“Sexy” projects are easier to fund

This posting is from a journal I kept as a Crisis Corps volunteer working on the tsunami recovery in Thailand.

Boats are “sexy”Donated boats - Thailand - photo by Saundra Schimmelpfennig

Boats have become the “sexy” projects of the tsunami recovery.  Go onto the web site of most aid organizations and odds are that somewhere they will talk about boats.  Some days it’s seems as though you can’t turn around without running into another organization working to give boats to villagers.

Don’t get me wrong, boats are very important for these coastal villages.  They are also extremely difficult for the average villager to replace because, as a general rule, they cost around 120,000 baht (to put this into perspective, as a crisis corps volunteer I would make about 96,000 baht a year, and our salary is based upon local wages).  This means it’s almost impossible for villagers to replace their boats on their own, especially now that many of their livelihoods have been destroyed.  So boats are desperately needed.  But there is a growing belief (unsubstantiated because of the difficulty of collecting data from the multitude of aid organizations) that there will be more boats in this area after the tsunami than there were before the tsunami.  There is also a fear that some people may well receive 2 or 3 boats.

Were too many boats made?

Boat building project - Thailand - Saundra Schimmelpfennig Because of all the confusion and flurry of boat making, a local aid organization decided to hold off for a while to see if more boats were actually needed.  This idea abruptly changed when staff from the home office showed up and restarted the boat building program.  Why?

Because it was what the people back at home wanted to see.  Last week we were giving a tour of the area to an organization that had just arrived in country.  As we went past a boat building yard they admitted that they were already tired of hearing about boats.

Why so many boats?

Why so many boats?  Because they are a “sexy” project. “Sexy” projects are photogenic, please donors, and are easy to fund. Because of the very nature of many aid organizations, they live and die by donations. if people stop donating money to their organization the organization may cease to function or even to exist, and therefore be unable to help the villagers recover from the tsunami.  There is a real need for concrete and quick results which organizations can show to their donors back home.  And if it just happens to be a picturesque boat, all the better.  Boat Project - Thailand - Photo by Saundra Schimmelpfennig

Because of the lack of clear data from both the aid agencies and the government, it is not certain how many boats were needed or built. Some estimate two to three times as many boats were made as lost. There is a concern that the over production of boats will lead to overfishing as well as increased competition damaging the livelihoods of traditional fishermen.

The race to build boats to please donors led to a probable over production and an unfair distribution of boats.