"A lot of people were thrown out of work as a result of the tsunami. The unemployment rate is substantially higher in Aceh than in the rest of the country," he says.

Aceh's economy, already one of the least developed in the region after years of civil war, is forecast to decline by 5%.

Construction boom

Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR), the government-run agency which brings together organisations including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, says progress is being made in Aceh.

Thai Buddhist monk walks through debris at the Similan Beach and Spa Resort Hotel in Khao Lak
Hotels in Khao Lak were among many destroyed by the tsunami

Of the 4,717 fishing boats lost, some 3,122 have been replaced or are being built, according to a recently published BRR report.

Meanwhile, of the 60,000 farmers displaced, two-thirds have been able to return to their land.

The mammoth effort to rebuild thousands of destroyed houses has also sparked a mini-boom in the construction industry.

But while $4.4bn has been committed in aid to the region, only $785m has so far been spent - fuelling anger among locals that the government in Jakarta is not moving fast enough.

"There's a lot of frustration for people in temporary houses or tents. The construction boom is really only just getting under way," says Mr Hellman.

"We also see some frustration from fishermen, especially those not currently living by the shore."

Nervous tourists

For tsunami-hit countries whose economies rely more on tourist dollars, encouraging visitors back to their coastal resorts has been one of the greatest challenges.

Thailand, one of the most popular destinations among European and Asian tourists, says about 12 million visitors arrived on its shores during 2005 - only a million fewer than the country had hoped to attract.

But in Khao Lak, one of the worst hit areas in Thailand where more than 5,000 people died, many top hotels are still in ruins.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that thousands of rooms in Khao Lak remain unopened, while flights to the area are below pre-disaster levels.

Overall, the World Bank estimates that the Thai economy will grow by 4.2% in 2005, down from 6.1% last year.

In Sri Lanka, tourist numbers remained broadly stable between January and September, although visitors from the key western Europe market fell by more than 15%, according to the Sri Lankan tourist board.

"A full recovery will not be possible until capacity is fully restored some time in 2006," the UN World Tourism Organization adds.

New livelihoods

Outside the tourism industry, the story of displaced fishermen and farmers remains the same in Sri Lanka as it is in Aceh.

Two men building a new house in Banda Aceh
A housing construction boom is underway in Aceh

Tens of thousands of traditional wooden fishing boats were destroyed by the tsunami, international development agency Action Aid says.

Among the many reconstruction projects in which it is involved is a boat yard in north eastern Sri Lanka, where local women are employed to build wooden fishing boats.

Action Aid says it wants to equip some of the county's poorest people with new skills, as well as help restore traditional livelihoods.

But it warns that the capacity for many counties in the region to restore their fishing and agricultural industries remains limited.

"What we are trying to do is establish livelihoods as quickly as possible, but you can't just repair thousands of fishing boats overnight," says Niall Sookoo, Action Aid's communications director for the Tsunami.

"To increase that capacity is just impossible. There aren't the carpenters, they aren't the skills. That's the reality," he adds.

"People want things to get back to normal again. They want the same houses, they want the same boats, they want the same livelihoods."

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