Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tsunamis, Orphans and Rubber - Part Two

The orphanage where I have been helping out for the last week was set up in 2005 in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. The organisation I went through was similarly set up, as well as returning the profits to the communities affected by the tsunami and returning their self sufficiency through tourism.

What has really inspired these posts has been observing the changes that have occurred here since that frightening Boxing Day in 2004. As with any situation I cannot know the whole truth. These notes are simply what I have observed, what I have learnt from conversations with people and a few assumptions of my own.

A years ago I remember reading in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine about people scared or relocated away from the coast after the tsunami, leaving overseas developers to buy up coastal lands for resorts at next to nothing.

On the Andaman Coast frightened and dislocated people headed inland, using slash and burn techniques as they transformed ancient native forests into rubber and palm oil plantations from the coast right back to the borders of the mountainous national parks. The process of acquiring land is an unsure one. People need to gain permits to occupy land, but it's a long, cloudy - and for many - unknown process. Many just walked into the forest and started cutting it down.

A truck containing palm oil fruit

Now five years later people have more money are are replacing their bamboo and wooden houses with ones made of concrete, tiles and windows. There's a housing boom. Both the palms and the rubber trees start full production at six years old, soon I imagine there will be a great increase in the supply of palm oil, reducing the price and making it a lucrative ingredient for companies like Nestle.

Rubber on its way to market.

It can be hard to justify the right and wrongs except that I can't help feeling that those who will benefit the most financially from these events (the waterfront developers, the palm oil and rubber buyers) are foreign, multinational companies.

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