Oxfam: Poorest people suffered the most from the tsunami

Published: 1 November 2005

Poor people suffered the most as a result of the tsunami and need to be supported further during the reconstruction phase, a new report released today (Saturday) by international agency Oxfam.

Poor people suffered the most as a result of the tsunami and need to be supported further during the reconstruction phase, a new report released today (Saturday) by international agency Oxfam.

The report, Targeting Poor People, that comes on the eve of the tsunami's six-month anniversary shows that its impact on poor people has been compounded by three factors:

  1. Poor communities were more vulnerable: their fragile houses were washed away while the brick houses of richer people were more likely to withstand the force; poor villages in remote areas took longer to receive help and had no doctors in the vicinity.
  2. A geographical coincidence meant that the tsunami affected some of the poorest people in each of the three worst hit countries.
  3. Though the reconstruction effort in many cases is effectively helping poor people, in some cases there has been a tendency to focus on landowners, business people, and the most high profile cases, rather than prioritize aid to poor communities.

Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam Great Britain said: "The tsunami has hit poor people hardest and has left them with the biggest problems. However the generous response of the public has put us in a strong position to address these problems. We must use this as an opportunity to help people work their way out of poverty and to ensure they are better placed to deal with natural disasters if and when they strike again."

Oxfam and partners are working to help over one million people affected by the tsunami in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The overall immediate relief effort has been a great success, stopping the outbreak of disease and providing people with basics such as shelter and water. Oxfam is now increasing its focus on women and marginalized groups to ensure no one is left out of the aid effort and will spend $250 million over the next five years.

For example, in India Oxfam is helping to rebuild salt-pans that provide work for thousands of poor labourers, some of whom are from Dalit communities. Those working on the salt-pans are extremely poor and marginalized. But because their houses were not destroyed their needs were not given official priority.

New survey data shows that in one village in Sri Lanka, villagers who lost their homes suffered an average 94% drop in income from 64 cents (US) per head of household per day to 4 cents per day. Part of this is due to the inaccessibility of poor people who are often isolated and harder to identify and reach through existing structures in society.

In Sri Lanka a lot of government aid has so far been targeted at registered businesses. This means that, for example, the owners of coir (coconut fiber) mills are being compensated for damage but the poor coir workers who struggle to make a living will not benefit. In India there has been a tendency to concentrate help on sea fishermen but other workers, such as laborers, small farmers and salt-pan workers (many of whom are women or from lower castes) have received less help.

The provision of housing for poor people also presents difficulties. Before the tsunami, many of the most marginalized people were not landowners. Even those who had land now often find themselves unable to prove it as they have lost the official documents or because land rights formerly rested with men (where women are now the heads of households).

Without a land title, these families risk being dispossessed of their land, marginalizing them even further. In Indonesia the tsunami displaced up to 500,000 people. Better-off families, who may have had savings or wealthier relatives who were able to help have already been able to leave the camps, but thousands of poor people remain.

"Desperately poor people have been made poorer still by the tsunami. The aid effort must now increase its emphasis on targeting poor people, marginalized groups and women to ensure they are not excluded from the reconstruction efforts," added Stocking.

Oxfam recommends that governments and international agencies proactively seek to address the particular needs of the poorest people affected by the Tsunami. This is vital if these countries are to work towards achieving the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals of halving global poverty by 2015.

Even before the tsunami the region was poor:

  • In Aceh years of armed conflict had already reduced prosperity. In 2002 half of the population had no access to clean water and nearly a third lived in poverty.
  • In India, the southern coastal states worst hit, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, were relatively wealthy but the people of the coastal communities are some of the poorest in the whole country. In each of the three most affected districts (Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, and Kannaykumari) the average person lives on less than $1 per day.
  • In Sri Lanka up to one-third of the population in the areas affected by the tsunami live below the poverty line, with the situation particularly bad in the conflict hit North and East.

Contact Information

Oxfam International is a confederation of twelve organizations working together in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.
For interviews, video news release material, a copy of the report and pictures call:
Brendan Cox - General - (Landline) 44 1865 312 498
(Mobile) 44 7957 120 853
Kim Tan - In Aceh - (Mobile): 62 815 305 9178
(UK Mob): 44 7786 660407
Carmen Rodriguez - In India - (Mobile): 91 98 405 597 61
(Spanish Mob): 34 615 359 401
Anna Mitchell - In Sri Lanka - (Mobile): 94 77 321 5571
(UK Mob): 44 7900 160 580