Swiss rebuild Thai villages, but no chalets

Swiss aid is helping to rebuild fishing villages on two Thai islands (swissinfo)

One month after the devastating tidal wave in Asia the humanitarian situation is stabilising in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and the rehabilitation phase has begun.

This content was published on January 28, 2005 minutes

As part of its SFr27 million ($23 million) emergency aid package to the region, Switzerland is overseeing the reconstruction of three villages in remote southern Thailand.

The project is aimed at restoring normal life to fishing communities outside the tourist areas.

Rolf Grossenbacher, an architect with the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, was charged with identifying suitable villages. He said they would be in traditional Thai style: “We are not going to build chalets here.”

Grossenbacher told swissinfo preparations were well in hand for the reconstruction work, which is expected to take 18 months.

The three villages selected are situated on the islands of Koh Kho Khao and Koh Phra Thong, 150km north of the tourist resort of Phuket.

In the first stage of the project, basic infrastructure such as schools, health centres, harbours and roads are being rebuilt.

swissinfo: Tell us about the villages that you’ve selected.

Rolf Grossenbacher: Two of the villages were completely destroyed, and the other one was one-third destroyed.

There are three parts to our emergency relief: organising and buying new fishing boats, supporting a non-governmental organisation in cleaning wells, and the immediate opening of a school.

The villages are more than 300 years old, and after the tsunami they need external support to restart their [fishing] business. Without it this old tradition will be completely lost.

swissinfo: If the villages were destroyed, presumably many people lost their lives?

R.G.: More than ten per cent of the villagers are dead.

In the two villages which were completely destroyed, the villagers live on the mainland now in tent camps. In the other village they are staying with relatives and friends.

swissinfo: How can you ensure that the villages have a better chance of withstanding a future tsunami?

R.G.: In two of the three villages it may be possible to change the location. One could be built higher up the hill, and with the other one we have the option to move it to a place that was not affected by the tsunami.

In the village which is two-thirds intact the idea is to build two-floored houses, with the lower half made of concrete.

swissinfo: The project has been criticised for trying to build model Swiss villages in the middle of Thailand. What’s your reaction to that?

R.G.: This story must be a misunderstanding. It was never the idea to build model villages.

The villagers actually have to build their own houses – we will support them with material or money, but they have to rebuild their houses in the traditional style. We will not design houses.

We are paying a contractor to support the people in their work, providing special equipment, tools and so on. And the contractor will also engage villagers to rebuild the infrastructure.

swissinfo-interview: Morven McLean

In brief

Swiss architect Rolf Grossenbacher has identified three Thai villages for a reconstruction project funded by Switzerland.

The fishing villages are on the islands of Koh Kho Khao and Koh Phra Thong, 150km north of Phuket.

The project is expected to take around 18 months. In the first phase the top priorities are to restore means of subsistence and basic infrastructure.

Homes will be rebuilt in a later phase.

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