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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

UNICEF committed to long-term interventions in the tsunami zone

Building back better

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1371/Pietrasik
In tsunami-affected Ampara District, Sri Lanka, a labourer works on one of three holding tanks in the Thirkkoeil water project, funded entirely by UNICEF, which will provide safe water for 6,000 families.

By Jane O’Brien  

NEW YORK, USA, 23 December 2008 – The immediate emergency sparked by the Indian Ocean tsunami four years ago is drawing to a close, but UNICEF is committed to long-term interventions that go beyond repairing or replacing what was destroyed.

UNICEF’s policy of ‘building back better’ means that the needs of millions of vulnerable children and women are being met in ways that were not available before the disaster.

For instance, better-designed, earthquake-resistant schools are being constructed, health care is now reaching isolated and marginalized communities, and water and sanitation is being provided in areas where it was previously inaccessible.

Health and child care

In Tamil Nadu, one of India’s worst hit regions, 98 primary health centres were given essential equipment for the care of newborns – equipment that has dramatically improved neonatal care and will continue to save lives for many years to come.

Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) Centres have also been established throughout the country to provide, nutrition services for children and mothers. UNICEF has supplied the centres with furniture, cooking utensils and play materials.

Ratnasamy Sangeetha is one of hundreds of volunteers recruited to help restore child-care services in the aftermath of the tsunami. She now has a government job and works at an ICDS Centre in Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu.

“I can see visible improvement in the nutritional status of children,” she says. “There were several children with poor weight in the centre to begin with. As days went by, several of them had gained weight.”

© UNICEF HQ/2008/Pietrasik
A UNICEF-supplied neonatal transport unit in tsunami-affected Tamil Nadu, India, has saved 28 newborn lives to date, in cases involving birth asphyxia, seizures and respiratory distress.

Schools provide hope

In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, hundreds of earthquake resistant schools are being built. Peukan Bada School is typical of the higher safety standards and follows a child-friendly school approach.

The original school, located in one of the worst affected areas, was washed away by the tsunami, killing 130 students.

“Before this building was built by UNICEF, we were in a temporary school,” says the headmaster, Sawina. “During that time, we only had 50 students. With the beautiful conditions of this current school, we now have 141 students. This is our hope … our hope for the future.”

A lasting legacy

Water and sanitation is another area where long-term improvements have been made. K. Rathneswary, from Sri Lanka’s Hindu Tamil community, is 50 years old and lives by the sea in Karathivu. She lost her husband, a daughter and her home in the tsunami.

In the ensuing months, finding safe water for her four surviving children was a constant problem – but now she uses a well, dug by UNICEF.

“All of us have greatly benefited,” she says. “All our neighbours get water from this. This well is new, not like the old wells, which were contaminated by tsunami water.”

Most governments in the countries affected by the tsunami are making a transition to incorporate programmes provided by emergency aid into their regular services. The relief effort provided an opportunity to build back better, and these projects are here to stay – a lasting legacy that will benefit millions of children for years to come.




December 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on efforts to ‘build back better’ after the 2004 tsunami.
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