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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Four years on, tremendous improvements can be seen

Lessons of the tsunami

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1267/Estey
Students enjoy an arts and crafts class at SDN Peukan Bada Elementary School in Aceh Besar. The earthquake-resistant, child-friendly school was completed by UNICEF in 2006.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 23 December 2008 – The 2004 tsunami left a wake of devastation that stretched across the Indian Ocean. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Many more were made homeless. Poor and isolated communities were left struggling to survive.

Four years after the disaster, which struck on 26 December, tremendous improvements can be seen in many places – improvements that go beyond repair and restoration and towards building back better for the future.

The immediate emergency is over, but UNICEF and its partners remain committed to improving the lives of millions of children across the region.

Long-term improvements

“The lessons of the tsunami will never end,” says Jonathan Cauldwell, who was UNICEF’s Chief of Tsunami Transition Support. “The funding will end, we can complete the construction, we can complete the project, but the intervention never ends. And it keeps having a knock-on effect because we’ve left something behind.”

The basic needs of children affected by the tsunami have been met and those countries worst hit are now undergoing the transition to developing regular services and programmes.

The long-term improvement of water and sanitation is critical; so too is building new schools that are better able to withstand earthquakes. More children are attending classes as a result of these developments and the child-friendly approach that has been introduced.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1265/Estey
Girls sit on a bench outside a classroom at SDN Peukan Bada Elementary School in the district of Aceh Besar, Indonesia, which was hard hit by the tsunami. Their school was rebuilt as part of UNICEF-supported efforts to improve access to education.

Better nutrition, post-natal care and other life saving interventions are also helping countries move towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality.

Building local capacities

“The tsunami, despite being a horrific event, also provided a lot of opportunities for those countries. It brought a peace dividend within Banda Aceh where you still see peace in an area which had suffered from long-term localized conflict,” says Mr. Cauldwell, referring to the area of Indonesia where the tsunami did some of its worst damage.

“It allowed those areas to be built up as well, to have investments in infrastructure, in social services, and more importantly building capacities at a local level so that the countries themselves can take on programming to the longer term.”

The response to the tsunami and the lessons learned have changed the way UNICEF deals with such emergencies. The disaster highlighted the need for better coordination among partners and other aid organizations. It also contributed to reforms to the way humanitarian relief is administered and delivered.

UNICEF and its partners were already active in many of the countries affected. They were there when the tsunami struck. And UNICEF remains committed for the longer term, improving the lives of children and building back better for the future.




December 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on progress made since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
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