Phuket, Thailand - 2 December 2006: Former President Bill Clinton, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, was in Phuket, Thailand this morning, to view progress on home construction and livelihoods, and to launch an environmental initiative that will benefit countries throughout the tsunami affected region.
President Clinton visited Hin Look Dieu, a small Moken (sea gypsy) community that experienced substantial destruction in the tsunami. After the tsunami, the community reached an important agreement with the local government, allowing the residents to continue to live on the Sirinart National Park property where they had resided prior to the tsunami. Commenting on the progress achieved at Hin Look Dieu, President Clinton said --
“It is encouraging to see these communities building back their livelihoods and homes through a locally driven process, which has involved establishment of community networks to secure rights and revolving funds to restore boats and fishing equipment. I am also heartened by the collaboration between local authorities and the Moken community in addressing the land settlement issue. The government’s interest in addressing the needs of a vulnerable community offers a valuable example of building back better after the tsunami disaster.”
Thailand’s Moken communities are largely coastal dwellers who depend on the ocean for their livelihood. Although many of these communities have lived on property for generations, few hold formal title to their land. In response, the Thai Government created a committee to resolve land matters, which has been highly successful in arbitrating this issue.
The government and the Hin Look Dieu community are also collaborating to restore the deteriorated mangrove forest in the area, and President Clinton used the occasion of his visit to launch the “Mangroves for the Future (MFF) Initiative.” MFF is a multi-agency, multi country environmental conservation initiative jointly co-chaired by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) that will strengthen coastal ecosystems and livelihoods in the Indian Ocean region. It is focused on six countries severely hit by the December 2004 tsunami: India, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Thailand. President Clinton commented that “Building back better must include a commitment to conservation. This project will help to ensure that environmental sustainability is part of the recovery process region-wide, and that regional ecosystems will promote both livelihoods and disaster risk reduction.”
In Thailand, more than 8,000 people are believed to have lost their lives in the tsunami. Overall, nearly 60,000 people were affected, and the tsunami caused damages of $362 million. The tsunami destroyed or damaged some 4,800 houses, and about 4,100 homeowners requested government support to rebuild or repair. The government committed to rebuild 3,560 homes and provide cash support for repairs of another 520. As of July, 575 homes were completed, and close to 3,000 were under construction, all slated for completion by the end of the 2006. Regional economic impacts on fisheries and tourism were substantial, but both sectors have rebounded. Thai fishermen lost 6,568 of their small fishing boats, of which 4,480 have been replaced and 90 repaired. An estimated 27,000 fishermen have benefited from various rehabilitation projects. Tourist receipts were significantly lower in the affected areas in 2005; the Tourism Authority of Thailand reported a drop of more than 50% in Phuket arrivals in the first half of 2005 as compared to the same period in 2004. However, for the first six months of 2006, the Authority reported arrivals at about 95% of 2004 levels.
President Clinton, who will wrap up his tenure as UN Special Envoy at the year’s end, is on a multi-country tour of Asia and Southeast Asia to visit sites affected by the tsunami and to tour locations where the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) operates. (For information on the HIV/AIDS-focused activities and country visits on the schedule, please contact the Clinton Foundation press office, at +1-212-348-0360.)