22 Nov 2014 05:00
When a tsunami ravaged the shores of the Indian Ocean in 2004, the mangrove forest surrounding the Muslim village of Baan Nai Rai, in the province of Phang-Nga, saved most of its inhabitants even if it was one of the hardest hit areas in Thailand. Few months later, a company claimed the land where they have always lived and now plans to turn the area into a tourist resort. More than 100 people have already been displaced and 600 resist to be moved. But, above all, villagers want to protect the mangrove forest, an area that, according to Thai law, should be considered public land.
“I mainly fight for the mangrove area”, says Anun Poung Sa Nguan, a 54 year-old fisherman who has lived in the village for 30 years. “Without the mangroves, we would have to go too far away to catch the fish, because now they grow here."
“We worked very hard to take care of the mangroves, even before the tsunami," says Duk, one of the leaders of the village. We depend on them."
According to a research published by the Prince of Songkla University, the Baan Nai Rai community played a key factor in the reforestation, cultivation, protection and rehabilitation of the post-tsunami mangrove forest. Mangroves are considered an important factor for climate change adaptation and mitigation in coastal areas, especially in poor communities.
The villagers filed a lawsuit against the company but a tribunal considered in 2013 that the land was rightfully belonging to the company.
“I think this [property] document has been wrongfully obtained. This land should be public according to the law”, says Suttipong Laithip, a volunteer lawyer who is helping the villagers with the legal procedures against the company.
The Baan Nai Rai community is now trying to find additional evidences to bring again the case in court. After the 2004 tsunami, that killed more than 220.000 people in a dozen countries – 8000 of them in Thailand - the tourism sector has rapidly grown in the Phang-Nga province, where at least 14 villages were engaged in land and tenure disputes with the government and private companies one year after the disaster, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.