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Small Islands Voice Global Forum

Communities planning their future in a post-tsunami world

The recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean has left islanders around the world thinking about their vulnerability. While our sympathies lie with those affected nations, and as we continue to provide assistance and immediate relief to them, sometimes our minds turn to the previously unimagined scenario of a series of 10-metre high tsunami waves barreling towards our islands.

Should we just continue to go on the same way as before? Concentrating our development on the coast and near to the beaches, responding to the perceived needs of our tourist markets? A recent newspaper article published in Mauritius indicated that this is indeed the way to go:

Thai ‘ocean view’ villa dream survives tsunami

‘Demand for Thailand’s luxury ‘ocean view’ villa lifestyle, increasingly popular with western businessmen and pensioners, is unlikely to suffer any hit from the Indian Ocean tsunami, developers said this week. Paul Moorhouse of development firm Layan Gardens said ‘Obviously this will have an immediate impact on tourism and hotel numbers, but for the established property developers in the right place, I don’t see any drop-off at all.’

In the Thai resort island of Phuket, 250 people were killed, as the waves ripped through some beachfront buildings, markets and towns on the west side of the island. However, this was nothing compared with the devastation caused by the tsunami at the resort beaches of Khao Lak, 130 km to the north.’
(Adapted from News on Sunday, 14th January 2005)

This article refers to the viewpoint of property developers, but what about local people living in the affected areas? Do they have a say in the future rebuilding and development? And what is it they want for their communities? Is there a procedure to find out what they want?

Some of them might look to the small Pacific island of Palau in Micronesia where just such a procedure is being developed – it is called Community Visioning. Palau, a nation of only 20,000 people, is steeped in tradition. Communities play an integral role in the use of land and resources, and both elected and traditional leaders (chiefs) have powers. However, there are often conflicts between leaders at different levels and community desires.

Faced with impending changes brought about by the construction of a new 53-mile long road, which encircles the largest island of Babeldaob and creates an enormous potential for modern development such as hotels, golf courses and new homes, Palau is embarking on a Community Visioning initiative.

Community visioning, put simply, is a process whereby communities lay out a blueprint, or vision statement, for future changes they want to see, they then prepare and implement a plan to meet their needs. Community visioning has been used successfully in Moloka'i and Hawaii, and Palauan communities are hoping it will work for them.

One of the methods being used in Palau is to create photo murals that will be used to graphically illustrate the values and challenges of each community. Disposable cameras are distributed to 70% of the households in each community, and participants take pictures of those things in their community that they value and those things that need to be changed. The photos from each household are then put together, and common themes are included on a photo mural, which is assembled on a large standing wooden board. The murals are then discussed by the community and used to identify common likes and dislikes; these then form the basis of the community’s vision statement.

Preparing and implementing a plan, which might include specific items like establishing a dialysis center, restoring subsistence agriculture, liaising with private developers, is the next stage in Community Visioning. And while local and national levels of government are fully involved in the process, it is nevertheless viewed as community-led and community-oriented.

Palau is only beginning Community Visioning, but other islands, such as Moloka'i, have achieved significant successes. (To read more, go to www.unesco.org/csi/smis/siv/Pacific/paccomvision_p.htm). Perhaps community visioning will prove to be a successful method whereby communities can determine their own future? And especially in the light of wake-up calls provided by recent natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes/cyclones, communities need to take action.

Article adapted from News on Sunday, Mauritius, 14th January 2005, and ‘Republic of Palau starts Community visioning initiative’ by Palau Conservation Society September 2004 ( www.unesco.org/csi/smis/siv/Pacific/pal-act5_comvis.htm )

Messages In This Thread

Communities planning their future in a post-tsunami world
newspaper article + Palau Conservation Society -- Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Time to turn the tables: Put people at the forefront of planning
K. Morioka, S. Tuqiri, R. Wachter, S. Waqainabete -- Tuesday, 22 February 2005
Communities reducing island vulnerability
S. Fields, L. Howard, G. Woon -- Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Success story from Old Providence and Santa Catalina
J. Mow -- Tuesday, 22 March 2005

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