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22 Aug, 2005

NGOs Query Whether Post-Tsunami Rebuilding Has Been Sustainable

As the first anniversary of the tsunami nears, the Asia-Pacific travel and tourism industry will be judging the success of its recovery efforts by the number of visitors streaming back to the affected destinations.

But a group of Asian and European non-governmental organisations last week put out a statement saying that they will be also assessing whether governments have rebuilt their destinations in line with the principles of sustainable development, as they claimed they would do.

For the NGOs, the tsunami has become a test case. There is widespread agreement that much of the damage was done precisely because many developers and local authorities violated local zoning and coastal development laws that were originally designed to protect their people, products and properties.

At the Phuket meeting organised last February 1 by the World Tourism Organization, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pledged that reconstruction would take place in line with the principles of “sustainable development.”

The NGOs are saying that they will be seeing whether this talk has been walked. They describe their raison d’etre as being “a struggle for a tourism that is equitable, people centred, sustainable, ecologically sensible, child friendly and gender just.”

Last week, a group of Asian and European NGOs, who convened recently as part of a Global Tourism Interventions Forum (GTIF), released a statement outlining their future watchdog activity plans.

The statement called on the tourism industry to “prove its longstanding claim of pursuing ‘tourism as a development activity’ and justify their claims of bringing benefits to the local community, conserving local resources and safeguarding labour rights.

“ The tourism industry must abide by regional, national and international regulations regarding tourism development and be transparent with their industry partners as well as tourists on the extent to which such tourism stands to benefit the local community at destinations.”

“ While the tourism industry must not deviate from its core business by assuming an all-important role in the rehabilitation process, it must also acknowledge that corporate responsibility in the wake of such disaster cannot be limited to donations alone.”

The statement was calculated for release “three months before the peak tourism season begins” and followed “intensive deliberations on the tsunami and its impacts” among the GTIF members/participants together with several stakeholders from South Asian countries.

It said, “GTIF is extremely concerned about the testimonies and findings of its members and partners working and having conducted research in tsunami-affected areas in India including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“ Therefore GTIF, consequently to its ‘Call for Action: Solidarity with the Victims of the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean – Solidarity in Tourism?’ issued one month after the disaster, at the World Social Forum 2005 in Porto Allegre, is now launching a follow-up call raising the burning issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation with regard to tourism developments.”

It noted that during this post-tsunami period, the governments of tsunami affected countries, governments of ‘donor countries’ and the international community have launched a plethora of rescue, rehabilitation and reconstruction plans including the WTO-OMT’s Phuket Action Plan to bring tourists back to countries affected by tsunami.

Said the statement, “We would like all governments, inter-governmental agencies, aid organisations, the tourism industry and civil society organisations to review the manner in which the impact of the tsunami has been treated.

“ Natural disasters reflect the imbalance in the relationship between humankind and nature; the modern development model often ignores this reality. We therefore on reflection demand that all protective measures that have been documented using traditional, natural and technological means should be strictly implemented.

“ To ensure that local needs are addressed, all rehabilitation and reconstruction measures must be designed and implemented by local communities, in accordance with their decisions, conforming to their religion, cultures & lifestyles and using locally available materials, talents and skills.”

The statement called on governments to “ensure that in the tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process national guidelines and legislation pertaining to development along the coasts e.g., the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification in India & Coastal Conservation Act of Sri Lanka are strictly implemented to protect the environment and livelihood resources of local inhabitants.

“ This includes respecting international conventions and agreements on human rights and sustainable development of the UN and its Bodies – such as the Declaration of Human Rights, the Conventions, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Child, the ILO-Conventions – in particular the core labour rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the conventions, recommendations and action plans of the Commission on Sustainable Development, Agenda 21 and sustainable tourism principles, and in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity and its guidelines for tourism development.”

The statement also noted that it was important for all stakeholders to attain “a thorough understanding of the long-term socio-economic and environmental impacts of the tsunami” by conducting more research to analyse the trends in labour displacement, human trafficking and other issues as well as the sustainability of coastal developments.”

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