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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Ninety days after the tsunami: UNICEF aims to ‘build back better’

© credit: UNICEF/HQ05-0023/Holmes
A girl, Fariza Nadia, stands by a tent she is sharing with her family in a camp for people displaced by the tsunami disaster in Banda Aceh.

NEW YORK, 21 March 2005 - Ninety days after the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean region - resulting in the worst natural disaster in a generation - UNICEF has moved out of the relief phase and has begun planning and supporting long-term restoration.

The organization’s strategy is to ‘build back better’, helping to construct up-to-date schools and health care facilities in the countries affected by the disaster.

“The idea of building better is that whenever you have a disaster it’s a terrible thing, but it’s also an opportunity,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Prorammes Dan Toole.

According to official estimates, December’s earthquake and tsunami killed more than 280,000 people. The coasts of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar and Somalia were devastated. Homes, schools, bridges and roads were washed away. The lives and livelihoods of millions of people were affected. Thousands are still missing and more than 1.2 million people have been forced from their homes. UNICEF estimates that more than a third of those killed were children.

‘Incredible generosity’

The enormity of the disaster was matched by a global outpouring of goodwill.

UNICEF asked for $144.5 million from international donors to provide urgent humanitarian aid. Half way through the relief phase, half of that money has been spent meeting the urgent needs of the survivors for water, shelter and health care, as well as getting children back to school and providing protection for those who had lost parents.

“It shows the incredible generosity of the world. It’s not just one country and its people. It has happened across the planet from Malaysia to San Francisco to Oslo. People gave money, energy, they gave letters and support. The outpouring was something we’ve never seen before,” said Mr. Toole.


© UNICEF/HQ05-0215/Pietrasik
Grade 8 girls attend a social studies class in a temporary classroom at Al-Arham Vidyalaya School in eastern Sri Lanka. The original school was completely destroyed by the tsunami.

One of the achievements of the relief effort was the prevention, in a situation of great chaos and vulnerability for thousands of children, of trafficking.

“We prevented, through advocacy, the trafficking of huge numbers of children. We put out an SOS in the early days. We didn’t see trafficking. We didn’t see a lot of demand for inter-country adoption when it wasn’t right. We saw governments strengthen their regulations to control some of these practices  and that means we prevented problems,” Mr. Toole said.

Another achievement of the response during the first 90 days was the recognition of education as an important way to protect children from danger and help them resume their normal lives as quickly as possible.

“We’ve struggled for ten years to get education considered as an emergency response. The tsunami was a perfect example of where education got equal attention from the very beginning. That’s a tremendous achievement,” Mr. Toole said.

A gigantic recovery effort

As the immediate phase of the disaster ends, UNICEF has begun working in close collaboration with the region’s governments to plan for the medium and long term. This means responding to the opportunity to provide better schools and health care facilities, and work to improve children’s prospects for the future.

For health services, Mr. Toole said this means focusing on decentralized health centres. “The little health post at the community level takes very little money but it responds to the immediate needs of the community,” Mr Toole said.

As the world’s attention gradually shifts away from the tsunami-affected region, UNICEF’s focus will be to follow through on commitments and opportunities. A special focus will be providing support for long-term trauma recovery for children. ‘We’re looking at a gigantic recovery effort,” Mr Toole said. “It’s going to take a very long time.”




22 March 2005:
What UNICEF has been doing in the 90 days since the tsunami struck.

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Official updates

Read the full text of ‘Much Done, More to Do’
 UNICEF's two year tsunami update [PDF]

Children and the Tsunami, A Year On: A Draft UNICEF Summary of What Worked [PDF]

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