Ban nam khem model-of-community-strength

Among many ways to prevent and handle natural disasters, nothing can be more important than the readiness of local people whose lives are directly at risk.

READY: Ban Nam Khem disaster prevention and mitigation centre was built with donations of 3 million baht. PHOTO: Kornchanok Raksaseri

In 2004, Ban Nam Khem village in tambon Bang Muang of Takua Pa district in Phangnga lost over 840 lives or about one fifth of the 4,620 villagers.

Villagers decided that they must be strong, using the painful lesson as their motivation.

Maitree Jongkraijug, a volunteer who spearheads community-based disaster risk management, is confident that all Ban Nam Khem villagers would be safe from another tsunami.

"I am confident that in the case of a tsunami 100% of the people in our village will survive," he said referring to over 3,000 people from around 2,000 households.

The village organises evacuation drills at least once a year. Children have been told what happened 13 years ago and why they have to escape. Meanwhile, villagers always respond to an alert if there is any risk of a tsunami.

Volunteers ride motorcycles and manually ring the siren, which alerts villagers to run to the tsunami shelter tower without asking.

"In 13 years, we have run about 50 times already, sometimes at 2am, sometimes at 8pm or 9pm," Mr Maitree said.

"Everybody says they are happy to be alerted at any time. We would rather run 100 times than have no chance to run.

"We have changed from being receivers who asked for help to managing by ourselves. We educate ourselves then use the knowledge to manage. We are aware that natural disasters are so close to us."

Victims have to come together as a group, not scattered, and help will come to them, he said. The community disaster prevention and mitigation centre was built with donations of about 3 million baht.

"We accept help if offered but we will not just beg," Mr Maitree said.

However, systematic and coordinated disaster prevention and mitigation by the state and local administration organisation are still crucial for the community, he said.

He gave examples of evacuation drills for tourists, maintenance of equipment and updating signposts along roads.

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