A Place to Stay, A Place to Live

Challenges in Providing Shelter in India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka After the Tsunami

Published: 14 December 2005

On 26 December 2004, an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami that hit the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, the Maldives, Malaysia, Burma, the Seychelles, and Somalia.

Within the space of a few hours, the giant waves devastated thousands of kilometers of coastline and the communities that lived there. While the final death toll will never be known, official estimates indicate that at least 181,516 people perished and 49,936 remain missing. It was the world’s most severe natural disaster since the East Pakistan hurricane of 1970. A further 1.8 million people were displaced into temporary camps or took refuge with communities that were unaffected. In recent times, only war, famine, and epidemics have caused more destruction.

After 26 December, Oxfam International mounted the largest humanitarian effort in its 63-year history. In the 11 months since, we have helped some 1.8 million people, using the $278m given to us. Once the emergency relief was done, we turned to recovery and reconstruction. This covered a range of issues: the provision of clean water and sanitation; the reviving of livelihoods; rehabilitating agricultural land; giving women and men a say in the rebuilding of their lives and communities. The watchwords have been ‘reconstruction plus’, i.e. seeking to help poor communities to escape the poverty that made them so vulnerable to natural disaster in the first place. However, perhaps one of the most important activities has been – and continues to be – the provision of shelter.