Sustainable Recovery Requires Long-Term Effort in Tsunami Zone

Sat, 07/01/2006

Overall, the recovery is going well, but depending on the countries and on the level of damage, they are at different stages of recovery. In Thailand damage was severe but not overwhelming, they are well along the road to recovery. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the northwest coast of Aceh, Indonesia, where many areas are still in critical condition.

The biggest challenge is the scale of the reconstruction effort. Millions of people were affected across seven countries. It was an unprecedented level of destruction. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, around 100 miles of coastline were destroyed – not just a couple of areas or towns.

Half a million people in Indonesia are still living in temporary shelter. Entire communities were destroyed. The heavy loss of life means that the social backbone of these communities is gone. The professional categories have been decimated. The town of Calang on the west coast of Aceh, for example, lost 90% of its population. The town will be rebuilt; there are sufficient international resources. But they lost administrators, school teachers. Where do you start rebuilding communities?

Livelihoods are not just economic, they are social. These need to be nurtured. There has been a huge amount of attention and financial support, but this will end relatively soon. There is a danger of a relief gap – a gap in funding, activities, policy attention. Sustainable recovery requires a five to ten year effort.

“Reconstruction takes a lot of time, not just money, and it can only go as fast as the local communities are willing and able to go. Our role needs to be supportive. We’re not there to rebuild their country for them and then hand it over. Reconstruction has to be community-led, especially if you’re going to get it right,” stated Alex Jones (United Nations worker on site).


Donor Country       Contribution (US$)
Italy                      9,367,684
Norway                 7,614,769
Belgium                5,773,090
Japan                   5,000,000
Finland                 3,776,100
Spain                   2,600,000
China                   2,000,000
Germany              1,433,687
United Kingdom    1,113,000
Canada                809,454
Ireland                 184,965
United States       100,000


Rapid assessments immediately after the tsunami confirmed that the fisheries sector was hit worst by the disaster. Crops and livestock as well as coastal ecosystems, including mangroves and tree crops, also suffered serious damage.

The brunt of the killer waves was felt mainly by the millions of fishers and farmers living in coastal communities. Reconstruction efforts offer an opportunity not just to restore livelihoods and rehabilitate ecosystems to pre-tsunami levels, but to “build back better,” thus improving the well being of the poor and vulnerable communities affected by the disaster. To do so requires adherence to a set of principles that build on extensive experience in fisheries and agricultural development and should be at the core of all reconstruction activities.

Focus on poverty alleviation: this includes promotion of equitable access to land, capital, natural resources, and improved technologies. The goal is to create sustained employment-intensive activities, which benefit especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Reconstruction efforts must be market-led and economically sustainable: rehabilitation of fishing and farming must be in line with the realities of local supply and demand of related inputs and products. This will provide real incentives and opportunities for people in coastal communities to develop sustainable livelihoods that will also benefit the local economy.

Environmental sustainability must underpin reconstruction strategies: to ensure the health of local ecosystems, which in many cases had been suffering from overuse. Coastal communities are particularly dependent on the health and diversity of local ecosystems for their economic well-being.

Be integrated and holistic, as such approaches are particularly important in the coastal zone and for poorer coastal communities: coastal areas tend to be fragile with a complex set of ecological interactions taking place. The economic well-being of the community depends on maintaining a variety of ecosystems around them.
All approaches need to be participatory and consider the real needs and capabilities of local people: local leaders and community organizations should be fully engaged in all reconstruction efforts, in particular in assessing the relevance of the activities. Community-led initiatives promote ownership, empowerment and improved relations.

Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) plays an integral role in protecting and reestablishing agricultural and fisheries production in the aftermath of natural disasters and conflicts. FAO’s strategy is to save, restore and enhance agriculture and fisheries based livelihoods to reduce vulnerability, increase self-reliance, and enable an early exit from dependency on external assistance.