Friday, 23 December 2011

Seven years since Indian Ocean tsunami struck.

What are the Lesson's Learned?

It has been seven 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. But the recovery goes on in some countries, mainly Sri Lanka, as the 30 years long civil war, only finished in mid 2009. The conflict delayed many housing and community projects that were promised to the affected people.

I started this article in Christchurch New Zealand early yesterday, 23 December. During the day,  four major earthquakes struck. The headlines in the paper merely say:

5.8  5.3  6.0  5.0

My good friend Robin Judkins who we visisted in his severely damaged house  perched on a hill side in Sumner only the day before, dislocated his shoulder when the first quake struck yesterday  and he dived under a table for safety.

But the story in this morning paper about the Indonesian tsunami seven years on, really moved:
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.

The Red Cross tsunami recovery is about to draw to a close. Just last Monday Kristina Kumpala, secretary general of the Finnish Red Cross opened a hospital in Chavakatcheri in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.. With the war finishing in May 2009, the Finnish Red Cross funded hospital could not be started until June 2009. This a was a fine effort by the Finns working with the Sri Lanka Red Cross to finish a large base hospital in just over two years. As I write the American Red Cross are completing a 22 km water pipleline in Galle, in southern Sri Lanka.

Ten days ago when John Ekelund from the Finnish Red Cross visited Sri Lanka, I knew he had worked in Sri Lanka for almost four years on the tsunami recovery operation so I took the opportunity to get  his opinion on a number of issues as I respect him immensely for the work he had done.
" It was the commitment of Red Cross volunteers and staff that gave us the edge," he said. "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 seven years ago, I have been working on the tsunami recovery operations in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia where I spent four years.

For each of the six solemn  years I have been at a commemoration ceremonies in India, Indonesia, Thailand and last year on 26 December, in  southern Sri Lanka. .I can recall the grief, emotions, wailing, the blank look on faces as famiies floated candles out to sea on rafts, or tied minature lanterns to kites and sent into the night sky in Phuket

I can repeat what I have said and written hundreds of times in praising the Red Cross volunteers, staff, engineers, day labourers, the affected communities in displaying unpreceedented solidarity and commitment in responding and building back better.

But I want pause for a moments and catergorically say that the most important single thing we can do is to capture the lessons learned so we minimise the effects of future earthquakes and tsunamis. Coincidentally as I write this, I am in Christchurch which was severely damaged in September last year and agaiun in February this year. Yesterday I had a look at progress made in the recovery operation and the challenges ahead. I visited a friend who was badly affected, and saw his house tettering on a cliff top in Sumner.

Lessons were captured from the tsunami and the best publication by far is 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.

In the Christchurch Press on Monday 19 December 2011, there is an attack on the 'darling' of  Canterbury's Earthquake Recovery Agency, Roger Sutton the CEO.

On June 11 2011, The Press featured an illustration of Roger Sutton (left) in full armour, riding a horse and brandishing a sword, presumably at all those who stood in the way of Canterbury's earthquake recovery.
In hindsight, the metaphor seems a little over-cooked.
Sutton walked into the job as Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief executive with a strong public profile, built on his time in the top job at Christchurch lines company Orion. Since June, he has been co-ordinating the quake recovery, including deciding what land will have to be abandoned and which buildings will be demolished. If Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is the recovery chairman, and effectively the entire board, Sutton is responsible for the nitty-gritty of shaking hands and fronting up to public meetings. After the February 22 quake, the Canterbury public regularly saw Sutton gesticulating at large diagrams on butcher's paper, describing how Orion's power lines had been munted and how they would be fixed.

The lines were repaired with minimal fuss and many people were suitably impressed.

But his performance since taking over at CERA has received a mixed review, with people in broken homes struggling to find answers often targeting him personally. While Sutton still has many defenders, Cera's Facebook page is littered with criticism of his performance, many mocking his much-lauded communication skills.

One post commenting on Sutton's regular newsletters likened him to being wheeled out like "some sort of old aunty at a wedding" before vanishing again.

Other posts expressed disappointment that he had failed to live up to his reputation as grand communicator.

Sitting in his 11th-storey Christchurch office overlooking the battered central city, Sutton was philosophical about his popularity dip. "I knew from the very beginning it was only going to go downhill," he said.

"By definition, in a role like this you're not going to keep all the people happy all the time. There is huge hurt out there. Some people's lives are really pretty crap."
Making these lives better had been harder than expected. Rogers Sutton goes on to outline his challenges.

The biggest challenge had been making clear decisions about what land can be rebuilt on. Sutton said the complexity of classifying land had been a surprise and had taken far longer than expected.

"When I took the job, there was a view by some that some of those land decisions would be made pretty quickly, and they just haven't."

Knights in shining armour such as CERA's Roger Sutton are only as good as the politician's making the decisions and the space and powers CEO are given to run recovery operations.

But where do world leaders learn about earthquake or disaster recovery operations?

World leaders/politicians need look no further than Bill Clinton or Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (left) with Bob McKerrow on a joint trip to Simeulue Island in 2007. Photo: Aroha McKerrow

Clinton was special envoy for Tsunami to Koffe Annan and the later to Ban ki Moon, SG of the UN. Dr. Kuntoro was the remarkable Minister for Tsunami.who led a brilliant team of practicioners to complete a massive recovery operation within four years. Did the NZ Government look overseas to see where the could get the best expert advice ? If they had of enticed Dr. Kuntoro and his operations manager Eddy Puwanto, I am sure the Christchurch earthquake recovery operation would have been much speedier. Bill Clinton together with Dr. Kuntoro coined the phrases, 'build back better' and 'breakthrough initatives.' Breakthrough initiatives are 'out of the box thinking' that accelerates recovery, something both the Japanese tsunami and New Zealand's Christchurch earthquake sorely need.

Thanks  goodness that the special adviser to Dr. Kuntoro, was Bill Nicol, who was at the minister's side for 4 years. The former journalist, TV front man, management consultant who has written controversial, yet highly accurate books on East Timor and malpractice in the Australian medical profession, has just completed a book called Tsunami Chronicles. Having worked with Bill and Dr. Kuntoro for 4 years during the Indonesian tsunami, Bill honoured me by letting me look at the first draft. What an amazing book which is written in a style that will guide Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, other politicians, CEO and in fact anyone that works in a huge disasters. Bill leaves no stone unturned and visited Haiti to see if any of the tsunami lessons learned were applied.. Sadly little was and the book shows that organisations are superb at capturing lessons learned, but weak in applying them.

Yesterday when four major earthquakes hit Christchurch, I saw Mayor Bob Parker on TV, and also Roger Sutton. Parker communicates clearly and you feel you trust this man. Sutton, on the other hand, came across as being sound techically, but not a man that embues confidence, noe a sound communicator.

I feel it not too late for the Mayor of Christchurch, the CEO of CERA, and the Minister for the Canterbury Earthquake, to seek foreign advice on breakthrough initiatives, that would accelerate recovery. In addition, the Government could look at the number of New Zealanders working overseas with vast experience in earthquake and disaster recovery, to come back and lend a hand. It's not too late. This recovery operation in Christchurch will take 10 to 15 years to complete.


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