Saturday, 14 December 2013

Indonesian tsunami expert arrives in Philippines to advise on Typhoon Yolande.

 I greatly enjoyed meeting Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (right below) the former Minister of Tsunami, Indonesia, in Manila yesterday morning (14 December 2013) at ILO in Manila. Pak Kuntoro gave an evocative presentation on Lessons Learned that will be helpful to all of us working on the Typhoon Haiyan (Yolande) 

Dr. Kuntoro worked very closely with Bill Clinton the special envoy for tsunanmi and together coined the phrases, 'build back better' and 'breakthrough initatives.' Breakthrough initiatives are 'out of the box thinking' that accelerates recovery.

I divide this posting into two parts, the first is a brief background on Dr. Kuntoro and the Ministry for Tsunami he created (BRR) shortly after the tsunami.

And the second part is on: 

 The Tsunami Legacy: Innovation Breakthroughs and Change

and the third part comprises

 Tsunami Chronicles - A must for every disaster or recovery manager. A book written by Bill Nicol
The man behind the rehabilitation of the tsunami-devastated Aceh province in Indonesia is in the Philippines to give insights on managing large-scale recovery programs for the reconstruction of provinces wrecked by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Visiting Indonesian Senior Minister Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said he looks forward to sharing his expertise and contributing to designing an efficient recovery plan for the Yolanda-devastated areas.

“I’m here to offer the government and the international community my experience as the coordinator of rehabilitation of Aceh,” he said.

Luiza Carvalho, United Nations humanitarian and resident coordinator and UN Development Program resident representative, said: “The aim of this significant visit by Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto is to share ways to ensure that the recovery process in the Philippines will build resilience against future typhoons, lift people out of poverty and manage natural resources responsibly.” 

The 2004 tsunami killed approximately 230,000 people, about half of whom were in Aceh.

Mangkusubroto was appointed director of the National Agency for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation for Aceh-Nias known as BRR-Aceh and Nias.

BRR carried out more than 5,000 reconstruction projects and more than 12,500 others involving over 60 bilateral donors and multilateral agencies and roughly 700 non-government organizations.
The UN team in Indonesia was asked to support BRR through training, the development of coordination systems, business processes and standard operating procedures.
Mangkusubroto’s three-day trip includes an executive meeting with selected Cabinet secretaries and the international community involved in the recovery process.
Mangkusubroto’s agenda also includes a technical workshop that will bring together recovery managers from other post-disaster situations.
The UNDP is organizing this important exchange at the request of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council

When was resilience merged into risk reduction?
I am convinced that risk reduction as a community resilience concept was put firmly on the global map during the Tsunami operation in Indonesia with Pak Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, then Minister of Tsunami, driving it. 
For those of you working on the Typhoon Haiyan operation it is worth reading the Lessons Learned from the tsunami.

The Tsunami Legacy: Innovation Breakthroughs and Change
The Tsunami Legacy report, which Pak Kuntoro presented to Ban-Ki-moon, Bill Clinton and Helen Clarke (UNDP) in 2009 in New York is a brilliantly compiled booklet. I was fortunate to be there with fellow New Zealander Jerry Talbot also from IFRC.

The IFRC have since funded a practitioners toolkit on disaster recovery which will be launched soon in New York. 

If you want to read Tsunami Legacy click here
In the years and months that have gone by since 
the devastating Indian Ocean Earthquake and 

Tsunami of December 2004, the affected 
communities – from Banda Aceh to Batticaloa, 
Puntland to Phang Nga, Noonu to Nagapattinam – 
have seen both tragedy and triumph. 

Tragedy, because the destructive power of the 
tsunami left countless communities without homes or 
livelihoods, eradicated key infrastructure in countries 
around the region, and irrevocably damaged large 
swaths of coastal area. In all, more than 228,000 
people – in 14 countries – perished as a result of the 
Triumph, because while the disaster wreaked havoc 
and devastation on the coastlines along the Indian 
Ocean rim, it also triggered an overwhelming national 
and international response, delivering emergency 
relief and recovery assistance through multiple 
partners, funds and programmes. Milestone successes 
have been collectively achieved in supporting affected 
communities to restore their lives and livelihoods, and 
to reconstruct their houses and settlements, all with 
care to empower future generations to thrive. 
Individual citizens, national governments and 
international financial institutions around the globe 
contributed funds to the recovery, resulting in an 
estimated US$13.5 billion in aid. 
With an operation of such unprecedented scope, a 
number of useful lessons have been learned across the 
recovery spectrum about what worked and what did 
not. To take stock of these collective and country specific findings,
 this report asks if those involved in this massive undertaking were able to achieve takes its cue from former UN Secretary-General Kofi 
Annan’s words – “it’s not enough to pick up the 
pieces. We must draw on every lesson we can to 
avoid such catastrophes in the future” – and from the 
call of the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, 
President Bill Clinton, to “build back better.” 
“Who Stops to Think?’ The Challenges of 
Leadership and Coordination 

Both the destruction caused by – and the response to 
– the tsunami were unusual in terms of scale. The 
unique situation warranted intensive strategic 
coordination for the recovery to be effective as well as 
considerable pressure to deliver tangible results. 
Closest to the epicentre, the Indonesian Province of 
Aceh faced one of the most complex situations with a 
massive loss of life, extensive destruction of 
infrastructure, and an extraordinary influx of actors. 
In response, a dedicated body, the Aceh-Nias 
Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR), was 
set up in April 2005, with a 4-year mandate to 
coordinate all recovery activities as well as implement 
a number of government projects. 
Elsewhere, in Sri Lanka, the tsunami was a catalyst for 
creation of the Ministry of National Disaster 
Management and Human Rights in 2006. The 
Government of Maldives moved swiftly to set up a 
similar structure. On the same day as the tsunami, it 
created a National Disaster Management Centre 
(NDMC) to coordinate activities. 
This development of lead governance mechanisms for 
relief and recovery, tasked with coordinating 
ministries, donors, agencies, communities, women’s 
groups and others, and with building national and 
local capacities to manage the process, turned out to 
be a critical breakthrough in all these countries. 
Carefully connecting the local body to a broader, 
global coordinating infrastructure – as was done in 
Indonesia via the Global Consortium for Tsunami 
Recovery, the Multi Donor Fund (MDF) and the UN 
Office of the Recovery Coordinator for Aceh and Nias 
meaningful development and reform. 
(UNORC) – was key to facilitating coordination in a 
complex recovery context involving countless 
international and national stakeholders. As new 
structures, void of institutional baggage, these 
agencies also benefited from the ability to be flexible 
and quickly adapt to local circumstances. 
In India, too, where no new body needed to be 
created, the government seized on the moment by 
devolving significant authority to local administrators, 
a crucial aspect to the Tamil Nadu recovery effort. A 
network of state- and district-level knowledge centres 
provided the infrastructure for disseminating vast 
amounts of information and reliable village-level data; 
it also became a focal point for NGOs on how they 
could contribute to recovery. The key to coordinating 
recovery here and elsewhere was maintaining speedy, 
flexible and accountable coordination systems and 
procedures, including at the local level. 
Recovery partners in Indonesia learned a similar 
lesson. By giving the coordination structure full 
authority and basing it ‘close to the action’ it was able 
to become more responsive to the local context. 
Importantly, BRR was given full authority to manage 
all aspects of the tsunami recovery in Aceh on behalf 
smoother coordination process, devoid of any 
potential inter-ministry politics. Significantly, BRR 
Headquarters was located in the capital of Aceh, and 
not in Jakarta. 
Flexibility and know-how, coupled with a culture of 
risk-taking, was a central aspect of BRR’s success and 
led to several important breakthroughs and 
innovations. These included the Tim Terpadu (a one 
stop shop for processing all visa, customs, tax and 
other clearance requirements for thousands of aid 
workers and equipment) and a mandatory Project 
Concept Note (PCN) format for all programmes, 
which helped avoid unnecessary duplication and 
ensured efficient use of funds. 
Similarly, when Maldives faced a shortfall of nearly 
US$100 million in recovery funds, a number of 
innovative partnership strategies were implemented 
to secure additional funding. The unique “Adopt-AnIsland” initiative implemented by UNDP, emerged as 
a particularly powerful marketing tool under which 
donor support could be matched directly to a specific 
project. By mid-2006, 44 percent of the US$41 
million that UNDP had raised was mobilised through 
Adopt-An-Island. In both cases the willingness to be 
opportunistic and take risks with “breakthrough 
initiatives” accelerated recovery and facilitated 
‘building back better’. 
In the final analysis, however, lack of local capacity 
has remained an issue, throughout. In the Maldives, 
the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) 
was set up to coordinate activities in a similar vein to 
BRR. But while the Centre took the lead in many 
aspects, being new to disaster management it relied 
on outside help to a significant degree. And in the 
future, it must be remembered that building local 
capacity is an important priority if the purpose-built 
recovery agency is temporary and the local 
Government is expected to sustain the gains in the 
long term. 
Seeing Those Who Are ‘Invisible’. Achieving 
Equity In Recovery 
While international codes and principles guide relief 
and recovery efforts, many tsunami affected 
communities were still unable to adequately access 
assistance immediately after the disaster because of 
barriers associated with their gender, ethnicity, age, 
class, religion or occupation. Often, tight deadlines 
imposed by the need to deliver fast had the effect of 
dropping equity issues – or of the wrong projects 
being taken up by the wrong organisations for the 
wrong reasons. 
Many people could not access assistance after disasters 
simply because of their gender, ethnicity, age, class, 
religion or occupation. In particular, it is women and 
the poorest whose needs tend to be overlooked. Yet 
the tsunami also provided an important opportunity to 
address underlying social inequities and strengthen 
human rights protection for vulnerable groups, a task 
quickly seized upon by India’s strong civil society and 
of the central government, which allowed for a much 
vibrant media. Combined with a state government in 11
Tamil Nadu that displayed swiftness, responsiveness 
and openness, this made the difference in bringing all 
survivors back on the road toward recovery much 
As recovery actors in all five locales quickly realised, 
there could be no more business-as-usual when 
dealing with a disaster of such unusual proportions. 
Responding to the initial exclusion, they were quick 
to catch up in innovative ways, many employing a 
human rights perspective to create an enabling 
environment for participation. In India, the State 
openness to working with representatives of different 
social groups in addressing flaws stands out as 
particularly praiseworthy. Authorities in Tamil Nadu 
did not simply respond to practical needs but offered 
real opportunities for change, through several key 
Breakthroughs in India included the implementation 
of disaster-resistant construction and the institution of 
inexpensive, 10-year housing insurance against all 
forms of disasters. Houses were built for indirectly 
affected families who were also given housing 
assistance and rights to land ownership. Women 
benefited from opportunities for strategic change in 
their status, such as joint housing rights for spouses 
and funds for the education and resettlement of 
orphaned adolescent girls and unmarried women, 
amongst other initiatives. 
Across the waters, in Sri Lanka, strong emphasis was 
placed on equity and the targeting of vulnerable 
groups after the tsunami, especially with regard to 
permanent housing, road building and highlighting of 
issues such as human rights, participation and the 
environment. Along these lines, a number of 
successful – and flexible – interventions were 
initiated, with many partners coming to see the 
importance of addressing conflict and post-conflict 
issues in the post-tsunami setting as a consequence. 
affected in permanent housing under its Unified 
Assistance Scheme or had their houses upgraded. 
Hallmarks of the scheme included clear eligibility 
criteria, management at local and provincial levels, 
and significant community involvement. 
For equity gains to be sustained it was necessary to 
anchor innovative practices in the institutional 
infrastructure of the recovery – good intentions can 
only do so much if systems are not in place to track 
and identify vulnerable groups. Rather than a 
piecemeal approach, then, countries succeeded best 
when there was a commitment from high-level 
managers to ensure equity. In India, a series of 
independent equity audits were carried out in 2005 
and 2006, at the request of local and international 
NGOs, by the Social Equity Audit Secretariat and 
trained auditors. The success of the audits is reflected 
in the fact that amongst some NGOs, the percentage 
of budget that went to directly support interventions 
for the excluded rose from 10 or 12 percent to 60 
Building on women’s grassroots activism, recovery 
actors in Indonesia, among other things, sought to 
ensure that gender issues were considered in all 
development sectors through a special unit that 
formulated a comprehensive gender policy. UNIFEM 
placed a gender advisor in BRR to provide sustained 
input and guidance and BRR also employed genderspecific 
data for monitoring and evaluation, developed practical 
checklists for use in health, housing, education, livelihoods 
and institutional change, and promoted active participation 
of tsunami-affected women in plans for their future. 
Successes in India and Indonesia underscore the 
importance of developing institutional antidiscrimination
capacity by reviewing organisational culture and offering
 training to staff on rights-based approaches, including
awareness and understanding of gender-sensitive
international codes, guidelines and principles. 
Depending on the context, this was not always an easy 
goal to achieve across the board. In Sri Lanka and 
Aceh, both regions affected by conflict, there was a 
need to also address the victims of conflict as well as 
those of the tsunami. However, most post-tsunami 
organisations largely ignored the post-conflict 
context, in part due to donor-stipulated restrictions 
government’s timeliness, responsiveness and 
For example, the government resettled the conflict-12
on how they could use their funds. This led to 
numerous grievances raised by conflict-affected 
communities and perceptions of rising inequalities in 
aid provision. If conflict sensitivity had been more 
widespread and funds not restricted to tsunami 
victims only, building back better could have been 
more equitable all along. The provision of ”untied” 
donor funds that offer flexibility to modify assistance 
packages to suit local needs would have enabled more 
flexibility to address these issues in a straightforward 

Creating a ‘Virtuous Loop’: Embracing People’s 

While citizen participation is widely considered a 
cornerstone of democratic governance and efficient 
programming, too often those most in need after the 
tsunami were not seriously consulted about planning 
or implementation of relief and recovery. Concerted 
efforts were made in all countries affected by the 
disaster, however, to curb this initial trend. Perhaps 
the most valuable benefit of promoting participation 
was something that, in the end, is not easily 
quantifiable: a feeling of individual empowerment, of 
“ownership” of community resources, and the 
unleashing of people’s own capacities to cope. 
Efforts to overcome the lack of consultation were 
particularly successful in Sri Lanka, Maldives and 
Thailand, where recovery actors employed 
participation by both women and men, through 
extensive people’s consultations, beneficiary surveys, 
Help Desks and community monitoring of projects. 
The Government of Sri Lanka empowered the 
national Human Rights Commission to conduct 
people’s consultations in more than 1,100 tsunami
affected communities in 13 districts. Although it was 
not always easy to ensure community participation, in 
cases where participation was enforced, projects were 
more successful. 
As a result of the thousands of complaints received 
during the people’s consultations, United Nations 
could provide support to the Human Rights 
Commission in establishing Help Desks in each district 
to raise awareness among communities on their rights 
and entitlements and to follow up on grievances. 
In the Maldivian context, community consultations 
had rarely occurred before to the extent instituted 
after the tsunami. Beneficiary surveys deepened 
knowledge of important qualitative dimensions of 
recovery, increasing accountability to affected 
communities, and were hailed as “one of the most 
significant innovations of the tsunami response.” 
Thailand, too, made it a priority to give communities 
a strong voice. Local authorities took the lead in many 
reconstruction efforts and were supported to improve 
community consultation, including training to 
strengthen women’s leadership and decision making. 
One of the most successful such initiatives was the 
restoration of indigenous livelihoods in Koh Lanta, an 
island district of 30,000 in Krabi province. Taking 
into account the traditional livelihoods of the many 
ethnic groups on the island, the island was developed 
by community mobilisation, savings schemes, and 
Still, it was not always easy to ensure community 
participation, especially as some agencies and 
organisations sometimes tended to approach the issue 
with only limited enthusiasm. Many, it appears, 
tacked on consultations as a programmatic 
afterthought, and did not approach it as a key 
component of the project’s success. Indeed, several 
NGOs have acknowledged that mistakes could have 
been avoided if a more participatory approach had 
been used earlier on. Many had to readjust along the 
way to respond to realities and needs on the ground. 
A key requirement for these organisations was to 
decentralise authority within the organisation to the 
local levels. Both CARE and World Vision, for 
example, put their field offices in the driver’s seat, 
reasoning that they would be best able to deal with the 
needs and demands of the tsunami affected people. 
Some other NGOs, on the other hand, found it more 
difficult to implement effective participation since 
many key decisions were being made back in their 
headquarters, rather than in the field. 
Similarly, the success in the Maldives did not come 
easy. For one, it proved difficult to engage 
communities in disaster risk management awareness, 
given that many Maldivians saw the tsunami as a “one off”
event that would not recur. Critically, however, 
the Government and recovery partners were 
persistent, even translating basic disaster risk 
management terminology into the local Dhivehi 
Countering Corruption and Ensuring 

From the first days of the recovery, then, steps had to 
be taken to ensure anti-corruption and accountability 
would inform all levels of operations, starting with 
the institutions themselves. BRR set out to pay its 
employees competitive salaries to ensure that the best 
and brightest were not “poached” by international 
agencies – and, more importantly, to break a culture 
of gift-giving. 
To enable complete transparent access and tracking of 
all tsunami-related funds, BRR developed a 
comprehensive information management system, the 
Recovery Aceh-Nias Database (RAND). All agencies 
involved in tsunami recovery were required to 
register with BRR, set up an account on RAND and 
send regular updates on funds committed and 
disbursed. Complementing the process-based RAND, 
a “survey-based” Housing Geospatial Database (HGD) 
was created to provide a snapshot of recovery by 
verifying and digitally mapping the vast housing 
reconstruction sector. The HGD was recently merged 
with a third database, covering all other assets – 
bridges, hospitals, schools, roads, etc. – creating a 
combined information system which is one of the 
most comprehensive and “leak-proof” in the recovery 
As Indonesia realised, however, good systems will not 
deliver ‘on their own’. Accountability mechanisms 
need to be client oriented. After being slow to get off 
the ground, international and national partners, and 
provincial and district governments were contacted to 
identify what types of analytical products, as well as 
what information and in which format, would be 
useful. Then, RAND changed accordingly – absorbing 
a major lesson in ensuring participation. 
A strong complaints mechanism is equally important. 
Early designation of grievance focal points and an 
adequate budget for grievance facilitation are critical 
for reporting of abuses and corruption, as is 
empowering affected communities, including the 
most vulnerable, in understanding and using these 
mechanisms. Affected people must be empowered to 
articulate community claims, actively monitor and 
evaluate reconstruction and make their own choices. 
Recovery data, however complex it may be, should be 
shared in layperson terms to the extent possible. 
In Sri Lanka the establishment of an effective 
complaint mechanism through local Help Desks (in 
response to input solicited in consultations) was a 
particular breakthrough. The public could here 
question eligibility for assistance, report potential 
cases of corruption, or file a complaint. By October 
2006, the DRMU had received 17,000 complaints and 
successfully resolved most. In addition, UNDP Sri 
Lanka set up an AidWatch initiative to enable 
communities to closely monitor projects. Such vital 
linkages contributed to increasing responsibility and 
accountability toward the community and laid 
groundwork for continued networking. 
Many organisations, notably BRR, responded to the 
threat of corruption by putting in place more 
With large amounts of cash and goods in motion, 
corruption is always a threat during a crisis. But despite 
the influx of billions of dollars in tsunami-affected 
countries, corruption levels across the board were 
kept remarkably low. Key to this success was a 
commitment to view corruption, not as a nuisance or 
unfortunate side effect of the recovery, but as a core 
threat to the reconstruction effort as a whole. In Aceh, 
where an unprecedented US$6.4 billion were pledged 
for recovery, Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the 
Director of BRR, urged the recovery community to set 
the bar high: “We see the fight against corruption in 
Aceh and Nias as advancing Indonesia’s wider struggle 
against corruption.” A punitive focus on “finding 
corruptors” would not be enough.
 To tackle graft and fraud, BRR became 
the first government agency to have an autonomous 
Anti-Corruption Unit (SAK) set up to work with 
other government institutions, international 
institutions like the World Bank, and civil society 
organisations such as Transparency International 
Indonesia in carrying out its primary objectives of 
prevention, investigation and education. Since its 
inception in September 2005, SAK has received 1,530 
confidential complaints. 

What if it Happens Again? Innovations in 
Disaster Risk Management 

The tsunami has precipitated a critical shift in the 
minds of policy makers and communities alike. It is no 
longer tenable to view disasters as isolated events and 
respond without taking into account the social and 
economic factors that aggravate the situation. The 
tsunami drew attention to the importance and 
urgency of reducing the enabling causes of disaster. In 
all tsunami-affected countries, a newfound enthusiasm 
for securing the country and community against future 
disasters has engendered the creation of disaster 
preparedness institutions and policies, new regional 
and national early warning systems, and concerted 
efforts at promoting community-based disaster 
awareness and preparedness at every turn. 
Critically, new disaster preparedness structures have 
been established in four out of the five tsunami affected 
countries and a regional tsunami early warning system has 
been operational since 2006, complementing the global 
commitment pledged by 168 governments to reduce 
multi-hazard risks and vulnerabilities under the Hyogo 
Framework for  Action 2005-2015. 
Thailand in particular has been a leader in numerous 
disaster risk management initiatives, and its early 
warning system is well-positioned to become a 
regional role model. Through ASEAN, the Thai 
government swiftly proposed a regional tsunami early 
warning centre that would coordinate with various 
nations’ early warning systems to ensure complementarity.
It established a Voluntary Trust Fund and donated
US$10 million in seed money to it; additional funding
came from donors such as Sweden. 
Thailand was also quick to create a ‘one-stop map 
server’, combining databases that previously could not 
be used together into one. This clearing house of 
information includes high-resolution satellite images, 
aerial photographs and base infrastructure maps, all 
available at the touch of a button in an emergency. 
Maldives’ first disaster risk profile, created after the 
tsunami and based on Geographic Information System 
mapping, represents another innovative approach to 
profile as a key source for development strategies to 
mitigate climate change and future disasters, 
particularly in developing a “Safer Islands” 
programme, which provides incentives for voluntary 
migration to safer islands. 
Sri Lanka, too, has come a long way in establishing 
comprehensive disaster management-related systems. 
Organised around 7 key themes, a “road map” has 
been developed, identifying over 100 investments to 
reduce disaster risk. Under it, numerous innovative 
initiatives have begun toward developing a multihazard 
approach for disaster management. In addition, the Disaster 
Management Act that had been under discussion for 
about a decade prior was passed in May 2005. 
Following intensive efforts by 29 governments around 
the Indian Ocean, a regional tsunami early warning 
system has been operational since 2006 as part of a 
coordination plan by UNESCO-Intergovernmental 
Oceanographic Commission. However, preparedness is 
not just about high-tech early warning systems. Community 
participation in disaster risk mitigation is also a necessity. 
Women, in particular, are well-placed to participate in risk 
assessments and the promotion of disaster risk reduction, 
ensuring consideration of gender-specific concerns. 
Training of a number of community leaders, teachers, local 
disaster managers and media personnel has demonstrated 
the use of response techniques. 
Even before the tsunami, large community-based 
disaster risk management programmes existed in 
vulnerable areas in countries such as India – where 
disaster management. The government has used the 
they have been credited for capacity strengthening in 
search and rescue, first and evacuation methods that 
resulted in saving countless lives during the disaster as 
Post-tsunami, excellent opportunities have been 
presented for deepening community disaster risk 
management across the region, setting up local and 
national partnerships. In Thailand, for example, the 
early warning system was taken to the local level, 
linked with loudspeakers in rural villages and with 
more than 100 warning towers along the coast. 
The tsunami, finally, brought an increased awareness 
on the importance of natural defence barriers. Healthy 
coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, estuaries, 
wetlands and sandy beaches, are able to provide good 
protection against the force of tsunamis and storm 
surges and contribute to disaster risk reduction while 
providing diverse livelihoods, sufficient nutritious 
food, shelter and access to goods for communities. 
Several organisations and programmes, such as 
Mangroves for the Future, now focus on the 
humanitarian implications of failure to protect coastal 
ecosystems. But while most people are aware of the 
importance of resource-based industries such as 
ecotourism and fisheries to coastal economies, there is 
less comprehension of just how important these goods 
and raw materials are in terms of their multiplier 
effects nationally and locally. 

Will We Do Better Next Time? 
If another tsunami happened tomorrow, would the 
response from governments and the international 
community be stronger and better? Can we multiply 
our successes, learn from our shortfalls and apply this 
in the future for both emergency relief and longer term
You only know lessons have really been learned when
 you stop thinking about them and simply do them. 
Particularly in light of the current global financial 
crisis, many believe that whatever innovations we 
think are replicable have to be at a low-cost level. 
Luckily, the most important lessons we have learned 
are not necessarily those that depend on the 
availability of large amounts of funding. Effective 
leadership and coordination, beginning at the 
development organisations alike, can go a long way in 
ensuring an efficient and sustainable recovery. And 
while coordination and leadership may be more easily 
talked about than put into practice, they remain 
particularly important in a disaster context where 
chaos goes hand in hand with calamity. 
respond to the voices of those most affected – 
including those normally not consulted, especially 
solving the leadership equation. The many delivery 
partners who make up the reconstruction community 
must also develop the quality and effectiveness of their 
We have learned that accountability and preparedness 
are critical, as is a willingness to take risks and embed 
institutional as well as cultural reform amid disaster 
response. This must include serious reflection and be 
a continuous process through which weaknesses are 
overturned and strengths capitalised upon. 
Our most important lesson, however, is that disasters 
themselves should be seen as opportunities for reform 
and improvement. What stands out in this report is 
that governments in all five of the most tsunami affected 
countries embraced change as a core ethic to confront 
this catastrophe. The challenge now is to 
constantly build on and improve these new 
institutional arrangements. Change must be 
embraced, not for its own sake, but rather because in 
a disaster, organisational weaknesses are severely 
tested and exposed. Continuous improvement is the 
only way to ensure all new institutional arrangements 
remain robust and relevant. 

Tsunami Chronicles - A must for every disaster or recovery manager.

Few natural disasters come bigger than the 2004 tsunami. It left a trail of destruction from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other. Hardest hit was Aceh in Indonesia’s west where the tsunami killed almost a quarter of a million people and left half a million homeless as it smashed into a strip of coastline 800 kilometres long and several kilometres wide. The global community rallied to help in the largest military deployment since World War II, then spent billions rebuilding in one of the most challenging reconstruction programs of its kind. Tsunami Chronicles: Adventures in Disaster Management tells the inside story of recovery. To order a copy, click here.
It lays bare the tectonic political and managerial forces that swept the rebuilding program along with no less force than the tsunami itself, forces that continue to dominate and debilitate other international recovery efforts. This is a powerful, first-hand narrative from a highly experienced journalist, author and consultant who played a pivotal role overseeing Aceh’s recovery then embarked on a global excursion to examine similar recovery efforts in places like Haiti. A series of six books in one,Tsunami Chronicles offers rare and refreshing insights into global disaster recovery that will annoy some, anger a few, excite others and inspire many. A study of management like no other, it will have special appeal to anyone who wants to know how things really work, or fail to work, in a multi-billion-dollar industry riven by the politics of power.

Bill Nicol left, in Geneva for my farewell party at IFRC and promoting his book Tsunami Chronicles to Bekele Gelata SG and Jagan Chapagain, head of Asia Pacific. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Six Books in one

Tsunami Chronicles: Adventures in Disaster Management is a series of six books published in a single volume comprising... 

Foreword: A Left Little Toeintroduces Chronicles as a study of the December 2004 tsunami while also establishing the author’s key role as senior adviser to the Indonesian Government for tsunami recovery and explaining how and why it was written

Book 1: God’s Punishment—constructs the platform of disaster recovery by describing the tsunami’s impact on Aceh and explaining the wider perspective of how the Indonesian Government responded to both the tsunami and the ongoing war in Aceh

Book 2: Rise of the War Lords—looks inside the purpose-built Aceh Reconstruction Agency, BRR, to see how it overcame the many political, military and operational challenges that distorted the recovery program
Tsunami Chronicles: Adventures in Disaster Management is a series of six books published in a single volume comprising... 

Joy Ching Muller with Bill Nicol in Geneva for his book launch.

Book 3: Consulting in Catastrophe—gets more personal as the author explore the role of technical advisors generally and my own in particular; it provides a bridge between the internal operations of BRR to which technical advisors contributed and the external role of international community from which most advisors came

Book 4: Cultures of Care and Contempt—opens the door on the international community's pivotal contribution to the reconstruction of Aceh while also explaining the bump and grind of working with the global players

Book 5: End Games—discusses the many great fights at the end as the massive reconstruction program was brought to an end in the grip of "victory disease"

Book 6: The Residuals of Recovery—steps back from the detail of Aceh’s recovery to take a broader view that explores lessons, looks beyond to subsequent missteps in Haiti and other places, and projects forward to speculate on the future

Book 3: Consulting in Catastrophe—gets more personal as the author explore the role of technical advisors generally and my own in particular; it provides a bridge between the internal operations of BRR to which technical advisors contributed and the external role of international community from which most advisors came

Book 4: Cultures of Care and Contempt—opens the door on the international community's pivotal contribution to the reconstruction of Aceh while also explaining the bump and grind of working with the global players

Dr. Mukesh Kapial with Bill Nicol at the book  launch in Geneva.

Book 5: End Games—discusses the many great fights at the end as the massive reconstruction program was brought to an end in the grip of "victory disease"

Book 6: The Residuals of Recovery—steps back from the detail of Aceh’s recovery to take a broader view that explores lessons, looks beyond to subsequent missteps in Haiti and other places, and projects forward to speculate on the future.

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