It has been months since local government organisations have handed out food to people in need.
A public relations staffer at Patong Municipality, one of the hardest-hit areas on the island due to the international tourism lockout, told The Phuket News this week, “The municipality budget to provide food is already gone. The last food handout was on June 20, which provided food to about 10,000 people in need.
“There is no budget to do any food handouts in the near future. We do not know when we will have any budget to help people in this part,” the staffer added.
Phuket Town Deputy Mayor Kavee Tansukhatanon also confirmed to The Phuket News this week that Phuket City Municipality has handed out emergency food supplies only twice, in May and June. However, he added that the municipality spent B28 million in doing so.
“We do not have any budget [for food-donation campaigns]. We will do another one when we have the budget and the formal order from the Phuket Governor,” he said.
Wal Brown, a long-term Phuket expat who earlier this year co-launched the Feeding Friends Patong campaign with fellow expat Tony Love Linay, explained that the people most affected in the Patong area have been the Myanmar migrant workers.
“The government is not giving any food support anymore. That free food has come to an end,” he said.
Food donations are still obviously much needed, he added, noting that long queues for food donations are regularly still seen lining the streets of Patong. A recent donation event, on Sept 6, saw some 300 to 400 people lining Nanai Rd, Wal explained.
Queues for food are regularly seen elsewhere across the island as charity events are held, including the recent ‘Duen Sip’ Buddhist festival celebrated in Baan Don, Thalang. A staffer at Cherng Talay Municipality who asked not to be named explained away those present queuing for food as local Urak Lawoi sea gypsies. Queuing for food was a “cultural thing”, the staffer said. Yet, queue for food they did.
A host of top Phuket artists are to record a version of the classic global charity song Do They Know It’s Christmas in their efforts to help continue providing food to people in Phuket and on nearby islands.
The project will be co-ordinated by Legend Music Recording Studio in Koh Kaew, owned and operated by producer and composer, and long-term Phuket expat, Gary Crause.
Mr Crause was one of the driving forces behind Phuket artists coming together in June to produce their own version of Lean on Me to boost food security relief efforts driven by the Help Phuket Today campaign, also created to help people in Phuket suffering without any form of income during the ongoing crisis.
“So far more than 2,000 Lean On Me Food Packs costing a total of B500,000 have been paid for by the Phuket community and distributed directly to the families and communities all over Phuket and the adjacent islands that are hardest hit by unemployment caused by the pandemic,” Mr Crause explained on Monday (Sept 14).
Most recently just over 400 food packs were distributed through the Koh Kaew Tambon Administration Organisation (OrBorTor), and 20 packs were sent to Phuket Immigration, he added.
Kath Cumming started Help Phuket Today on April 12, collecting food for the hardest hit communities where families were close to starvation due to losing their jobs and income sources because of the COVID-forced lockdowns. With the help of Yvonne Symons from Villa Market and the Tourist Police, they distribute the food donations directly to the communities that need it to survive.
After learning of their relief efforts, Mr Crause from the Phuket Academy of Performing Arts arranged with Villa Market to have a B250 barcode created for the purchase of the food packs to make it very simple for people to donate to the cause. He also called up many of his musician friends and some students to film and record a version of Lean On Me to help drive the marketing and awareness campaign for the food relief efforts.
“All of those involved in the day-to-day running of the Lean On Me Food Donation and Distribution program know firsthand that it is a very real problem that will impact these families for a very long time,” Gary said.
“With the low season in full swing, and the high season looking like it will be a non-event, the current outlook is that the situation will not improve for at least another 12 to 16 months, and is in fact getting worse,” he added.
To contribute to the relief efforts, simply scan and pay for Lean On Me food packs at any Villa Market in Phuket, or order the packs online via Villa Market’s online shopping portal.
Wal Brown pointed out his serious concerns for the current situation’s impact on people’s emotional and mental well-being. His concerns coincide with Thailand’s Mental Health Department on Sept 10 revealing that 2,551 people had killed themselves in the first half of this year, up 22% for the same period last year.
Personal problems, depression, economic pressure and alcohol were the reasons leading people to take their own lives, said the department.
The rising suicide rate has reminded public health officials of the 1997 financial meltdown, when the rate leaped by between 20% and 30%, it added.
Department Director-General Kiattiphum Wongrajit linked the increase in the suicide cases this year to the outbreak of the deadly virus and described the trend as “worrisome”. His assessment was in line with various studies in Thailand and abroad, reported the Bangkok Post.
The National Reform Committee on Labour was told at a meeting in Phuket on Sept 11 to issue a moratorium on all outstanding debts, boost efforts to bring tourists to Phuket and provide financial support to unemployed people on the island.
Committee Chairman Charin Chakkaphak and his delegation arrived in Phuket to hear directly the key problems island residents are facing during the current economic crisis. Present at the meeting at Phuket Provincial Hall were Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew, Vice Governor Phichet Panaphong, other relevant officials and local business owners.
V/Gov Phichet explained that Phuket is badly affected by the current crisis, and delivered three requests already presented to the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism: extend the financial support by the Social Security Office for a further three months; allow workers from other provinces to transfer their house registration to Phuket so the Phuket government can receive more budget funds to provide better care for them; and ask the Ministry of Labour to provide help to at least 1,000 unemployed in Phuket.
Further requests were presented by the private sector, including representatives from the Phuket Tourism Industry Council, Human Resources Club of Patong, the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, among others. The requests presented were: issue a moratorium on all outstanding debts for business owners and employees; relax soft loan conditions so that business owners can actually access the loans; reduce utility bills such as water and electricity; suspend student loan debts for new graduates; and strictly regulate prices of products and services in order to create a good image of Phuket.
Other requests presented included one on behalf of Phuket residents for the government to encourage more Thais to travel to the island, and to support local business owners via social security funds and soft loans.
“The central government is paying much attention to Phuket and other places badly affected by the COVID-19 economic crisis, including Koh Samui,” Mr Charin said.
All the information received was to be presented to the Cabinet on Tuesday (Sept 15), Mr Charin added.
After the meeting, Mr Charin and his delegation went to meet local hotel operators as well as workers at spa and massage centres in Patong.