Latest update: December 2007
The day the tsunami surged over the coasts of the Indian Ocean, Oxfam mounted the largest relief effort in our history. We rushed clean water, equipment, shelter materials, and other essential supplies to the region in an all-out effort to protect the lives of the survivors. Over time, the emergency relief effort gave way to rehabilitation, the process of helping restore a measure of normalcy to people's lives by rebuilding homes and reviving livelihoods. But the wave struck communities that were already struggling with the everyday disaster of poverty, and building back to the old standard - gigantic a job as that would be - is not enough. While carrying out programs to protect public health, restore small businesses, and provide dignified housing to displaced people, Oxfam is finding opportunities to help people create sustainable improvements in their lives and livelihoods.
"I used to feel like a bonded laborer,
working for a contractor in a construction site. Now, I can take care of
my family and at the same time earn my income, besides providing employment
to seven other people."
-- Palaniamma, who has set up a coconut-fiber business in Parangipettai, India with a loan from Oxfam
Water and Sanitation: Preventing the Spread of Disease
Protecting public health, which is always in jeopardy when large numbers of people are forced to leave their homes and gather in temporary camps, was our top priority in the aftermath of the tsunami. Our engineers, aided by staff and local volunteers, quickly set up emergency water supplies and set about cleaning up contaminated village wells and restoring town water systems. Oxfam staff and partners installed bathing facilities and latrines at camps for displaced people and distributed hygiene supplies throughout the region. By providing safe, clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands of survivors of the tsunami, we played a major role in preventing a second wave of death from disease.
In a July 24, 2005 editorial, the New York Times noted that "...six months later, there has been no spike in diarrheal disease, cholera, giardiasis, and dysentery. The affected areas have had no increase in malaria or dengue fever-diseases spread by mosquitoes, which breed in standing water. In many places, tsunami survivors living in camps have suffered less from waterborne diseases than countrymen in comparable areas who were not affected." The safe water campaign carried out by Oxfam and other agencies was, as they said, "a story of aid done right."
Providing shelter that meets the needs of displaced people has been another of our top priorities from the start. In the early weeks after the disaster, Oxfam distributed tents, blankets, and other emergency shelter materials to thousands of households. We advocated with governments and aid providers to uphold internationally accepted Sphere standards in shelter construction to ensure not only the health and safety of residents, but also their dignity. Early in 2005 we began working with communities to construct durable transitional shelters. In many cases, Oxfam provided materials, training, and wages to support women and men to construct their own transitional homes. But delays in gaining access to appropriate land have slowed the pace of constructing permanent homes. In "The Tsunami Two Years On: Land Rights in Aceh," Oxfam lays out the challenges, and calls for solutions that address the needs of the most vulnerable. Where possible, we have proceeded with construction of permanent houses, built in close consultation with communities. We plan to provide close to 3,000 permanent homes in the region, more than half of which are complete or nearing completion.
The largest portion of Oxfam's tsunami program fund is now devoted to helping survivors restore their livelihoods. Early in the response we organized cash-for-work programs to provide women and men with incomes while they rehabilitated fields for agriculture and carried out other public-works programs; we replaced lost assets like boats and farm equipment, as well. We are now providing micro-loans and grants to revive farms and small businesses such as tailoring, fishing, lace-making, and carpentry. We are also offering vocational training for survivors who want to change their occupations to safer or more sustainable alternatives. Restoring incomes is crucial to the well-being of the survivors, but we are trying to go further - to improve incomes above pre-tsunami levels wherever possible. For example, Oxfam is working to help impoverished producers gain better access to markets and help farmers improve their productivity. Much of our livelihoods work is focused on helping women - who tend to lack equal access to credit and job training - improve their incomes.
Food and Relief Items
In the emergency phase of the response, Oxfam and our partners distributed food rations and emergency aid packets. Our relief kits are each designed to help meet particular needs, such as nutrition, hygiene, or baby care. In Indonesia alone, 18,000 people received food and nearly 80,000 people received Oxfam relief materials.
Disaster Risk Reduction
Reducing the risks of future disasters in the tsunami-affected region is another important goal of Oxfam's program. We are helping develop community early-warning systems and disaster-response teams; map areas that are prone to natural hazards; plant mangroves and conserve sand dunes, and raise awareness of the importance of coastal ecosystems in protecting shoreline communities.
"Alone, Oxfam can create changes
in people's lives, but when we work together with local organizations,
we can benefit a wider community and have a more lasting impact."
-- Yanty Lacsana, Oxfam Partner Support and Liaison Manager, Aceh, Indonesia
Working with Partners
Oxfam has a long history of working with local partner organizations on humanitarian and development projects around the world. Our partner organizations contribute expertise and local knowledge that add breadth and depth to Oxfam's work; in turn, Oxfam provides partners with trainings and funding aimed at strengthening their ability to carry out their missions. In the tsunami response, partner organizations have implemented a wide range of programs, from distributing relief materials to advocating on behalf of marginalized populations.
Dignity and Protection
Throughout the tsunami response, Oxfam has been alert to the needs of vulnerable populations, such as women, ethnic and cultural minorities, and those living in extreme poverty. One underserved population we identified is Burmese migrants living in Thailand; we are working with partner organizations that have provided this group with legal, medical, and financial assistance. In India, underprivileged Dalit and Adivasi communities were badly affected by salt-water flooding of agricultural fields; an Oxfam partner helped many reclaim and rehabilitate their land. And throughout the affected region Oxfam and local partners are working to protect the safety and dignity of women. We are working with local partners to improve their livelihood options and to ensure that women and other vulnerable populations are full participants in decisions that will affect their futures.