Loss of Fishing Fleets Will Slow Recovery in Tsunami-Hit Villages

A Duke University professor who has studied rural economic development in Indonesia and Sri Lanka says the loss of coastal villages’ fishing fleets in this week’s devastating tsunamis will be a major long-term obstacle to economic recovery there. Randall A. Kramer, professor of resource and environmental economics at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, has conducted house-to-house socioeconomic surveys in Indonesian coastal communities similar to those decimated in northern Sumatra.

“These communities are dependent on the ability to fish, to trade by boat and to travel by boat,” he said. “These villagers have very low incomes to begin with, and without their boats -– their major source of income –- recovery will be especially slow.”

In some villages, Kramer and his research team found that up to 90 percent of all households relied on fishing for all or part of their income. In other communities, the percentage dependent on fishing dropped to as low as 20 percent because villagers earned their incomes through farming or in low-paid trades.

The destruction of boats, vehicles, harbors and roads will make it extremely difficult for fishermen to travel to other villages in search of work, Kramer said.

“It will be a challenge to find ways to earn the money they’ll need to buy or build new boats,” he said. “They’ll have to scrape together what little they can, or borrow money from relatives in other communities, assuming those communities haven’t also been devastated. Government or commercial loans for small-scale fishermen to buy boats and fishing gear are rarely available.”

Aid efforts by governments and international agencies will likely focus on meeting short-term needs -– food, shelter, medicine and burying the dead. Fewer resources will be available to address long-term economic needs.

“Governments in many of the worst-hit places -– especially in places like Sri Lanka or northern Sumatra, where there are on-and-off civil wars –- have very limited ability to help fishermen and coastal communities rebuild,” Kramer said. “UNICEF, the United Nations development program, and other donors may be able to offer some assistance, but with thousands of communities affected, you have to wonder how much they really can do.”

From Duke University

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