Dear colleagues and friends, on the behalf of the Thai and Indonesian peoples, thanks for all of your kind support, concern, and sympathy following the tragedy of the tsunami in our countries.
Since December 26, 2004, the Thai government has taken immediate action setting up rescue teams to search for victims throughout the areas affected by the tsunami as well as establishing missing person centers and a website (www.thailandtsunami.com). In addition, Thailand has received support from international organizations including humanitarian aid and medical supplies, forensic specialists and labs, etc.
Here is an update on the tsunami disaster along the Andaman coastal areas of southern Thailand including Ranong, Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang, and Satul provinces:
At the present time, casualty estimates in Thailand are: 5,323 persons dead; 3,115 persons missing, and 8,457 persons injured. Khao Lak in Phang Nga province was the most severely affected by the tsunami.
Concerning cultural heritage in the areas affected by the tsunami, there are over 100 archaeological sites in these provinces. Rerai Naiyawat and Boonyarit Shinesuwan, archaeologists from the Fine Arts Regional Office in Phuket reported that there are 19 sites in Krabi province, 16 sites in Trang province, 52 sites in Phang Nga province, 10 sites in Phuket province, and 10 sites in Ranong province. Most of these sites are situated in the hinterland and at higher elevations than the present sea level. The Royal Thai Fine Arts Department has carried out a preliminary survey and has reported that archaeological sites in the six provinces along the Andaman Sea have not been directly affected by the tsunami. Ratsamee Rattanachaiyanont, ICOMOS Thailand Coordinator, reported that Koh Kor Khao, an ancient port dated to the 9th century A.D. is unharmed as it is located in the hinterland. Also, the well-known late Pleistocene sites, Lang Rongrien and Moh Kiew rockshelters in Krabi province, are relatively safe.
Concerning ethnic minorities and local villagers, the Mogen, an ethnic group living in Phang Nga province and Phuket province are safe due to their oral history and indigenous knowledge on a nature of sea level change, but some of their villages were wiped out completely. Local fishing villages, such as Nam Kem village in Phang Nga province, where is located near the Koh Kor Khao site, were completely destroyed. Right now, many organizations are helping to build new villages in these areas.
In addition, there are the silent voices of illegal immigrants from Myanmar who worked on fishing boats. We estimate that hundreds of them died in this tragic event, because most of them returned from the sea early in the morning and were asleep when the tsunami struck. However, we still do not know the total number of dead or missing persons because survivors are reluctant to contact authorities out of fear that the Thai police might arrest them.
As for future plans concerning cultural heritage, Dr. Taksin Chinawat, the Prime Minister of Thailand, has suggested a plan to build Tsunami Memorial Museums in three provinces hit hard by this disaster including Phang Nga, Phuket, and Krabi. At present, Mr. Arak Sangkahitkul, Director General of the Royal Thai Fine Arts Department, and the cultural assessment survey teams have chosen the areas of PP island, Phuket province; Bang Niang and Ban Nam Kem in Phang Nga province for the Tsunami Memorial Museums. These museums will educate people about the devastating tsunami.
It is estimated that over 100, 000 people died in Indonesia, and the United Nations estimates that approximately 400,000 were uprooted. According to Jusuf Kalla, the Indonesian Vice-President, Indonesia is trying to maintain control over international relief operations and has established a deadline of March 26, 2005 for foreign troops to leave Indonesia. Due to the political instability in Acheh, aid organizations need special permission to go into more remote areas. However, many foreign aid agencies are reluctant to work with military escorts because they fear that this could drag them into the conflict with the rebels from the Free Acheh movement. This is a very unfortunate situation.
In terms of heritage assessment, UNESCO reported on December 30, 2004 that two world natural heritage sites were damaged slightly by the tsunami catastrophe including the Ujung Kulon of Koranak and the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra.
I have been in touch with Prof. Dau Tanudirjo from Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia who reports to that there still is no accurate information on the effects of the devastating tsunami on archeological sites. However, most of the sites in Banda Acheh, the capital of [Acheh or Aceh?], are relatively safe. However, damage has been reported at a colonial site, a Dutch cemetery in Banda Acheh.
The saddest news is that more than half of the staff members working for the Office of Archaeological Heritage Conservation in Banda Acheh were wiped out by the tsunami. Tanudirjo recently informed me on Janurary 24 that only 7 of 43 archaeological staffs in Banda Acheh still alive. So, the situation is worse than we have thought.
Tanudirjo also updates news that an assessment is being carried out by the Deputy of History and Archaeology, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. By January 31, 2005, an assessment team will fly to Acheh to document and re-map all archaeological sites affected by the tsunami. At present, he thinks it is not easy to get there and the officials have to be very careful to send the team. It seems that now social unrest becomes a serious hazard. The local population appear to be more resistant to outsiders. He thinks that we will have more accurate data by early February. He will also let us know if they need international aids on survey assessment.
Again, we appreciate all the messages and support sent to us. Please do not hesitate to share your information on the effects of the tsunami on cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.
By the way, I did write an article on the Bangkok Biz on the impact of Tsunami on the world cultural heritages in Asia on the behalf of the WAC. It will publish on January 26, 2005.