Wednesday, 25 December 2013

  Nine years since Indian Ocean tsunami struck.

What are the Lesson's Learned?

It has been nine traumatic years for those families and friends who lost loved ones in the tsunami. which struck so quickly and silently on 26 December 2004. The grieving goes on, and for many there is no closure as thousands of bodies were never found. But life goes on and if you travel today to the worst affected countries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Thailand, life in those affected coastal areas can be described as normal, or in many cases the infrastructure is better.We built back better.

Of all the stories I have read on the tsunami, this one written two years ago really moved me and I share it with you. It is a story of dispair and hope.
Wati, second right, poses for a photograph with her father Yusuf, right, mother Yusniar, left, and younger brother Aris

A girl who was swept away in the Indian Ocean tsunami seven years ago told today how she broke down in tears after tracking down her parents, who had long lost hope of finding her alive.

The 15-year-old showed up in Aceh province's hard-hit town of Meulaboh earlier this week, saying that not long after the wave hit she was "adopted" by a woman who called her Wati and forced her to beg, sometimes beating her and keeping her in the streets until 1am.

When the teenager stopped bringing in money, she was told, "Go ahead, leave ... go find your parents then, they're in Meulaboh."

With only patchy memories about her past - she was only eight when the tsunami hit, an age where most children do not know their relatives' full names - Wati began her search, telling people she thought her grandfather was "Ibrahim."

She met a pedicab driver in Meulaboh, who brought her to a man by that name. Though she did not look familiar, he, in turn, quickly summoned her parents. 
Some time back I discussed the tsunami work with John Ekelund from the Finnish Red Cross who had worked in Sri Lanka for almost four years on the  recovery operation. John said, " It was the commitment of Red Cross volunteers and staff that gave us the edge." We also displayed vision, we thought ahead when planning for schools or hospitals and tried to visualise the expanding needs in ten years. So we built for the present and the future and this approach has really paid off."

John was somewhat scornful of organisations that came in and with poor planning, and little liaison with community or local authorities, rushed through construction, took photographs and left, often leaning many liabilities and defects for other to manage.

" The Red Cross built quality houses, hospitals,water systems, schools and clinics and took a holistic approach and when working with communities, we built not only houses but toilets, clean water to each house, livelihoods and even playgrounds for the children." he said.

Since the tsunami struck nine years ago, I have been working on the tsunami recovery operations in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia. I finished my tsunami work in Sri Lanka in July this year.

I am now working on the Haiyan (Yolande) typhoon operation and in our early recovery and recovery planning, I draw a lot from experiences and lessons learned from the tsunami.

For each of past eight solemn  years I have been at a commemoration ceremonies in India, Indonesia, Thailand  and at Phuket recall the grief, emotions, wailing, the blank look on faces as families floated candles out to sea on rafts, or tied miniature lanterns to kites and sent into the night sky.

I can repeat what I have said and written hundreds of times in praising the Red Cross volunteers, staff, engineers, day laborers, the affected communities in displaying unprecedented solidarity and commitment in responding and building back better. Where there were vulnerable communities in 2004 when the tsunami struck, the majority I have seen in the last few years are safer, and people much more resilient.

But I want pause for a moments and categorically say that the most important single thing we can do is to capture the lessons learned so we minimize the effects of future earthquakes and tsunamis.

Lessons were captured from the tsunami and two good publications are the Tsunami Legacy, and another cracker, A Ripple In Development. Although good, these two publications did not drill in deep enough to where recovery really goes off the rails, and that is in  the poor or weak governance at local, regional and national level. Bill Nicol's authoritative book, Tsunami Chronicles is a classic.

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



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.

If you want to learn more about disaster management, you must get a copy of Bill's book. It is available from Amazon.

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