On 26 December 2004, a magnitude 9 earthquake off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra set off massive tsunamis, which slammed into coastal towns and villages across south and south east Asia, killing tens of thousands of people. The quake—one of the most powerful ever recorded— first struck at 7.59 a.m. with multiple tremors felt in the Andaman Islands. The quake triggered tsunamis reaching ten metres in height, which swept across the Indian Ocean at speeds of over 500km per hour, striking coastal regions of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia. The tsunami also swept across the low-lying islands that make up the Maldives and caused damage along the African coast.
The tsunamis flooded coastal areas and wiped away homes and buildings, roads and bridges, water and electricity supplies, crops, irrigation and fishery infrastructure, food and fuel networks. The official death toll was 240,000, although the full extent of the loss of life and damage may never be known. The disaster predominately affected poor communities where people lived on marginal land. Millions of people lost everything and were left homeless. Recovery remains ongoing. The disaster was one of the deadliest and most damaging natural disasters in recorded history.
CWS sent first relief funds just days after the disaster struck. We supported partner groups in the affected areas and contributed to the US$64 million ACT International appeal.
- Initial Response in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia
- One year one (2005) with case studies from Indonesia and Sri Lanka (appeal for justice for victims)
- Three years on (2007)
In its biggest collective response as an alliance, ACT International’s members are marking three years of response to the tsunami that struck southeast Asia and parts of the east coast of Africa on December 26, 2004. A fact sheet sets out the enormous amount of work achieved by ACT International members in setting up disaster management teams, providing relief kits, feeding programmes, repairing fishing boats and gear, community development, health programmes, temporary shelter and disaster-resistant housing, cash for work programmes, educational support materials, psychological care, assistance for livelihood projects, vocational skills training, capacity-building, agricultural support and community organisation and networking for tens of thousands of people in Aceh, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Somalia.
In his introduction to the report ACT International Director, John Nduna says: “From those first moments of horror and disbelief, and shock and chaos, followed by despair and grief, the journey to recovery for the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the catastrophic events of that day has been a long and difficult one. For the members of ACT in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Somalia responding to the emergency, the journey has been one of many challenges, but also of learning, as they continue to assist communities in re-building their lives.
While most of the projects will soon be completed some will need to be continued. In addition to the three-year response, several members are now also planning follow-on appeals to focus on continued rehabilitation, strengthening some of the earlier interventions, as well as reinforcing community-based disaster preparedness programmes established during the appeal period. Most recently, Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action, India, issued such a follow-on appeal through ACT International to address housing and community infrastructure needs of marginalised dalit communities that had also been affected by the tsunami.
The summary of the ACT members’ response can only ever be seen as one part of the overall picture. The people living in the areas hit by the tsunami (and the later Nias earthquake in Aceh) for instance, were not living in a humanitarian vacuum. Nor were the people living in the conflict-stricken regions of Sri Lanka or Somalia. In India, massive flooding threatened tsunami-related projects repeatedly. In all cases, the most vulnerable in the communities—marginalised groups, women and children for instance—were especially affected.
ACT International’s 2006 evaluations underlined the importance of faith in the affected communities’ healing process and that its members, already familiar with their multi-faith operating environments, were able to accommodate and incorporate the spiritual dimension in their provision. The ACT International action is one part of a response that started in those first chaotic moments, when many who were affected by the disaster were the first to provide assistance.”
The report goes on to outline some of the huge problems with which staff members have had to grapple, such as the cost of construction materials, including bricks and sand. Manufacturers of cement and steel took advantage of huge demands and increased prices. Sometimes, even after paying the higher price, the supply of materials could not be assured. Resettlement sites allocated by governments were on wastelands, which entailed a large amount of work in site drainage and sewage disposal, while the provision of water and electricity supplies are still to be completed by governments. Also noted is the fact that fishing communities report a substantial decrease in the number of fish being caught and as prices have increased, their sales have dropped. In the past, fishing communities used traditional methods to forecast the sea and weather conditions. Since the tsunami, communities have observed inconsistent sea conditions, which have created an uncertainty and anxiety among the people regarding their own professional future and that of their children. So while much has been achieved and the generosity of those who donated is much appreciated, the affected people themselves still have a long way to go. They need our prayers and support.
Download ACT International factsheet on tsunami response 3 years on
CWS Response to the Boxing Day Tsunami: One year on
On December 27, CWS launched an appeal to fund disaster relief and contacted existing partner groups to check on their well being and pledge immediate assistance. The first funds were sent on December 29. To date, CWS has sent over $863,300 to the region, with another $100,000 committed to reconstruction in the coming years. CWS funded the work of 3 long-term partners in India, 6 partners in Sri Lanka and ACT International efforts in Aceh, Nias and other affected areas. CWS supported immediate relief, advocacy for survivors’ rights, trauma counselling, midterm recovery projects and reconstruction.
Initial aid was for food, clean water, medical supplies, tents and blankets, clothing and other non-food household items, mobile health units (treating over 1500 in Aceh alone by February), clearing of wells and waterways, and sanitation services (such as building latrines). More than 75,000 displaced people received clean water supplies and 8000 families were provided with shelter. In the first days, partners were busy helping bury the dead and clearing roads to get supplies in. In India, CWS partners worked in more than 60 coastal villages. More than 100 houses have been rebuilt and 40 communities have received training in trauma counselling. In Sri Lanka, Singhalese volunteers went to Tamil villages to assist with the clean up and to further peace-building efforts between communities with a long history of conflict. In Nias, local people were trained as health officers. CWS partners also assisted with the registration of deaths, loss of homes and livelihoods (including for illiterate communities to make applications for assistance) and applications for replacement documentation. In all areas, committees were established so beneficiaries could identify their own priorities. Relief efforts then moved on to counselling services and training of local volunteers as peer trauma counsellors, rebuilding of houses, funding to assist fishing communities to replace equipment, and seed money to re-establish livelihoods, replace lost tools and provide funding for new job opportunities. More than 30,000 school kits have been distributed to children.
In India and Sri Lanka, an important aspect of tsunami relief was monitoring government and World Bank plans to rebuild in favour of commercial interests, forcing poor communities from their former homes and livelihoods, revictimising survivors of the tsunami. CWS supported advocacy programmes to secure the rights of all people affected by the disaster.
Life is slowly returning to normal for Sasrezal, 31, and his wife, Netti Suharni, 29, just one of thousands of families helped by CWS partner, YEU, in Aceh. Thanks to YEU, they have a new house and have reopened their vegetable shop. Their village, Lamreh, bore the full brunt of the tsunami. Little remained. The couple managed to flee to safety with their two children, but lost many relatives and friends, their new house and businesses, and their way of life.
Before the tsunami, Sasrezal worked as a fisherman, grew chilli peppers to sell, and ran a small shop. Netti made clothing and ran a small coffee shop. In the first weeks after the tsunami, they were too traumatized to return to the spot where their village had been. They didn’t even want to think about trying to find money to survive on. Now they have their new shop underneath a simple, one-room house and Netti has a new sewing machine to start tailoring again.
They received the money to rebuild their businesses from a YEU livelihood restoration programme. At first, they sold the vegetables in the village from the back of a motorcycle. A few months later, YEU provided them and others in the village with houses. The houses are constructed according to a design, approved by the villagers, that allows families to live upstairs with additional space for living quarters, storage, or running a business underneath.
YEU was the first organization to offer immediate relief in the first days after the tsunami. Now in the longer-term rehabilitation phase, YEU is working to re-establish the village. Its other projects are in the areas of water and sanitation and operating health clinics. YEU is working with other camps in the area to help people return to their former homes.
YEU established a 6 month emergency response and a 12 month recovery phase throughout affected areas of Aceh. They took responsibility for 23 camps and provided health, clean water, sanitation services and shelter. This included building latrines, drilling wells, immunization programmes, first aid training, hygiene promotion, and health clinics treating common infections and providing first aid. Their camps provided public space for prayer and gatherings to support the mainly Muslim community, schools, play area, and vegetable gardens. They have also worked to build the skills and knowledge of women in the camps, especially around reproductive health and nutrition. Trauma counselling has been a priority with anxiety, post –traumatic stress syndrome, insecurity and depression common amongst survivors. As well as peer counselling, cultural activities such as Koran reading, art, music and sports have helped people deal with their trauma.
During the rapid response phase, it was the beneficiaries who informed YEU of their needs. Later in the process they assisted YEU in the assessment and selection of beneficiaries. In the post crisis phase, the beneficiaries are organized into groups to identify priorities. Now housing and livelihood restoration, like the programme that has benefited Sasrezal and Netti, are marking the move from relief to longer-term reconstruction and recovery. Hundreds of people have been helped to return to or establish work in fishing, farming, gardening, carpentry, catering, trading, sewing, food vending, ship yards, as well as establishing a beauty salon, bakeries and several mechanics garages.
For Sasrezal and Netti life is bittersweet. They still have trauma from the tsunami, which they say they can’t forget. There are regular reminders, they say, such as when the wind blows strongly or when it rains heavily. And this month, there have been some small earthquakes. “Even though we are happy, how big is that happiness?” asks Sasrezal, considering all he lost. But Sasrezal also speaks positively about the future. He wants to enlarge their store and expand its selection of products. With their basic needs taken care of, Sasrezal and Netti are finding ways to live normally again and are rediscovering hope for the future.
Tsunami Relief: Case Study Two
MONLAR: Justice to Tsunami Victims, Sri Lanka
“Please do not bring tourism hotels instead of us,” is the plea of traditional fishing communities in Sri Lanka. Having lost their homes, livelihoods and family members to the 26 December tsunami, fisher folk throughout the region now face another tragedy: the loss of their entire way of life.
CWS long term partner, MONLAR, is working to ensure the poor have a voice in their own reconstruction and don’t become further victimised as commercial interests take priority. Government plans to rebuild the area with modernised systems and infrastructure are worrying to MONLAR, who campaign on behalf of the poorest farmers and workers for fairer economic policies and programmes and oppose globalisation that is damaging their traditional livelihoods. “Those who have been affected by the disaster [subsistence farmers and traditional fisherfolk] do not belong to the ‘modern society’. Putting in place a new infrastructure and systems to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of ‘modern society’ will be irrelevant and harmful to them,” says MONLAR. “Sri Lanka should plan its nation rebuilding by putting the people at the centre of all development programmes.”
The government has limited where families can rebuild, effectively prohibiting construction within 100 metres of the sea. Yet exemptions are being made for tourism operations. The Sri Lankan Tourist Board says “nature has presented Sri Lanka with a unique opportunity, and out of this great tragedy will come a world class tourism destination.” Hotels, a marina, shopping centre, floating plane pier and helipad will replace what used to be largely fishing and agricultural communities. The people will be moved into 5 separate inland locations, over 1km from the sea and without access to their fishing areas. 800,000 small scale fish workers and their families will be moved from their livelihoods and settlements to clear the beaches for rich tourist businesses and big fishing industry.
Water privatisation, which MONLAR and the people of Sri Lanka have fought successfully in the past, is now being rushed through. This is not simply rebuilding damaged water supply systems, it is clearing the way for private water companies to begin marketing water, which will put this previously freely available necessity out of reach of the poor. “This is a total abuse of tsunami assistance,” say MONLAR. They have organised an international petition calling for justice for tsunami victims, which CWS supported in New Zealand.
MONLAR has been questioning to whom does the relief belong? They have been arguing that international financial institutions (such as the IMF and World Bank) are controlling the agenda. Over US$3 billion has been received by the Sri Lankan government for tsunami relief. That money is now helping fund commercial development rather than reconstruction for the people who suffered. MONLAR has organised for a people’s commission to determine the direction rebuilding should take. They have organised specialist research teams from local universities to go to communities and discover the real needs not being reported and develop a coordinated plan of response. People’s Planning Commissions, bringing together affected people and respected scientists and scholars to develop a people's plan for recovery after the tsunami met in October.
At the same time, MONLAR is working to ensure people still living in camps are not forgotten. They are coordinating with other non-government organisations to build houses, repair and rebuild fishing boats (and livelihoods) and provide health services for people missing out on government assistance. This follows their immediate post tsunami relief work of providing food, medicines, blankets, water pumps, health training, mobile health clinics and organising clean up operations. MONLAR worked by establishing links between groups in the affected areas and those in the non-affected region for collaborative action. Local people donated their time and the groups on the ground worked hard to ensure the communities were organised so they could set their own priorities for relief aid.
In India, the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were the worst affected by the killer waves. The death toll is now over 16,000 with hundreds of villages affected and millions of people left traumatised.
Thousands of houses are damaged or destroyed. Many families have lost all their household contents including basic necessities such as clothing, bedding, kitchen utensils etc. There is extensive damage to road, rail, port and other infrastructure and the loss to crops and livestock is phenomenal. The electricity supply has been badly affected and drinking water sources have been contaminated.. Standing crops and sources of livelihood of fisher families and rural artisans in the affected areas have been totally destroyed. The living conditions in the affected areas are appalling.
People belonging to marginalised communities, like the fisherfolk of Tamil Nadu, are the worst off as they have no fallback or resources and have lost their only sources of employment. They will not be able to rebuild their homes and livelihoods without financial assistance.
CWS partner, Neythal, based in Nagapattinam on the southern most coast works with fisherfolk. With their sister organization Sneha they are coordinating local relief efforts in Nagapattinam delivering food and essential supplies. Jesu reports of walking through bodies to get to those in need and her growing concern that the poorest people will miss out. More than 10 days after the tsunamis, Neythal staff were still recovering bodies. The full impact on the fishing communities of Tamil Nadu may never be known. It will take decades for people to recover. CWS has sent $70,000 for a variety of activities, including both immediate needs of people in or from 50 coastal communities and in-depth assessment of longer-term needs, so that the affected communities can have a real say in what happens to them in post-tsunami reconstruction. One of the biggest fears is that the fisherfolk, being poor and marginalised, will be forced to move from their former villages and livehoods to make way for transnational corporations and industrial interests wanting to ‘develop’ the coast.
Voluntary Health Association of Kanyakumari, South India, have been active from day one providing relief supplies and other assistance. CWS is funding the group to set up relief committees in each affected village, so survivors can identify their own needs, and for the training of local people to carry out trauma counselling work
CASA: CWS partner, CASA (Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action), has completed an emergency-feeding program through the local church networks, reaching thousands of people in the most affected areas. Distribution of food and non-food items including blankets, medicine, clothing and plastic sheeting for shelters to assist 50,000 families started first thing on Monday, January 3. , CASA has set up five regional response teams, three in Tamil Nadu, one in Andhra Pradesh, and one in Kerala. Beneficiaries are being identified with the help of community leaders. In Tamil Nadu alone, CASA will bring assistance to some 40 villages along the coastline, serving 30,000 families. After the crisis phase relief efforts, CASA plans to rehabilitate houses and people's livelihoods, which will happen over a period of two years. CASA also plans to implement its community-based disaster preparedness program, which has proved successful in many other parts of India, where CASA traditionally responds to disasters. CASA will continue to provide food and non-food assistance and temporary shelter until the people can rebuild. Volunteers have removed dead bodies from waterways and buried them by hand. CASA comprises 24 Protestant and Orthodox churches in India and has been responding to emergencies and disasters since 1947.
SAND: CWS partner, Social Action for Development (SAND) a small non-governmental organization based in the Madurai district has travelled to the Kanyakumari District in the extreme south to assist in the local Indian relief effort.
Initial Response: How CWS is helping in Sri Lanka
NCCSL: National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), a partner of CWS through Action by Churches Together International (ACT)-a global alliance of churches and church-based agencies, began responding in the first hours of the disaster. Truckloads of essential materials (dry rations, clothes, medicines and cooking utensils) have been sent throughout the devastated region. Local congregations of the Anglican, Methodist, and Church of South India churches took charge of distribution to affected families.
Because of logistical difficulties in reaching the far north of the country, the NCCSL sent funds to the Christian Union in Jaffna, enabling that regional church coalition to provide emergency assistance to shelters in the remote lagoon area. The NCCSL also provided funding to purchase baby bottles, rubber sandals, and food in an area of the country controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The NCCSL is beginning to organize training in post-trauma counselling and has been providing initial pastoral care. Local churches are operating as shelters. Relief operations will continue for a year. The first phase (6 weeks) will focus on provision of essential emergency relief such as food rations, clothing, sheets and mats, medicine, mosquito coils and nets, soap, women's hygiene products, baby bottles, kitchen utensils, plates and cups, and pots and pans. The need for non-food items is expected to increase as people move from public buildings to temporary shelters. The second phase (6 weeks) will focus on establishing temporary living structures for those in public buildings and providing essential non-food items so that beneficiaries are able to return to the areas where they lived before the disaster. Water and sanitation services will be established for the temporary shelters. Kerosene-driver water pumps and will be supplied to clear seawater-contaminated wells. Generators will be supplied to provide electricity. Phase III (40 weeks) will focus on rebuilding homes and rehabilitating sustainable livelihoods.
Monlar: Monlar works with peasant farmers and farmworkers. It is using its extensive village links to mobilize support for some of the most devastated regions many of which remain almost inaccessible because of the loss of roads and bridges. Even the poorest families are contributing food supplies to help both Tamil and Sinhala people affected by the tsunamis. CWS has funded medical work, health information leaflets for people in camps, money for tools to enable volunteer teams to clean up roads, house sites, wells, canals, etc, and funds to enable groups to visit and support affected communities in ways that those communities want. MONLAR is coordinating 30 member organizations in this task. The location of their work will be east and west coasts, the south coast and some areas of the north.
Devasarana has suspended existing activity and are diverting funds and efforts to share with the poorest communities who they are afraid will miss out. Their focus is on Tamil communities in the east where they are delivering medicine, food and water supplies.
CWS has funded long-term partner, The Women's Centre, for rebuilding of 50 houses in Batticaloa and other places where Free Trade Zone workers have lost their homes.
Initial Response: How CWS is helping in Indonesia
The province of Aceh in Indonesia has been one of the worst hit by the quake and following tsunamis. The waves swept debris and seawater into homes and buildings, crushing them in its path, up to 5 kms inland, and damaging roads and bridges, telecommunications, water and electricity supplies, crops, hospitals, irrigation and fishery infrastructure, food and fuel outlets. The death toll now stands at 174,000 although the full extent of the damage and loss of life in Indonesia may never be known. It is estimated as many as 2,000,000 people are in need and some 1,000,000 people required immediate assistance. Two thirds of the total population of Banda Aceh (at least 144,455 people) have been affected. In western coastal areas, officials put the destruction at 80 – 90 %. The situation in Nias is similar to Aceh, but people are feeling forgotten and neglected since Aceh is receiving more attention from the government and NGOs as it is known to be badly affected.
The survivors are fatigued, hungry, thirsty and traumatised. Many are still desperately searching for their missing loved ones. Most have lost their means of livelihood and have no resources to fall back upon. Sanitation is non-existent and there is a lack of medical assistance and medicines.
Relief efforts have been complicated by Aceh’s increasing isolation due to the clampdown by the Indonesian government on the people’s struggles. Humanitarian access to Indonesia's Aceh province remains difficult, as some areas hit by the tsunami on December 26 are still not accessible by land.
CWS partners have been meeting the immediate needs of people left homeless, including: food, clean drinking water, temporary shelter, cooking equipment, clothing, blankets and mattresses, medical assistance and psychosocial care. These local groups will continue to provide food and other emergency relief efforts for at least 3 months. Efforts will then turn to rehabilitation and reconstruction, with work already beginning on the clearance of debris and trauma counselling. Restoring food production, livelihoods, houses and infrastructure will be priorities. The current programme is expected to last for at least two years. CWS is specifically supporting work in Banda Aceh, Lkhoksumawe, the West Coast of Aceh and Nias Island.