PHUKET: Today, December 26, 2014, thousands gather in Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi (Click here for overview of memorial services and activities), to pay their respects to those who perished or disappeared into oblivion on this fateful date a decade ago.
As cameras relay solemn memorial scenes, broadcasting images of mourning and sadness but also strength and unity to millions around the planet, we are prompted to ponder the meaning of death, and life.
But beyond recalling stories of tragedy and miraculous survival (Read here first-hand tsunami accounts), there is another important purpose for commemoration – an opportunity to assess progress.
What have we learned from the tragedy? How are we better off now? What do we still need to do to ensure history does not repeat itself?
No doubt, most of the tsunami victims were unnecessarily vulnerable – firstly, due to the lack of sufficient warning and evacuation systems/protocol, and secondly, due to man-made hazards, particularly over-development and environmental degradation of coastlines.
On the first point, Phuket and Thailand have learned the lesson, and progressed accordingly. There are now sufficient advance warning systems and evacuation protocols in place to convincingly prevent a repeat tragedy if or when more colossal tidal waves head our way.
But on the second point, progress is questionable at best. The department of coastal marine resources (DCMR) has worked tirelessly over the past few decades to restore Thailand’s degrading coastlines.
In 1957, the kingdom boasted 3,670 sq km of mangroves, while Phuket had 45sqkm. By the time the tsunami struck in 2004, these numbers had declined dramatically to 2,380 and just under 17sq km respectively. And though the numbers have since been boosted slightly, encroachment and occupation of the mangrove-lined coasts is on the rise.
According to one DMCR survey, some 240 rai of Phuket’s mangove area was encroached between 2004 and 2011, while in Phang Nga and Krabi the numbers were 577 and 1,925 rai, respectively.
Now, in 2014, it’s safe to say that the state of our marine environment hasn’t improved.
The waters surrounding Phuket are officially classified as an ecological “Dead Zone”; our shores and waterways are clogged with plastic bags, polystyrene and sludge.
And, if the TAT is to be believed, the number of people visiting and moving to the island will increase by 10 per cent next year.
So while we remember December 26, 2004, let us also think ahead to December 26, 2024, and work out what we need to do now to ensure that it wasn’t all in vain.