NEW YORK, USA, 22 December 2009 - 'Building back better' has been the mission of UNICEF's recovery work in the countries that were devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami five years ago.
Some 230,000 people perished in the tsunami on December 26, 2004, which also washed away homes, schools and communities - many of them already poor and remote. In the years since, the task of rebuilding after the tragedy has been viewed as an opportunity to bring improved social services, clean water, and sturdier schools to the tsunami-affected areas.
With UNICEF's tsunami-specific work in the affected areas drawing to a close, the new facilities and services are now being handed over to the local governments or integrated into existing UNICEF programmes.
A healthy start
To give children a much-needed head-start in life, UNICEF and its partners have - in the past five years - built nearly 100 health centres, equipped more than 7,000 health centres, and trained some 60,200 healthcare workers.
UNICEF has also supported campaigns for mass vaccination, mosquito net distribution and nutritional monitoring.
In Indonesia, 20 new 'Posyandu Plus' integrated health centres were built and handed over to the Government. These centres provide mothers and babies with medical check-ups, food supplements and vaccinations.
Ainul Mardiah comes regularly to the centre. Born without arms, she has overcome her disability and is the proud mother of 18-month-old Zaidah: "Before this place was built, I wouldn't have been able to have a baby," she said.
A safe and sturdy environment
School attendance in the affected areas is also up. More than 300,000 students now learn in new or repaired schools, adding much-needed stability to their lives. Over 1.3 million children have benefited from psychosocial activities to help them heal from the trauma of the tsunami.
"If the children stay at home, they might not get that much support, but in school they have a good environment with the principal, teachers and other support, so it's good to keep them in school," said Kanapathippillai Nagendran, a teacher at the Palchenai Government Tamil Mixed School in Vaharai, Sri Lanka.
In addition, more than 30,000 educators have been trained in child-friendly approaches.
"There is a noticeable difference between the previous method of teaching and child-friendly teaching, especially in things like writing skills. The students have improved significantly," said Ahmed Sobah, a teacher at the Primary School on Meedhoo Island, Maldives.
Schools have also seen improvements in clean water and sanitation. Clean water has come to communities thanks to new wells, new toilets and new waterworks. Over 820,000 people across the region have benefitted from restored water points.
A complete protective framework
'Building back better' also means strengthening protections for vulnerable children. After the tsunami, Thailand implemented a model system to identify and monitor orphaned children such as Pimolpan, 9, who lost her mother to HIV/AIDS and then her father to the tsunami.
Thailand is preparing to expand the system throughout the country.
"Children everywhere in Thailand will benefit from it," said Nantaporn Ieumwananonthachai, Child Protection Officer of UNICEF Thailand.
This has been the pattern in the region, with programmes developed after the tsunami helping the affected countries cope with other crises. Emergency preparedness developed during the tsunami response allowed UNICEF and partners to effectively deliver relief supplies in cyclone-affected Myanmar. Child protection measures developed for orphans have continued to help children in conflict-affected countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Though the five-year anniversary of the tsunami will bring much sadness to the Indian Ocean region, the massive recovery efforts in education, health and sanitation will ensure that those who were affected will also have a bright future to look forward to.