By Patrick Fuller, IFRC tsunami communications coordinator, Kuala Lumpur
On December 26th, 2004 an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered a devastating tsunami which claimed the lives of almost 230,000 people across five Indian Ocean countries. Four and a half years on - the massive task of reconstruction in affected countries is almost complete. Thousands of kilometres of coastline in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the Maldives were devastated, but now, the barren ground where entire settlements were swept away has been transformed. New communities have sprung up and tsunami survivors have moved on with their lives.
The tsunami led to an unprecedented humanitarian response from the Red Cross Red Crescent which continues to support communities in their longer term recovery.
"It has been a huge undertaking. So far we have reached more than 4.5 million people but it's not as simple as just rebuilding peoples homes and livelihoods, it's about restoring their dignity and making sure that they have a say and participate fully in their own recovery", explains Al Panico, head of the IFRC's tsunami recovery unit.
One of the most significant achievements has been the completion of more than 44,000 new homes, most of which have been constructed in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives. By the end of 2009, over 95% of the target number of 55,769 houses to be built by the Red Cross Red Crescent will have been constructed. The end to the conflict in Sri Lanka now means that reconstruction projects in areas of the north of the country that were put on hold, are now underway.
The Red Cross Red Crescent recovery programme has been wide-ranging. The main focus has been on the reconstruction of physical infrastructure such as homes, schools and health facilities. More than 270 health facilities have been built or rehabilitated. These structures include hospitals, local health centres and nursing schools. Support has also been provided to the public education sector. So far, more than 145 primary and secondary level schools have been constructed.
Helping tsunami survivors to restore or improve their livelihoods has been another priority. Almost 60,000 households have received livelihoods support grants which have been used to start a diverse range of small income generating projects such as vegetable gardens, livestock rearing and food production businesses.
Red Cross Red Crescent partners have also been focused on improving water and sanitation for resettled communities and surrounding host communities. More than 620,000 people have been provided with a better water supply through projects ranging from the construction of water supply systems and main line distribution networks that pipe water to entire towns in Sri Lanka to household level rainwater harvesting kits in the Maldives. Promoting awareness around good hygiene practises is equally important. Hygiene promotion programmes together with other community-based health services provided by Red Cross Red Crescent partners, have benefited more than 870,000 people since the tsunami struck.
One of the most significant investments made by the Red Cross Red Crescent has been in the area of Disaster Management. Building safer communities that are better equipped to prepare for and respond to natural disasters is a vital step towards saving lives. So far, more than 480 local communities have completed disaster preparedness and contingency plans with Red Cross Red Crescent support. School children have been taught evacuation drills and district level disaster response teams have been trained and are ready to respond to future hazards.
"Scores of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from all over the world have supported this operation. Some will continue after 2011 - building on the strength of our national societies in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and the Maldives, helping them to deliver high quality humanitarian services", says Panico.