Oxfam closes final elements of its tsunami aid program: 2.5 million people helped, 10,800 wells, 2,900 houses and 102 schools

“As we close the final part of our response we are leaving behind people and organizations in better shape.”
Published: 22 December 2009

By the fifth anniversary of the 2004 Asian tsunami, 26 December 2009, international agency Oxfam will close the last few remaining tsunami aid projects having helped approximately 2.5 million people.

The tsunami response was the largest aid effort Oxfam has ever undertaken in its 67-year history. This enormous aid effort was only made possible due to the overwhelming and unprecedented level of public generosity.

Oxfam raised US$294m to carry out its aid program, 92 per cent of this came from public donations. However the agency warned that future emergencies might not attract the level of funding needed. Oxfam projects that in six years’ time the number of people affected by climatic crises could rise by 54 per cent, to 375 million people, threatening to overwhelm the humanitarian aid system. Ongoing conflicts in places such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo will also need substantial and sustained humanitarian support.

Oxfam worked in seven tsunami hit countries; Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia. In the wake of the disaster, which killed 227,000 people and left 1.7 million homeless, Oxfam concentrated on immediate needs, emergency shelter, water supply and public health. As the programs grew, work focused on helping people make a living and also on efforts to address some of the obstacles survivors faced such as land rights.

There was also a particular emphasis on supporting women, not only with material help but also assisting them have a say in the way their communities organized themselves.

“The tsunami was an awesomely destructive event matched only by a truly monumental expression of public generosity and compassion. This allowed local people, local organizations, governments and aid agencies to come together in an extraordinary aid effort. The disaster was on such a massive scale that it raised huge challenges to the aid world.

The hard work of our staff and local partners and the sheer fortitude and resilience of the tsunami survivors helped us rise to those difficult challenges. As we close the final part of our response we are leaving behind people and organizations in better shape. This was possible because for the first time we had the resources to stay there with communities long enough to help them rebuild their lives and leave a legacy that we can be proud of,” said Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive, Oxfam Great Britain.

Notes to Editors

Oxfam’s work in the tsunami-affected countries is summarised below.

Water and sanitation
Oxfam and its partners cleaned, rehabilitated, or constructed over 10,800 wells, drilled or rehabilitated 90 boreholes, constructed or rehabilitated 55 gravity flow water systems, and built a municipal water system to supply 10,000 people in Aceh.

Over 12,000 latrines were built, more than 67,000 family hygiene kits were distributed, trained over 2,500 health volunteers were trained and over 10 kilometers of drainage systems were constructed.

To ensure these systems worked long after the agency left Oxfam established community committees: 600 training sessions were carried out to help local communities operate and maintain their water supply systems.

Support for establishing and restoring people’s livelihoods

Oxfam and its partners helped rebuild people’s livelihoods in the fishing and farming sector, and in small business generation and micro-finance initiatives. The range of initiatives undertaken was vast, involving the majority of the 170 local organizations that Oxfam worked with, and reaching around 960,000 people.

In the early days of the response, Oxfam and other NGOs created short-term jobs for activities such as the removal of bodies, removing debris, and clearing drainage channels.

Oxfam helped to replace fishing boats and supported better access to markets by, providing rickshaws for transportation, refrigerated trucks and fish stalls, and the construction of a dock in Nias, Indonesia and a shipyard in Somalia.

Oxfam helped farmers with the restocking of livestock, the development of co-operatives and farm businesses and improved agricultural practices.

In India, Oxfam’s partner ToFarm helped implement better rice cultivation methods in around 450,000 hectares, or 20 per cent of the rice cultivation area, of Tamil Nadu state. Previously only 4,600 hectares had used this improved method. In Sri Lanka, the promotion of traditional home gardens proved to be very successful, helping to supply a significant proportion of households’ nutritional needs.

Micro-credit and micro-finance schemes were established in large numbers. Typically, micro-credit programs involved small ‘self-help groups’ of savers and borrowers, while micro-finance initiatives were based on small-scale loan schemes delivered through small-scale financial organizations.

Support for shelter and other construction

Provision of shelter was one of the largest needs in the aftermath of the tsunami, with 1.7 million people displaced across the countries affected. Oxfam and its partners distributed emergency items included blankets, jerry-cans, tents, and plastic sheeting for the construction of shelters.

Construction of temporary and transitional housing was conducted on a large scale in Sri Lanka and Aceh, and to a lesser extent in India, to meet the needs of those made homeless. Housing designs were developed in collaboration with communities, and often different designs were used depending on cultural needs.

Oxfam and its partners supplied tenting, sheeting, and other temporary shelters to over 40,000 people and constructed or rehabilitated 4,800 transitional houses and over 2,900 permanent houses. 1,800 people were trained in skills such as carpentry, masonry, and house painting. However, construction of permanent housing was typically slower than anticipated, with complex issues of land tenure and relocation to be resolved.

Oxfam also supplied more than 8,000 cubic meters of sustainable plantation timber from Australia to other agencies for the construction and repair of houses, transitional shelters, and community buildings.

In order to enable families to return to devastated communities and to allow access for relief supplies, Oxfam and its partners constructed or cleared more than 100km of roads and built 31 bridges.

Education
Oxfam worked with Education International to rehabilitate schools in Aceh and with national non-governmental organization Metta in Myanmar. Education International repaired and constructed 35 schools, along with the full range of activities (teacher training, trauma counselling) required for children to return to normal schooling.

In Myanmar, Metta renovated or rebuilt 67 schools and established 19 Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers following the tsunami and Cyclone Marlar, which struck in April 2006. In May 2008 Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, causing widespread devastation and destroying almost all the schools Metta constructed in the Ayeyarwady delta. Subsequently, 20 schools and eight ECCD centres have been reconstructed as for both school activities and cyclone shelters.

Advocacy and influence
Large numbers of people had lost land and property rights. Oxfam helped to ensure the legal provision of housing for renters and squatters and equality in land title deeds for women and men in Aceh.

In Sri Lanka, Oxfam supported the establishment of the Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management (WCDM). This was a regular forum involving the participation of women from camp committees and of humanitarian agencies, and established a direct line of communication between women in affected communities and those in a position to act.

In the early days following the tsunami Oxfam lobbied hard for the delivery of new money pledged by the international community, for effective relief for countries affected by the disaster (for example, relief from international debt), and for the promotion of trade with these countries.

Challenges

Despite many successes Oxfam faced many challenges. Our work in providing permanent housing was slower than expected. Obtaining the right materials proved difficult. The agency insisted that wood for construction should only be from sustainable sources. As there were not enough sustainable sources close by it had to secure materials from Australia.

Oxfam has learnt an immense amount about how best to respond to events such as the tsunami. It has put in place many systems and procedures that will make it much more effective to meet future challenges.