Box 10 Land Rights   Key Concern for Longer Term Recovery
One of the most intractable and complex challenges that the tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation
plans brought centre stage is the issue of land rights.  Land rights had been a problem issue, albeit dormant,
even before the disaster.  The tsunami exacerbated it by displacing and devastating the communities who
had been living for years along the Andaman coast, on what is prime land for tourism and other commercial
development.  The status of most of the communities living on these lands was precarious to begin with;
some of these communities lived on public land (under the control of many different ministries and gov 
ernment agencies and subject to many different policies), some on national park land, while others were on
land being fought over or claimed by private businessmen.  Though these communities had lived here for
decades, they typically had no title deeds or lease contracts, and therefore could be considered by some as
illegal squatters.  The tenure situation in these villages was mired in a tangle of unclear tenure rights, conflicting
claims of ownership, spurious land titles and a plethora of land disputes.
Under Thai law squatters can apply for a legal title to a plot of land after 10 years of continuous occupation.  Few
succeed in acquiring this title and hundreds of people continue to live on what technically is public land in a
kind of legal limbo, without papers and without clear rights.  When the tsunami wiped away the homes of
these communities, it opened up and aggravated the conflicts and disputes regarding ownership of the
land and who had the rights to use it.  Testimony to this is provided by the fact that of the 47 villages
destroyed by the tsunami, at least 32 are now embroiled in serious land conflicts, about half in the province
of Phang Nga.  In the village of Ban Nam Kem alone, more than 80 court cases over disputed lands have
been filed since the tsunami
59
.
Soon after the disaster, the RTG announced a policy of providing free housing to tsunami affected commu 
nities which had no land ownership papers or titles, on resettlement sites about 4 5 km inland from their
original seafront locations.  The RTG s effort to deliver quick relief and rehabilitation did not allow for exten 
sive community participation, and the well intended compromise did not deliver the anticipated result as a
large number of affected people, mostly fishing communities, were not prepared to move to the inland
sites, away from the sea.  In some cases, the displaced communities decided to simply leave the relief camps,
go back to their old lands, and start rebuilding.  This led to bitter conflicts and protests as they got in the way
of proposed civic projects, zoning plans, commercial exploitation and vested interests.
In January 2005, a special high level committee was set up to deal with the more serious land conflicts
which had risen in tsunami hit areas.  This 30 member committee under the leadership of Deputy Prime Min 
ister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, includes officials from all the key departments and ministries relating to land,
IM
social development, natural resources and environment, including CODI
60
.  The idea was that only such a high 
AN
level committee would have the necessary clout to negotiate possible solutions with all the district and provincial
US
authorities, government departments and powerful private and public land owners who were parties in
 TE
these land conflicts.  After gathering information and studying the extremely complicated land ownership
H T
and tenure situations in the communities affected by the tsunami, the subcommittee came up with a list of
O T
30 of the most complex cases, where communities were facing the most serious land ownership conflicts.
ES
After intense, behind the scenes negotiating, involving a variety of actors at community, district, provincial
NO
and national levels, several of these cases have now been resolved.  This Sub Committee has now finalized
PSE
the land right issues for 13 communities comprising 1,156 households
61.
  This Committee has become an
 R
effective tool in finding pragmatic solutions to serious land conflict cases which allow the people to rede 
 SD
velop their communities on the same land   or on land very close by.
NAILA
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H
 Tsunami special issue: Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, Number 16, August 2005
 T
60
 Community Organizations Development Institute is the government funded organization guiding the government on social policy,
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land tenure, and poverty alleviation
R
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 Community Organizations Development Institute website, November 2005
PA
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