An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale off the west coast of the northern Indonesian island of Sumatra had unleashed a tsunami that would cost more than 200,000 people their lives and leave millions more along the coastline of south and south east Asia and parts of the east coast of Africa without family members, homes, food and livelihoods.
Members of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, a global alliance of churches and their related agencies, mobilized relief-assistance teams and relief supplies through their local partner networks within hours of the disaster. The assistance included food, emergency shelter materials, medicines, and non-food items such as blankets, clothing and cooking utensils and water.
One of the three ACT members in India, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), which has decades of experience in responding in a variety of disaster situations, found itself caught in a situation bigger than it had ever seen before. But staff found they could meet the challenge.
"In the past, the maximum number of people we were able to assist in an emergency was 38,000 families. But during the crisis phase of the tsunami, we covered 50,000 families - 300,000 people. We covered them within four weeks' time, which was unprecedented. This shows we had potential and capacity that was underutilized in the past," says Sushant Agrawal, director of CASA. Agrawal also serves as vice-moderator of ACT's Executive Committee.
This weekend, six months after the disaster, CASA and the other members of ACT will have reached tens of thousands of people in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and Somalia through their relief work in the region.
Recalling the first days following the tsunami, Agrawal says, "We were not looking for financial assistance, but we were looking for support from the ecumenical family - that we were not alone in working there. That was a big morale boost to us. The phone calls - all the support we got - have boosted our morale and confidence. That is what it means to be part of one family, that we show we share and care."
Today, the members continue their assistance. But beyond taking care of people's immediate needs-a crucial part of the work the ACT members do in the crisis phase of any emergency-are key areas such as the construction of permanent housing, assisting people back into work, preparing for future disasters and helping the most vulnerable.
ACT members have seen how, over the last six months, in many places, hope has been restored. But, as work begins on longer-term projects, there are many still many challenges ahead, such as problems experienced relating to land rights and allocation of villages, which have delayed the start of the construction of permanent house construction in some areas. However, in general, the implementation of programs is continuing as planned.
"We have moved into the mid-term rehabilitation phase," Agrawal says. "Now the challenge for us is to get into more intensive and comprehensive work toward rebuilding the life of the people. And that is a big challenge. It will have to be done in a strategic, managed way in a long-term framework. We have to ensure people have life with hope. ACT and CASA and the other ACT members will have to engage themselves to ensure that in three to five years we will still be able to offer new hope to people."
To date, the ACT tsunami appeal for US$75.3 million has received 89 percent funding.
"This was a disaster that the world had never seen, so it triggered the world to be a family together, to ask, 'Can we reach out, can we do something for the victims?' The media helped people become engaged emotionally. I would like to give them special thanks - by doing so, they became part of the total response mechanism. I would like to assure them that, to the best of our ability, we will share the love of God with the people," says Agrawal.
ACT members implementing tsunami-response programs:
India: Churches Auxiliary for Social
Action (CASA), Lutheran World Service India, United Evangelical Lutheran
Church in India
Indonesia: Church World Service Indonesia (CWS), Yayasan Tanggul Benkana (YTB) and CD Bethesda/YAKKUM Emergency Unit (YEU)
Sri Lanka: National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) and the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI)
Thailand: Church of Christ in Thailand
Somalia: Norwegian Church Aid
For further information, please contact:
Communications Officer: Callie Long (phone
+41 22 791 6039 or mobile phone +41 79 358 3171)
Information Officer: Stephen Padre (phone +41 22 791 6711 or mobile phone +41 79 681 1868)
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org
ACT is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide. The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland.
+41 22 791 6039/6711
fax: +41 22 791 6506