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Tsunami - five years on: building back better

News and Press Release
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New homes, lives and futures for people affected by one of the world's worst natural disasters

"I lost my wife, my daughter and my home. But thanks to the support from others, now I can work again"

- Abdullah, former fisherman, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Five years on from the Asian tsunami, photojournalist Abbie Trayler-Smith went back to Banda Aceh in Indonesia, to see how UKaid from the Department for International Development has helped survivors to rebuild their lives. Read on below to find out more about how DFID helped.

On Boxing Day 2004, an earthquake measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale struck off the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. A few minutes later, a tsunami tidal wave swept ashore, inundating the city of Banda Aceh. Tens of thousands of people were killed in momemts, and the world began waking up to one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. Over 230,000 people lost their lives in total, the majority of them in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Over 130,000 were killed in Indonesia's Aceh province alone. India and Thailand were also badly affected.

Risma's story

Risma was at work in the city of Banda Aceh when the tsunami struck. Her husband, a fisherman, was at sea, and her five children were being looked after at home by their grandfather. When the wave came, her husband and two of her sons were swept away, along with their home.

Five years on, she now has a new flood and earthquake-resistant home, thanks to a project run by the NGO Muslim Aid. She is one of many thousands of tsunami survivors who now have new, safer houses thanks to the work of the World Bank's Multi Donor Fund, to which the UK is a major contributor.

The scale of the destruction in Aceh was massive. Low-lying coastal parts of the province and the city of Banda Aceh were almost completely destroyed, while areas on slightly higher ground escaped relatively unscathed. Tens of thousands of buildings were simply washed away.

But now over 140,000 new homes have now been rebuilt, together with nearly 1,500 schools, 1,000 health centres and more than 3,500km of roads. The motto of the reconstruction effort has been to 'build back better'. This means that in many cases, buildings, bridges and transport networks have been built a-new, where they previously may not have existed. In one example a new bridge spans a river on the outskirts of Banda Aech; before the tsunami children used to have to wade across the river to get to school.

See more images and stories in Abbie Trayler Smith's photo-essay.

Re-building lives and livelihoods

Elsewhere, former fishermen such as Abdullah have been helped to retrain as carpenters, helping to build new houses for people like Risma - as well as new boats for the fishing fleet. Many fishing boats were destroyed in the tsunami, leaving those fishermen lucky enough to survive with no means of earning a living. Other schemes have involved large-scale tsunami waste recycling, building flood defences and rehabilitating more than 70,000 acres of flooded agricultural land.

The response to the tsunami also paved the way to an ending of more than 30 years of conflict in Aceh. In 2005, a peace accord was signed between the government of Indonesia and the Aceh separatist movement. This has enabled other DFID and European Union-funded projects to start helping rehabilitate former combatants back into society and strengthen government institutions like the police - rebuilding trust and ensuring security.

Getting aid quickly to those most in need

Within hours of the tsunami being reported, DFID had set up a crisis team to co-ordinate the UK's response and began sending experts to help assess the situation in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. Over the following few weeks, we arranged 15 airlifts of essential relief supplies and paid for 25 Disasters and Emergency Committee (DEC) flights to ensure that those most in need received help quickly.

Read personal accounts from DFID humanitarian advisors Colum Wilson (who was deployed to Indonesia) and John Adlam (who went to Sri Lanka).

During subsequent months, the focus switched from immediate humanitarian assistance to longer term reconstruction. The UK government, through DFID, pledged =A375m for emergency humanitarian aid as part of the global response. Of this, some =A355m was targeted towards Indonesia. A further =A359m was subsequently allocated for longer term reconstruction in Indonesia.

The UK's response was concentrated in the two worst affected countries; Indonesia and Sri Lanka. In Indonesia we worked in close partnership with the government of Indonesia, the Multi Donor Fund and NGOs such as Muslim Aid. In Sri Lanka we again worked with the government, UN agencies and NGOs.

In addition we worked with the DEC and international NGOs to help ensure that over =A3390m donated by the UK public was targeted effectively and made a real difference to the lives of the more than 500,000 people made homeless.

Read more about how we respond to humanitarian emergencies and find out how you can help.