Oct 9, 2012

Paradise for some, oblivion for many

For a long time I have desired to go to Sri Lanka. The reason has been the serenity and peacefulness of this small and culturally rich island. Now, I’m not so certain of my plans anymore.

People tend to go on vacations to distant countries where they can fulfill their need for escapism; daily life needs a healthy break. Picturesque beaches and little umbrella drinks are what we grave for, and we are willing to pay relatively large sums for our luxury. At the same time we enjoy our vacation in fancy hotels with respectable room service the locals usually enjoy a far more moderate life style.

In 2004 occurred a deathly tsunami in the Indian Ocean causing 227,898 deaths, the worst tsunami in history. This horrible incident was a major personal and communal catastrophe especially for those living on seaside and coastal line of countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Many lost their livelihood and habitation as well as families. But the tsunami was not their only tragedy. In Sri Lanka poor fishermen were in some parts unable to return to their home areas because the lands were seized by government officials. They said that new buildings were meant to build on the tsunami cleansed beaches. Tsunami was used as an excuse to get rid of the rubbish caste.  Afterwards resorts were built for rich people to savor. Sri Lanka is becoming a paradise for people with wealth. These privatized lands have once been a home of the native people - but not anymore. We can still do a “once in a lifetime” trip and surf in dreamlike conditions but the truth behind this bliss is an ugly one.

The situation is similar for example in Maldives. It faced the same fate as other tsunami devastated countries, and 106 people died. Infrastructure suffered greatly but luckily there were companies ready to invest innocuous money so that people would get their life in order. Those living near the sea suffered drastically and were moved elsewhere to live. Usually this kind of relocating of deprived is executed by force; the locals don’t want to move. The most important thing is to get rid of those who would oppose the chances to gain profits. Companies want to bring about new customers – and enhance tourism. Money coming in does not mean a rise for those living in need.   

It is funny that many westerners bemoan how Thailand has become a new age Gomorra where prostitution flourishes and children are to leave their homes at a very early age to earn money for their families.  Nobody would do this line of work if they would have a chance to do something else – poverty leaves no other options. Investors have generated discontent by hijacking the lands from their previous owners – the people. The people have to adjust to these new rules and work for these companies as well as benefit from tourism in any way they can. This creates forms of ethically dubious activity. We should understand that while we act as tourists with no sense of reality we will keep on upholding these disturbing conditions.

When I was in Phnom Penh, the capital of Campodia, I realized how people had taken actions against businesses with strong agenda to build new houses on the banks of the river Tonlé Sap. “We are not for sale” were written on the walls of huts belonging to those living on the premises. I heard that the Chinese were investing respectable sums of money to restore the glory of this once thriving French built jewel. At that time I realized how loose business ethics can be. The good of the people means only little – if none. I bet that soon after these massive buildings have been built businessmen will flow in and hold important conferences where they decide what to take next. And tourists feel also safer thanks to the reminders (symbols) of our civilized world.   

Next time you go to a five star holiday ask yourself; who does it benefit besides my own need to feel relaxed and privileged.

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