Tsunami Blame Game

Rather than simply revel in Thailand's newly pristine beaches, the New Republic's Joshua Kurlantzick flat out blames a paucity of government regulation for the scope of devastation in Phi Phi and Phuket here in Sunday's WP. Of course, it's pretty clear that Kurlantzick just thinks Phi Phi Don is ugly:

As the longtail boat approached the main dock, we saw that developers had built dozens of squat guesthouses and small hotels all along the main beaches with little planning. The places were jammed so close to each other - and to the beach - that it was often unclear where one tiny resort ended and the next began. Phi Phi Don's main street was similarly crowded; shops selling fiery local whiskey, phat thai, dreadlocks and other local necessities were built almost on top of each other. Behind the shops were tiny dwellings housing local workers. At night, Phi Phi Don's crowded spaces made the island so noisy it was often hard to sleep. When I returned to Bangkok, only marginally refreshed, I learned more about Thailand's tourism industry, and realized Phi Phi Don was too typical.

Thailand's coastal tourism industry is actually the envy of Southeast Asia, a region with no shortage of gorgeous beaches. That's mostly because it's cheap -- cheap to fly, cheap to stay, cheap to eat. Phuket and Phi Phi Don attract college and gap-year students in droves by providing the very whiskey, dreadlocks and Phat Thai that so displeased Kurlantzick. Phi Phi isn't a tourist's hell; as Lonely Planet puts it, the island is a "backpacker's paradise." Had Thais tried to "clean up" the Phi Phi islands, they would have thrust them into competition with dozens of the region's upscale beaches, probably unsuccessfully.

Should Thailand's bureaucrats have predicted disaster and swept the beach clean? The industry probably should have done more to protect mangroves and coral reefs, but clearing up the clutter would have driven up prices with no obvious gain. In Sri Lanka or Banda Aceh, it wouldn't have much mattered whether tourists were housed in bamboo huts or modern hotels, whether they were 10 feet from the shore or a mile. It's hard to legislate against a 30-foot wall of water. Phuket and Phi Phi suffered huge casualties simply because they were teeming with people, and they were teeming with people because they were appealing to tourists.

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    It's hard to legislate against a 30-foot wall of water.

    It's going to be worse if Kyoto isn't signed!

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    I know you may this shocking, but the Reasonoid who wrote the post misrepresents the writer's statements.

    No, really.

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    Please joe, flesh that out - we're on the edges of our seats.

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    RTFA, Todd.

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    How exactly did he misrepresent the writer's statements? The writer feels that

    "Though a few Thai journalists and environmental organizations warned that this unregulated construction could have dire effects, they were largely ignored."

    and that Mangrove forests would have helped block waves. But those mangroves were cut down. Too bad the Thai government didn't zone those Mangroves. They would have stopped the death!

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    The writer points out that densely packed, poorly constructed buildings on the beach made the cost (in lives and dollars) of the wave higher, and decries this practice for this reason. The poster claims that "Of course, it's pretty clear that Kurlantzick just thinks Phi Phi Don is ugly."

  • ||

    For those that wish to read the article without registering:


    http://www.bugmenot.com/view.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com

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    "In Sri Lanka or Banda Aceh, it wouldn't have much mattered whether tourists were housed in bamboo huts or modern hotels, whether they were 10 feet from the shore or a mile."

    Really? The location and type of construction doesn't influence a settlement's ability to withstand a disaster?

    You sure you want to stick with that?

  • ||

    The writer points out that densely packed, poorly constructed buildings on the beach made the cost (in lives and dollars) of the wave higher, and decries this practice for this reason.

    Yeah, those silly Thais. They should have been using steel framing with Flexcrete walls, what with all of the money they have to spend on construction.

    What those islands really need is an Urban Development Committee to steer them in the correct direction. That way they'll all be able to survive the next tsunami in their brand-new tsunami-proof cottages approves by the Committee.

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    Shops stacked on top of each other, hotels jammed together and crowded spaces are bad. Sprawl is bad. I'm confused. Are humans allowed in Utopia? Only with the proper permit from the central planning committee. To apply for a permit, please fill out all required forms and submit a DNA sample.

    Joe, you were born too late. Your planning skills could have saved so many from the tsunami that resulted from the Krakatoa eruption.

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    Shops stacked on top of each other, hotels jammed together and crowded spaces are bad.

    Nope. These are just fine when they comply to the strict regulations of the Central Planning Committee. Steel substructures buried twice as deep as the building is high with flexible concrete walls and "tsunami sewers" on every street.

    Joe, you were born too late. Your planning skills could have saved so many from the tsunami that resulted from the Krakatoa eruption.

    He could have also saved the populace from the lava with his Central Planning Committee-approved lava-proof buildings. The nearby islands would have been spared the tons of ash by Joe's anti-ash volcano domes.

  • ||

    "Shops stacked on top of each other, hotels jammed together and crowded spaces are bad"

    ...when located on an exposed beach, with no natural barriers to reduce the power of surges. Kurlantzick didn't claim these things were bad across the board, just that locating them on the beach itself made them sitting ducks.

    Tom, you've got a gift for building straw men. FYI, using silly language to describe better building and permitting processes doen's actually negate the benefits they bring.

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    Hey, what's Phat Thai? Is that Pad Thai, or weed?

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    Wow, the ancient Egyptians could have really used Joe's anti-locust shields during the Biblical plagues (and especially his sturdy Angel of Death resistant homes during Passover).

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    I guess we're playing dumb today.

    Nope, nothing can ever be done to mitigate the effects of disasters on settlements.

    No more bitching about FEMA payouts to people who rebuild their homes in the same spot after hurricaines, I guess, since there aren't any ways to reduce the impacts of disasters.

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    FYI, using silly language to describe better building and permitting processes doen's actually negate the benefits they bring. -joe

    Fisherman making a couple thousand bucks per year can't afford your red tape. Your plans would benefit nobody. The rich would still live in well-built structures and the poor would be stuck in illegal shantytowns.

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    Very nearsighted thinking, twba. Spending 50% more on your buildings is cheaper than building it twice.

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    They don't have 50% more to spend. So like a government man to just jack up the price on poor people until they are pushed into the black market.

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    "They don't have 50% more to spend."

    Then they don't have 100% more to spend, either, and they're going to get help covering the cost.

    Might it be a little wiser to help them cover the cost the first time around, at a bargain rate, and avoid the disruption and loss of life?

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    ...when located on an exposed beach, with no natural barriers to reduce the power of surges. Kurlantzick didn't claim these things were bad across the board, just that locating them on the beach itself made them sitting ducks.

    And thus is revealed the risk taken in beachfront property.

    I guess you could have better located the beachfront condos in Alabama and Florida so that they could have withstood Ivan?

    You probably could have better prepared the islands for the storm surge so that all of the ground floor shops and businesses weren't ruined?

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    "I guess you could have better located the beachfront condos in Alabama and Florida so that they could have withstood Ivan?"

    Er, yes, actually. There are well-understood standards for building near a beach in order to reduce the hazard of storm damage.

    "You probably could have better prepared the islands for the storm surge so that all of the ground floor shops and businesses weren't ruined?"

    Are you still referring to Ivan? Better building techniques on the beaches (not breaching dunes, not taking up flood storage capacity, maintaining coastal wetlands) can significantly reduce the volume of water that goes inland.

    This is not a big mystery. Locusts, Angels of Death, Towers of lava - these are tough criteria to acommodate. But avoiding flood damage from storms isn't exactly rocket science.

    So no, Tom, when faced with the question, "Is it better to build cheaper, or better?" the answer is not always "build cheaper."

  • fyodor||

    Oy, this is just a classic regs versus freedom debate, only in a new setting.

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    Er, yes, actually. There are well-understood standards for building near a beach in order to reduce the hazard of storm damage.

    And yet half of Orange Beach was destroyed. Maybe you should be on the central planning committee in Alabama.

    These standards are probably applicable to third-world countries with second rate building materials and practices too, right?

    Are you still referring to Ivan? Better building techniques on the beaches (not breaching dunes, not taking up flood storage capacity, maintaining coastal wetlands) can significantly reduce the volume of water that goes inland.

    Hm. Well, Orange Beach has protected wetlands and dunes, yet the whole island was under six feet of water.

    Perhaps you should stop trying to plan the construction and possibly look into planning natural disasters. Engineer the damage vectors so that destruction is reduced.


    But avoiding flood damage from storms isn't exactly rocket science.

    Please note that Joe can plan construction to avoid damage from Tsunamis and Hurricane-wrought storm surges.

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    Oy, this is just a classic regs versus freedom debate, only in a new setting.

    Not really. This one has evolved into Joe telling us that his urban planning can best 30 foot tsunamis and 25 foot storm surges.

    My new picture of Joe is this:

    http://www.leenite.org/jonisland/graphics/liar.jpg

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    "These standards are probably applicable to third-world countries with second rate building materials and practices too, right?"

    What are you calling "second rate?" Most of the techniques are those that have been used, successfully, for millenia - building behind dunes, not disrupting the sea grass, not breaching the dunes. It's typically capitalist of you to assume that I'm talking about capital intensive strategies that ignore questions of where to build and focus on expensive construction.

    "Please note that Joe can plan construction to avoid damage from Tsunamis and Hurricane-wrought storm surges." Avoid or REDUCE - you can be 100% protected. But yes, I, and about 10,000,000 other people in this country, have some level of understanding about best practices for building in waterfront, storm-prone areas. Your amazement that such a field of knowledge exists notwithstanding.

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    "This one has evolved into Joe telling us that his urban planning can best 30 foot tsunamis and 25 foot storm surges."

    I guess my actual point is so irrefutable that you have to make more easily refuted stuff up.

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    "This is not a big mystery. Locusts, Angels of Death, Towers of lava - these are tough criteria to acommodate. But avoiding flood damage from storms isn't exactly rocket science."


    Ahhhh, Joey joe joe junior shabadoo. The evidence is in the thread. Allow me to retort:

    We were discussing the tsunami and hurricane Ivan. Your conclusion, and I quote:

    "This is not a big mystery. Locusts, Angels of Death, Towers of lava - these are tough criteria to acommodate. But avoiding flood damage from storms isn't exactly rocket science."


    You can avoid damage from a 25 foot storm surge is the only conclusion one can make from your statement.

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    Sorry you were confused, TPG.

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    TPG,

    Don't worry, the government knows best; the government shall provide; the government shall impede progress, growth, industry, etc., but that's for our own good. :)

    Government regulation in nearly every area that it is involved in is more costly than beneficial; that is, all things being equal, one is better off without regulation, than with it.

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    "Government regulation in nearly every area that it is involved in is more costly than beneficial;"

    Well, now that all depends on who's paying the costs and who's reaping the benefits......;)

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    matt,

    Well, yes, it does benefit members of the nomenklatura like joe.

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    " But avoiding flood damage from storms isn't exactly rocket science."

    This is true. You don't want to drown, don't live near the water.

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    "Government regulation in nearly every area that it is involved in is more costly than beneficial; that is, all things being equal, one is better off without regulation, than with it."

    I'm sorry, I don't have my catechism with me. Am I supposed to kneel or cross myself after this intonation?

    The areas that didn't crowd businesses onto the beach and followed better building practices (that is, those that were more heavily regulated) suffered much lower loss of life and property than places like Phi Phi Don. As inconvenient as that reality might be.

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