The 2004 Tsunami, Southeast Asia

Approximately 250,000 died as a result of the December 26th tsunami in Southeast Asia; national governments and private investors would quickly take advantage of the natural disaster.

In Sri Lanka, the coastline had previously been unavailable to tourism because of small fishing villages, but also because of ongoing threat of conflict with the Tamil Tigers. However, a ceasefire with the Tigers in 2002 removed one of these blocks. And so, prior to the tsunami, in 2004, mass protest had had to prevent government plans for widespread appropriation of coastal land for tourism. These plans were supported by the lobby group USAID, hoping to promote US interests in the area, as well as the IMF and WB, who offered to help with Sri Lanka's large debt in return for public-private partnerships in developing these areas, alongside a reduction of labour support laws and public land ownership laws.

After the wave hit, refugee camps filled with fishers and small-town people whose villages along the coast had been destroyed. Villagers were barred from returning to their villages and returning to their homes, under pretext of safety concerns. At the same time, the previously withheld plans for large scale construction and labour reform began immediately, as luxury hotels sprang up on the coast almost daily. $13 billion in aid (to Southeast Asia altogether?) was used to offer first aid, food, and the construction of emergency shelters and - shockingly - some even contributed to building projects that replaced villages with tourist centres, while none went to rebuilding local people's villages. Foreign companies and firms gained the construction and hotel contracts.

Klein spends a lot of time describing post-tsunami Sri Lanka as an example of the goodness of humanity, with donations flooding in from around the world, and as a new beginning, with cooperation between Tamils and Muslims springing up in the face of the crisis. As the world focussed on the human suffering in the area, the government and private interests took full advantage of the disaster.

Lesson learned: Klein brings up the 1998 Hurricane Mitch in Central America, which resulted in privatisation of national firms in Guatemala and Nicaragua, by instruction of the World Bank. Guatemala's foreign minister remarked that "Destruction carries with it opportunity for foreign investment." And so, the parties involved in Southeast Asia had had 'practice' in this type of disaster capitalism, and played it out adeptly.

Similar reforms occurred in Thailand, the Maldives, Indonesia, and India, with private hands and hotels taking over previously public land in the damaged areas. Locals were not involved in the construction, fishers and villagers would lose their way of life forever and have no homes to return to, nor would they have direct shares in any of the tourist hotels or communities springing up.

Perhaps eventually taxes and the new tourist economy will benefit some, but it's clear millions of displaced people would have fought these changes had they not been focusing on survival.

As occurred in Iraq, a wave of 'unemployed, homeless, hungry and angry' people emerged. In 2006, the Tamil Tigers discontinued the ceasefire that had been in place since 2002. International bodies used continued aid as leverage to pursue further privatization, despite rising protest.

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