South Asia Continues to Recover After Tsunami
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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with Explorations in VOA Special English. More than six months ago, huge tsunami waves struck twelve nations in the Indian Ocean. We report on efforts by some affected nations to rebuild.
In the early morning hours of December twenty-sixth, two thousand four, a huge earthquake near the Indonesian island of Sumatra tore apart the sea floor. This created a series of huge ocean waves, called a tsunami. It crashed into coasts across the Indian Ocean without warning. One hundred seventy-six thousand people were killed, most of them in Indonesia. About fifty thousand people are still missing and believed dead.
Indonesia was hit the worst. The huge waves also destroyed coastal areas in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Burma, the Maldives and Malaysia. Several hours later, the waves hit the East African countries of Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. The tsunami was truly an international disaster with victims from all over the world. At least two thousand of those killed were holiday travelers from Europe and North America.
Governments, aid groups, private individuals and the international business community acted quickly. Thousands of international aid workers arrived in South Asia and eastern Africa. They provided shelter for almost two million people left without homes. They built centers for people to identify and bury their loved ones. They gave out food, water, clothes and medical aid. And, they helped prevent the spread of diseases among survivors.
A huge amount of financial aid was also given for relief efforts. Governments, aid groups and private individuals immediately promised more than six thousand million dollars. Individuals were responsible for about one-sixth of that amount.
Recently, the Voice of America marked the sixth month anniversary of the deadly tsunami with a series of stories. Reporters examined rebuilding efforts by affected nations. VOA also examined the humanitarian assistance and financial aid that was promised victims. Today, it remains unclear how much of that aid money will be given for long-term rebuilding or how much of it will reach those who need it most.
The destruction caused by the tsunami created the world's largest financial and humanitarian reaction to a natural disaster. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said the response set a new level of cooperation for the world community. Yet, only about half of the aid promised has been provided.
The U-N has created an Internet Web site to show where the aid is going. Former American President Bill Clinton was appointed a U.N. representative for recovery efforts. Mr. Clinton said it will take time for governments to provide the money they have offered. This is because governments and aid donors can provide help only after they receive a country's rebuilding plan.
Roberta Cohen is an expert on aid financing at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She told VOA reporter Mike Bowman that donor groups want to guarantee that communities can grow over time and that no money is wasted. Ms. Cohen said that many affected nations, including Indonesia and Sri Lanka, did not have official rebuilding plans until May.
Concerns about offers of international aid are based on past disasters. Ms. Cohen noted that much of the money promised after the earthquake in Bam, Iran in December, two thousand three was not given. Countries and aid groups offered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assistance. The United Nations says it has confirmed only about seventeen million dollars in aid received so far. Donors dispute that, however.
Part of the aid promised after the December tsunami will be used to build disaster-warning systems in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Several countries have agreed to work together to establish the system. It will likely be modeled after an international tsunami warning system for the Pacific Ocean. That system has its headquarters in the American state of Hawaii.
Scientists there listen to sound waves directed at the ocean floor for possible earthquakes and underwater motion. They also watch water levels at more than one hundred water stations across the Pacific Ocean. Warning information is sent to more than one hundred places across the Pacific if destructive waves are discovered.
Paul Whitmore is a scientist at the Tsunami Warning Center in the American state of Alaska. That center provides information to the Hawaii headquarters. Mr. Whitmore said the Pacific center can send out tsunami warnings within ten minutes of an underwater earthquake. Such a warning last December would have saved thousands of lives.
Tsunami aid will also be spent on long-term aid projects, such as rebuilding national agriculture and fishing industries. Villages and homes will also be developed. In Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Indonesian province of Aceh, thousands of families still live in temporary shelters and camps.
Kuntoro Mangkusubroto leads the Indonesian government's tsunami relief agency. He told VOA reporter Nancy-Amelia Collins that the government does not want permanent housing built until the needs of all villagers are considered. He said this takes time because so many people are involved.
Michael Elmquist is the spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid. He said that more than two hundred fifty private agencies are working in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. He said the biggest problem during the next six months will be coordinating reconstruction efforts among the agencies.
Daily life for many tsunami victims remains difficult for several reasons. One major problem is a lack of jobs. In Phuket, southern Thailand, for example, workers are trying to fix local fishing boats. Yet, many boats are still in need of repair. VOA reporter Scott Bobb spoke to villagers in Nam Khem. They said the Thai government and donor groups have provided loans to help get the fishing industry operating again. But many fishermen say they have seen very little money. And without boats, there is no work.
Phuket also had a strong travel industry before the tsunami. Since December, however, much of the local economy has been destroyed. Kitti Patanachinda is the vice president of the local tourism association in Phuket. He said hotels are less than thirty percent full. Eating places are empty, and more than forty percent of local businesses have dismissed workers.
The tsunami not only destroyed fishing and travel industries, but also farming communities. In southern India, for example, many villages were damaged when seawater spread inland to cover huge areas of farmland. M. Revathi is a farm activist in India. She told VOA reporter Anjana Pasricha that hundreds of coastal villages have no hope of planting a crop in the coming rainy season. She said the soil has been destroyed and there is still too much wreckage.
Politics also has slowed relief efforts. In Sri Lanka, some minority parties have withdrawn support for the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. This is because she was working toward an agreement with Tamil rebels on sharing tsunami recovery aid.
A political crisis in Somalia has limited recovery as well. The country has been without a central government since leader Siad Barre was ousted in nineteen ninety-one. Armed groups loyal to local leaders have been fighting for control over parts of the country.
Maulid Warfa works for the World Food Program in Somalia. He told VOA reporter Cathy Majtenyi that recovery efforts are much slower there compared to other areas because of the lack of an effective government. He said the U.N. food agency cannot feed Somalia's tsunami victims forever. He said the government will have to help the people get back to work so they can feed themselves.
To mark the six-month anniversary of the tsunami, officials from the United Nations and the European Union met to discuss progress in the aid effort. Jan Egeland is the top U-N official for emergency aid. He estimates it will take five to ten years to rebuild all that was lost in the tsunami. But for many victims, recovery could take a lifetime.
This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.