The scale of the disaster
With more than 200,000 people killed in 10 countries, millions injured, tens of millions left homeless and without livelihoods and whole communities dislocated, the Asian tsunami was the single biggest challenge ever faced by international aid organisations, including non government agencies (NGOs).
In addition to the human tragedy, it presented a mammoth relief and reconstruction task to which the ten or more national governments and hundreds of international aid agencies have committed their efforts.
Australian NGO emergency response
Australian NGOs, the Australian government and other international donors helped to save tens of thousands of lives through the quick delivery of clean water, food, medical supplies and shelter. The much feared 'second wave of deaths' caused by disease -- predicted by the World Health Organization -- was avoided by the quick action of these agencies. ACFID agencies also made a major contribution to family and community welfare through trauma counseling.
The challenge of reconstruction and the importance of community consultation The vast scale of this disaster meant that the reconstruction phase was always going to be complex and lengthy. Agencies continue to assist communities to re-build through provision of shelter, clean water, sanitation, vocational training, and health and education services for children.
Consultation with local communities
In the Trincomallee district of Sri Lanka, CARE has ensured that women, including widows, have been involved in planning the reconstruction program with women comprising 45% of all those participating. Livelihood support specifically targets female heads of households and widows. Men and women were paid equal wages in cash for work programs.
Australian NGOs have ensured that the voices of the affected populations have been and continue to be heard. They have listened to community views on where and how they are resettled and about how their livelihoods might best be re-established. Agencies have focussed on the needs of vulnerable groups, including women, children, people with disability and the marginalised.
National governments and international agencies involved in reconstruction recognise that this is a long haul operation. Shelter and housing are crucial elements in this process and have proved to be one of the most challenging tasks. In addition to the large loss of life and devastation of physical infrastructure and land, the destruction of most land title deeds in Aceh presented unique challenges. The long-term quality of reconstruction depends critically on local participation at every stage of planning and implementation.
As well as being guided by survivor communities about reconstruction priorities and obtaining a range of official approvals required to carry it out, all international aid agencies have found it difficult to get access to building materials and also ways to transport those materials to remote communities.
Frustration by tsunami survivors about the pace of housing reconstruction is understandable. For international agencies, this has also been frustrating because it delays their capacity to implement comprehensive livelihood programs or provide permanent water supplies. At the same time, designing and building structures in haste will often lead to stronger dissatisfaction by local people with the results.
Restoration of livelihoods
In India, Sri Lanka and Aceh, Oxfam's livelihood program provided equipment, cash grants and loans to help start small enterprises such as tailoring, carpentry, boat repair, fishing, rearing goats and brick production. Basic farming equipment, seeds, livestock and training were also provided. Through partner agencies, self-help groups were assisted with small grants or revolving loans for income generation purposes.
Mariyamma is a young mother from Kerala in India. Her family's home, fishing boat, nets, household possessions, clothing and gardens were swept away. After the tsunami, Mariyamma's family moved into a temporary camp and received 1,000 rupees (AUD $29), a sari, 30kg rice and cooked food from the government over a six-week period.
Working though its local partner, Mariyamma was helped to become part of a livelihood group, which dries fish and then sells them for income. This built upon her previous involvement in an Oxfam savings program, which helped women to achieve economic independence and have a larger voice in district planning processes.
The tsunami has provided communities, governments and aid agencies with the opportunity to 'build back better'. That is, not just restoring very poor communities to pre-tsunami reality, but helping them to overcome some of the main causes of poverty. It is in this spirit that agencies are working with communities to restart livelihoods, re-build villages, homes and community infrastructure and make sure that their voices are heard in government planning processes.
Accountability to Australians who donated and to those affected The main feature of Australia's tsunami response was the exceptional generosity of Australians from all walks of life, many of who had never contributed to an aid NGO before. They donated over $345 million to the ACFID member agencies included in this report.
A second feature of the response was the strong and consistent commitment by ACFID and its member agencies to accountability and transparency. This is evident in four ways:
- Each agency presents annual public reports, including financial statements which are audited independently;
- Each meets the annual audit requirements of the national industry Code of Conduct;
- Each has provided regular tsunami response updates to its donors; and
- Each has continued to participate in the industry's first collective public reporting process, of which this report is the fourth installment.
By way of international comparison, Australian NGOs have been substantially ahead of any other OECD country in presenting so much information about their actions and finances to the public. Donors have expressed a high level of satisfaction about the information they have received.
"Bottom-up" accountability has been just as important to ACFID member agencies. They have continued to work on the basis that it is only possible to help restore community selfreliance and confidence by genuinely listening to what those communities say at every stage of the reconstruction process.
The year ahead
The second year of reconstruction will continue at a steady pace, as many communities are able to take a stronger hand in the process. As the individual agency reports in this document demonstrate, Australian agencies will continue to be involved in a wide range of reconstruction and rehabilitation programs alongside their local partners. The restoration of livelihoods, vocational training, health, nutrition and education services, access to clean water and sanitation will be major areas for ongoing work.
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