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Children and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: Evaluation of UNICEF's Response in Thailand (2005-2008)

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Country Context and Evaluation Rationale

The Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004 caused widespread devastation along much of Thailand‘s 400-kilometre southern coastline, directly affecting 407 villages and completely destroying 47 of them. About 1.9 million people, including 600,000 children, were affected in six southern provinces—Satun, Trang, Krabi, Phuket, Phang Nga and Ranong.

In January 2005, the UN Inter-Agency Flash Appeal for the tsunami response requested support for Thailand‘s disaster response and rehabilitation operations for a 6 month period. As part of this effort, UNICEF Thailand appealed for USD $4.8 million to cover short-term priorities. However, with growing awareness of the needs in tsunami-affected provinces and the potential to build back better‘ appeals were increased and the Global Appeal for Tsunami Response eventually allocated the Thailand country office USD $21.2 million.

There is very little systematic documentation of the Thailand post-tsunami experience. December 2008 marked the four year anniversary of the tsunami, and a natural milestone to reflect upon strategy and achievements during this period. This includes reflecting on the effectiveness of UNICEF‘s immediate response to the tsunami and the process of transitioning toward ‗mainstreamed‘ programming work within three core areas: child protection, education and capacity building.

Transitioning from Relief to Recovery to Development

UNICEF‘s programming before the tsunami focused upon building national-level advocacy for the rights of children and women; and building replicable models at the community level within an integrated participatory framework. Its concentration on those children and communities who were not being well served by mainstream policies and programmes, and doing so aimed at making both the children more visible and solutions more accessible to mainstream policy makers and service providers. This was an appropriate emphasis for a middle-income country.

In the wake of the tsunami the Country Office mobilized a range of activities supporting response in the affected provinces including key logistical support, health and nutrition assistance, water and sanitation, educational provision and psychosocial support. Rapid response was facilitated by deployment of staff into the field and use of innovative modalities such as cash transfers. However, coordination issues proved to be a continuing challenge.

With a strong nationally-led relief effort, UNICEF‘s responsibility with regard to the Core Commitments to Children (CCCs) soon focused more on monitoring wider social impact issues than on facilitating direct provision. This emphasized documenting and profiling systemic inequalities with regards to the provision to migrant, Moken and other excluded communities; and highlighting weaknesses and delays in overall relief efforts.

This led to formulation of the ‗build back better‘ strategy that was informed by two principal drivers: 1) use of existing program approaches that were seen to provide relevant mechanisms to address issues of longer term relevance brought to the forefront by the tsunami; and 2) the conjunction of newly identified needs and unprecedented access to resources that provided the opportunity to create new models and extend approaches adapted from existing agendas. The extension of work in the south thus represented a geographical broadening of UNICEF‘s scope of operations, rather than a fundamental re-shaping of its strategy.