Baan Nam Khem, a small fishing village on Thailand’s Phang Nga coast, lost more than half of its population of some 5,000 people when the tsunami struck in 2004. Out of its approximately 1,500 houses, only 49 remained after the waves had ebbed, and nearly 50 percent of all Thai nationals killed by the tsunami were from the village.
The disaster was a wake-up call to prioritize disaster preparedness and community resilience-building. As one resident told the Bangkok Post at the time: “The old Ban Nam Khem is gone forever.”
In the days later, Baan Nam Khem, the hardest hit of all Thai coastal villages, became one of 17 pilot communities identified by UNDP for participation in its Community-Based Disaster Risk Management and Preparedness project. Now 10 years after the tsunami, Baan Nam Khem offers a number of important examples of resilient recovery and development choices that provide the opportunity to reduce the risk of disasters or lessen their impact.
For communities like Baan Nam Khem, a big part of building resilience and recovering psychologically from the devastation lies in establishing early warning systems and planning for what to do if disaster strikes again.
Coastal communities around Thailand live with the risk of a tsunami and other natural hazards. This constant fear can be alleviated, however, when communities take part in designing and putting in place systems to detect and warn of future disasters. For Baan Nam Khem, this also meant building tsunami evacuation towers, since the area around the village had no high ground havens where people could shelter if warning sirens sounded.
Community preparedness, planning and education represent other key ingredients to building resilience. Disaster-prone populations with weak local recovery mechanisms often cope with disasters through spontaneous recovery processes that may reconstruct pre-existing vulnerabilities and increase risks of future disasters. Resilient disaster recovery at community level aims to strengthen local governance systems and empower community beneficiaries and other stakeholders such as civil society, media, local experts and community representatives to participate and manage post-disaster recovery.
With UNDP support, the people of Baan Nam Khem implemented a number of activities tailored to their community’s specific needs. These included:
· Training of community volunteers, representatives, officials and leaders – that included risk assessments for multiple hazards, disaster risk management, community preparedness, participatory tools, and response capability.
· Establishment of community committees – responsible for safety, emergency response, search and rescue, designated evacuation routes, evacuation drills, and public awareness.
· Development and implementation of community safety, disaster mitigation and management action plans.
· Information materials – such as booklets, sheets and posters for hotels, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, as well as effective signage clearly indicating evacuation routes and where evacuation towers are located.
Baan Nam Khem resident Maitree Jongkaijug talked about the positive things that have happened after the tragedy struck. “The tsunami has given us a stronger community,” he told the Bangkok Post. “In the past, people in Baan Nam Khem rarely talked to one another, since we were from many different provinces and had diverse backgrounds. It was like we talked in different languages.”
A key lesson that was learned early on in the tsunami recovery was how critical relief coordination is between agencies.
''Sometimes donors just came, gave and left. They had good intentions, but generosity can be a two-edged sword if one villager gets money but the others don't,” Panya Ananthakul, a Baan Nam Khem villager, also told the Bangkok Post.
In contrast, UNDP and its partners, including the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre and others, worked together to support the efforts of the Government and to meet the needs identified by the local community.
Essential to the success of any community-based project is the cooperation and participation of the whole community. Those groups already vulnerable within communities often find themselves more so in times of crisis. In 2004, for example, women suffered disproportionately and had more difficulties in accessing post-tsunami assistance from local Government and agencies. And this disparity was not specific to the Indian Ocean tsunami: Globally, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men in a disaster.
Support from UNDP
UNDP has consistently supported developing gender-responsive early warning systems, as well as gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction and disaster management policies. In Baan Nam Khem, post-tsunami recovery was an opportunity to make progress with regard to all social inequalities. The Community-Based Disaster Risk Management and Preparedness project supported the creation of an environment that encouraged participation from all members of the community, esp. women, marginalized minorities, and youth.
Now, villagers actively participate in regular disaster planning and preparedness activities, and they ensure that their voices are heard in all projects affecting their lives.
As a result, the residents of Baan Nam Khem are now far more aware of the risks they face, what to do if hazards come, and how to work together as a community to survive, protect livelihoods, and recover quickly. “The tsunami is my greatest teacher,” says Maitree Jongkaijug. “It has taught me that we can die anytime. But when we are still alive, we should never stop learning and improving ourselves and our communities.”
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