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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Learning lessons from tsunami response

© UNICEF video
Claudia Hudspeth, UNICEF’s Senior Coordinator for Emergency Operations

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, 7 April 2005 – Three and a half months after the tsunami devastated south-east Asia, UNICEF’s emergency response team is beginning to evaluate the lessons learned during the humanitarian response. Claudia Hudspeth, who is UNICEF’s Senior Coordinator for Emergency Operations (EMOPS), recently returned from a three-month posting to Aceh, Indonesia, where she helped organize aid efforts.

“The difference between Aceh and other emergencies,” explains Hudspeth, “is that there were many, many national and international NGOs as well as voluntary organizations.  We had about 400 partners, which is a massive coordination effort.”

With an already established presence and staff on the ground in Indonesia before disaster hit, UNICEF was well-placed to act as coordinator for the other organizations who arrived after the tsunami says Hudspeth.

“There were so many players.  At any coordination you would go to, there would be 250 people all saying, ‘I have this, I have that’. So the coordination function was absolutely crucial to deliver equitable aid.”

 “We didn’t want everything [to go to] the easily accessible cities and nothing out on the west coast, which you can only access by helicopter. I think UNICEF’s role was critical –  to be able to identify the needs and then make sure we reached all people.”

The role of key partnerships

UNICEF has worked closely with the government authorities in Aceh, where much of the infrastructure was wiped out.  Another key partnership was with the military teams which several countries sent to help with the relief effort. As Hudspeth describes it, the cooperative effort was an important opportunity for all partners to learn from the others.

“There were 15 international militaries there at the height of the crisis.  We could not have responded without them there. The Indonesian military was the lead coordinator, so we had some interaction with them but we worked largely with the US military. We worked very heavily with the Japanese as well, who provided logistical support and also provided technical support in terms of public health. They brought their own experts and helped us a lot. 

“It was a very positive interaction between the UN, the NGOs and the military. I think we learned a lot from them, and they from us, about operating in a humanitarian environment.”

‘Like nothing I’ve ever seen’

Speaking from a more personal point of view, Hudspeth recalls the impact of the disaster on the aid workers: “It was very difficult for everyone.  Massive destruction, massive loss of life, 250,000 people dead, 500,000 people displaced – so in terms of the scale of the destruction it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. In terms of the staff themselves, it was quite difficult. We were also having daily earthquakes. Waking up at 3 a.m. with an earthquake and just trying to cope with daily stress is difficult.”

Hudspeth returned from assignment in Aceh at the end of March. She is convinced that the lessons learned in Indonesia and in other tsunami-affected countries will have a positive impact on UNICEF’s capacity to respond in other emergencies.

“I’ve brought back a lot of ideas that I can bring to the emergency response team about improving UNICEF’s emergency response capacity. I’m working with a team in EMOPS to define what we can do better in the future.”




5 April 2005:
Claudia Hudspeth, UNICEF’s Senior Coordinator for Emergency Operations , discusses the organization’s role in the post-tsunami relief effort.

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