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Swiss return Thai villages to communities

Reconstruction of fishing boats was part of the Thai project (SDC)

The Swiss government has officially handed over four rebuilt Thai fishing communities, destroyed by the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The project, backed with public funds and private donations, aimed not just to provide new homes to the villagers, but also give them a sustainable livelihood.

Two official ceremonies on Saturday marked the handover of the communities on the islands of Ko Phra Thong and Ko Kho Khao, almost two years after they were washed away by the huge waves.

"It takes time to rebuild after a Tsunami catastrophe and two years is not a long time," said Jean-Michel Jordan, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's (SDC) Bangkok office.

"To find a good and sustainable solution, we took a collaborative approach with Swiss and Thai expertise, local and international organisations and input from the beneficiaries."

Switzerland invested a total of SFr4 million ($3.35 million) to rebuild the four fishing villages, which are home to up to 1,000 people. According to the SDC, the project provided schools, a health centre, community infrastructure, jetties and fishing boats as well as housing.

Sustainable livelihoods

Among the issues that had to be solved were questions of land ownership, which had delayed work in some cases, and how to ensure people's livelihoods.

"Switzerland didn't look at just one problem but took an integrated approach, taking into consideration housing, education, and the livelihood of the ethnic minority who didn't have the right to own their land," Jordan told swissinfo.

"The fishermen, who were previously employed by a collector, now own their boats and fishing equipment."

The Swiss say they are satisfied with the outcome of the project, which in its first phase aimed to restore means of subsistence and infrastructure, followed by the reconstruction of homes.

"During the past two years we have been able to reach the poorest and most vulnerable population," added Jordan. "The new houses have been built in different places and are environment friendly. They are much safer now."

The SDC has been backing projects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, two other countries that were struck by the tsunami. In Sri Lanka, the agency earmarked SFr8 million for the reconstruction of schools, as well as additional fund to help families rebuild or repair their homes.

In Indonesia's, the SDC spent SFr10.5 million on emergency assistance, much of it in the Banda Aceh region. Families also received financial support, while water purification stations were rehabilitated.


Key facts

Swiss aid for the countries struck by the tsunami was over SFr200 million.
Swiss Solidarity was able to collect much of this from private donors, and is now financing 112 projects via partner organisations worth SFr187.9 million.
The government's contribution has reached SFr35 million.
In Sri Lanka, the SDC committed approximately SFr16 million, and SFr12.5 million in Indonesia.

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In brief

The Thai project was jointly funded by the SDC, Swiss Solidarity - the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo's parent company - and private donors.

The amount of funding was SFr4 million - SFr1.7 million from the Swiss government, SFr280,000 from private donors and SFr2 million from Swiss Solidarity.

To understand the problems faced by the communities and to recreate economically viable and sustainable communities, the Swiss called on specialists such as anthropologists and environmental experts in the planning phase.

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