Indian Ocean Tsunami, ten years on: changing lives for good

Noni and Nina, two sisters, are facing the sea in Aceh, Indonesia, 10 years after the tsunami which hit the region. Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam
Noni Delfina and her sister Nina, on the beach at Lho-Nga, in Indonesia, where the tsunami rolled ashore in December 2004.

When the tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, humanitarian agencies were confronted with an unprecedented challenge: a major disaster in multiple locations across 14 countries, some already severely affected by conflict. As well as the huge loss of life, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, millions lost their means of earning a living, and, in many places, the destruction of infrastructure was almost total. 

It became clear from the beginning that Oxfam would have to put in place programs that would last for years. We delivered a $294m program over four years, assisted some 2.5 million people across seven countries, recruited thousands of new staff to help implement this program, and worked with approximately 170 different local partner organizations. An effort on this scale was never going to be straightforward, and we faced significant challenges and problems.

Yet what has been achieved is astounding. Hundreds of thousands of people are now living in better conditions than they were in before the tsunami thanks to the generous support we received from the public, the dedication and hard work of our staff and local partners and the efforts of the affected communities themselves to rebuild their lives.

We visited some affected communities in Aceh Province, Indonesia, in the aftermath and we have come back there recently. This is what they explained to us:

Noni Delfina, livelihoods officer

 Jim Holmes/Oxfam

In 2005, Noni used to cycle every day to the Oxfam office in Lamno - where she was working – with the same bike she used to reach high ground and flee the Tsunami in 2004.

2004 - “After the earthquake it was about one hour before the wave came. We could see it coming from our front gate across the golf course. The first wave was big, and crunchy and destroyed everything. It sounded very loud, like a helicopter. It looked like a big wave, with a crest and foam. Three waves came in, pushing forward more and more. People who survived the first wave were then hit by the next, and water that was full of rubbish. The second and third waves were smaller but were still very strong. "

“My younger sister, Nina, and I left together and I gave my bike to her because she was younger. I ran alongside her. She then got tired and got on a motorbike that one of our neighbors was driving. I picked up my bike and cycled along the road. We then got separated because the road had become so busy. Nina had gone in the other direction. It took two days to find each other".

 Jim Holmes/Oxfam

In 2014, Noni still has her old bicycle - the same one she used to escape the tsunami. The house was completely destroyed in 2004.

Today - “I worked for Oxfam as a livelihoods officer for about two years in various roles in Aceh Bezar, Lamno and Sigli. I got luckier than a lot of the other locals. I had nice accommodation to stay in and a bed to sleep in. They gave me a sarong and clothes, and a toothbrush and all that I needed. They didn’t make me feel that I came from a low position. They respected me and treated me like an equal."

“We would never leave Aceh, and Lhoknga - this is our village and our home. It’s a good place to bring up our children, and day care is also cheaper. I live near my mother and sisters and together we help each other out. We will support each other when we experience changes in our lives.”

Zuhra Bukhari, fish seller

 Jim Holmes/Oxfam (2006)

In this picture taken in 2006, Zuhra turns the small fishes drying in a traditional way in the sun. This kind of fish is caught by the boat (in the background) that Oxfam has helped repair.

2004 - “I was in the house preparing breakfast at 0745 when I heard the first shaking. At first I thought it was a rat under the table but we quickly knew that it was an earthquake. It was then quiet and we went outside. All of the fruit on my mango tree had fallen off. We looked around, everything was still, and we sat quietly and prayed that all would be all right. Then after a while the sea pulled back and the tsunami came. I could see the wave coming but we didn’t know what to expect. It was dreadful. I had to help my father who was disabled to get up the nearby hill so we were quite slow but we made it up there. The wave reached 15 meters below where we stood on the hill. My husband had arrived at the hill before us, and he came down to help us up the last bit, just in time." 

 Jim Holmes/Oxfam

T. Buhari, Zuhra’s husband, works on sorting fishing nets, in 2014: “Oxfam listened to us and communicated with us to find out about our needs. You understood that we were fishing people and that we wanted to stay here.”

Today - “I have lived in this village all of my life. We all see it as a place of quiet and calm and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Fifty houses were built here after the tsunami but more people have moved here now and there are now 60 houses and 225 people living in Lhok Seudu. Our children go to school in the next village, Layeun, and we feel that we have a good live here again now."

Hasyimi, received a grant to start a business

 Jim Holmes/Oxfam (2005)

Hasyimi received a cash grant to purchase a tricycle with which to run a small business. This picture was taken in October 2005, at Krueng Tunong, close to a new bridge that Oxfam assisted the community to construct.

2004 - “We were particularly badly hit because the wave came round both sides of the hill and collided here. All of our houses and land was ruined."

"I brought this tricycle with the grant I received from Oxfam. I wasn't a tricycle driver before the tsunami. I used to do lots of different things. I had fish ponds, I'd transport things to and from Banda Aceh and Lamno. I traded things, including birds’ nests. After everything was destroyed by the tsunami I had to begin again from zero."

"Oxfam’s approach here was good, and different to that of other NGOs. After the tsunami there was no one here, all of us were displaced in different emergency camps. I went to meet Oxfam staff and brought them here to see what could be done. Together we designed a program for this village that we called ‘Born Again’ to show the people here that we could rebuild. We have rebuilt our community and are hopeful for our future."

 Jim Holmes/Oxfam (2014)

Hasyimi shows the fishes from one of the two fishponds he now owns. After running a transport business for the local community and school children from his village, he has invested in a store and two fishponds.

Today - Hasyimi has done well since then, earning money from government contracts, and investing this in his own village store and two fishponds. He now employs five people to manage and guard the pond to protect stock, and catch and sell fish or prawns (depending on the season) for market.

Photos: Jim Holmes/Oxfam