UK Public’s Asian Tsunami legacy still going strong ten years on

17/12/2014

The unprecedented £392m donated by the generous UK public to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Tsunami Earthquake Appeal ten years ago not only provided homes for tens of thousands of people, it helped change the way humanitarian agencies respond to large-scale disasters, the DEC said today.

The large majority of the houses built during the four-year humanitarian response are still in use by survivors and quality homes were pivotal in their recovery, according to a new evaluation of the wider NGO response by the DEC’s sister agency in Switzerland. However, the DEC said that one of the main lessons of the tsunami was the need to help more people rebuild their own homes more quickly but still to a high standard.

Saleh Saeed, Chief Executive of the DEC, said:

“It takes a long time and is very costly for NGOs or governments to plan and build homes for hundreds of thousands or even millions of people after a major natural disaster. DEC agencies provided high quality houses after the tsunami but people had to wait too long for a safe home. The lessons of ten years ago taught us that, in most cases, providing people with training and building materials or cash following a large-scale disaster means that more people can start rebuilding their lives more quickly.”

The new report, an evaluation of the work of Swiss Solidarity’s members, finds that the provision of a house was by far the single largest contribution to livelihood recovery for survivors because it helped them to concentrate on their own income, rather than having to save and invest in rebuilding their homes.  There is a significant overlap between the membership of Swiss Solidarity and the DEC which five years ago published its own report on the quality of houses built by its members in Indonesia after the tsunami.

Ten years on, humanitarian agencies can help provide the stability of a decent home in the first year after a disaster. Following the Philippines super typhoon in 2013, DEC agencies at first provided tarpaulins, which are more flexible and cost-effective than tents, but they quickly started providing shelter kits of nails, timber, corrugated iron, ply board and tools.

“Humanitarian agencies were tasked with helping families to replace half a million homes in the Philippines. Our tsunami experience showed it was impossible for us to build such a large number of homes well, quickly and cost effectively. Instead DEC members found ways to help people rebuild their own homes, including by importing high quality roofing iron and employing coconut farmers to turn the fallen trees into lumber.  We also provided training to ensure that tradespeople and householders knew some simple and affordable ways to make homes more hurricane resistant.” 

“The tsunami response also created a blueprint for the way we involve communities in every aspect of recovery. Consultation and accountability are now central to all our work,” said Saeed.

In the Philippines, some  agencies worked with affected people to design their own shelter kits, decide who would receive a kit, provide guidance on how to ‘build back safer’, and set up feedback  procedures. Trained community representatives provided technical support and ongoing monitoring for construction.

Cash grants are now often considered the most effective way to support disaster affected communities when appropriate materials are available locally, as this allows people to buy materials locally and more quickly.

The UK public’s donations to the DEC’s Tsunami Earthquake Appeal helped more than 1.8 million people to recover, build businesses and move in to new, safer homes. The greatest percentage of funds was spent on providing people with shelter and close to half was spent in Aceh Indonesia – one of the worst-hit areas – building 13,700 homes, 55 schools and 68 health centres.

In Aceh, more than 2,000 schools were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami. In the immediate aftermath, tents, learning materials and recreation kits were distributed to almost one million children in affected districts enabling schools to reopen one month after the one of the worst disasters of our time. By the end of 2006, almost 750 permanent schools had been repaired.

An assessment by independent construction experts ARUP commissioned by the DEC and published five years ago found that homes, schools and clinics funded by the UK public were of high quality and earthquake resistant.

DEC funds provided loans to fishermen and women so they could get back to work, training to business owners and tools to farmers. Over four years, member agencies also provided clean water and healthcare and helped people prepare for the next disaster. 

“The Asian Tsunami was a devastating emergency on a vast scale which pushed the humanitarian community to its limits. We had to work together and coordinate like never before and find new ways to create lasting change. Our combined efforts saved lives and left a legacy of which the UK public can be proud,” Saeed said.

Together DEC agencies responded in seven countries: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Somalia and the Maldives. Some further examples of their work included:

  • Distributing or repairing fishing boats
  • Providing animals such as goats, pigs, cows and buffaloes and creating artificial fishing reefs
  • Setting up education centres, building schools and training teachers
  • Building health centres and setting up more than 100 health camps
  • Providing dental treatment, carrying out eye operations and distributing disability kits
  • Building large scale water systems, drilling bore holes and constructing or repairing  latrines
  • Building evacuation centres and developing early warning systems
  • Providing business skills and management training
  • Setting up home gardens, a banana tree nursery, a milk collection centre and a rice mill.

Notes to editors

  1. Impact Evaluation of Swiss Solidarity – Asian Tsunami Programme is not an evaluation of DEC member agencies’ work but its findings are likely to apply to the broader international NGO response. The report can be downloaded here.
  2. Swiss solidarity together with the DEC is a member of the Emergency Appeals Alliance More information here.
  3. Lessons from Aceh was written by ARUP for the DEC. More info here.
  4. The DEC brings 13 leading UK aid charities together in times of crisis: ActionAid UK, Age International, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Oxfam, Plan UK, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision; all collectively raising money to reach those in need quickly.