Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Why celebrate May Day?

Mr. May Day, 1840, New Zealander:  Samuel Parnell

The USA, and many other countries claim they pioneered the 40 hour week, but an unsung New Zealander, Sam Parnell, should claim the title for in 1840 he won the right to a 40 hour week.

Labour Day or May Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

Above: Dunedin Labour Day parade, 1894.
Dunedin is my home town and I was brought up on heavy socialist/labour diet of 'better conditions for workers', and recall my Uncles and my Dad recounting the oppression from successive liberal/conservative Governments against workers in the the Depression of the 1930s when they were told by the Prime Minister of New Zealand at the Dunedin Town Hall, " If you are hungry, eat grass." They mobbed together after this discriminatory speech and broke into all the major food stores in Dunedin. Where did I get my radical streak from. then, when the whiskey came out, the spoke passionately of queuing up for food during the depression for food handouts for a family of 12, and all they got was rotten fish. My Dad, James William Godfrey McKerrow, quitely told me in old age," We didn't waste the rotten fish, we planted it under the apple tree."

Early Labour Day parades drew huge crowds in places such as Palmerston North and Napier as well as in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Unionists and supporters marched behind colourful banners and ornate floats, and the parades were followed by popular picnics and sports events.

These parades also had a political purpose. Although workers in some industries had long enjoyed an eight-hour day, it was not a legal entitlement. Other workers, including seamen, farm labourers, and hotel, restaurant and shop employees, still worked much longer hours. Many also endured unpleasant and sometimes dangerous working conditions. Unionists wanted the Liberals to pass legislation enforcing an eight-hour day for all workers, but the government was reluctant to antagonise the business community.

What the Liberals did do was make Labour Day a holiday. The Labour Day Act of 1899 created a statutory public holiday on the second Wednesday in October, first celebrated in 1900. The holiday was 'Mondayised' in 1910, and since then it has been held on the fourth Monday in October.

In the first decade of the 20th century industrial unrest reappeared. The Liberal government was in decline, prices were rising and the Arbitration Court was seen as reluctant to raise wages. The more militant labour movement that emerged from around 1908 rejected the Liberals' arbitration system and condemned the increasing commercialisation of Labour Day parades. Many floats advertised businesses as well as temperance organisations, theatres, circuses and patriotic causes. Some socialists promoted May Day (1 May) as an alternative celebration of workers' struggles. Although unionists and their supporters continued to hold popular gatherings and sports events, by the 1920s Labour Day had begun to decline as a public spectacle. For most New Zealanders, it was now just another holiday.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Hemingway and Gellhorn. How I met Martha Gellhorn

Image Credit: Karen Ballard/HBO

I met Martha Gellhorn in 1971.

Tonight I watched the full movie again on HBO of Hemingway and Gellhorn. Memories flooded back of my fortunate meeting with her.

In 1971, sitting in the bar at the Continental Palace in Saigon I met the famous war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, the woman who changed the face of war reporting by giving accounts of the suffering of real people . A pioneer in journalism, telling the story of war in a unique and personal way, she reported on virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career. Gellhorn covered the Spanish Civil War the Finnish-Soviet winter war, World War II, the Vietnam War and the 1977 Arab Israel conflict.

When I met Gellhorn she must have been 62 going 63 and was a compelling person with a magnetic personality and had just come back from having been with US forces somewhere in the central highlands. I was 23 on my first Red Cross mission sitting at a table with a few other journalist and she joined us. I was unsure of who she was at that moment but I could immediately see the respect accorded to her by journalists that knew her incredible history. I can recall her commenting on the futility of war and the deeper meaning of life...”That spiritual world up or out there,” she described so wistfully with delicate hand movements, and then she dismissed the comment.

A few days ago I started getting a large amount of hits on my weblog and I starting wondering why ? After a bit of research, I found that a new movie by HBO, Hemingway & Gellhorn, was shown for the first time on HBO the other day. I am delighted that the story of Martha Gellhorn, one of the world's great war correspondents, is made into a movie.

I looked at many reviews and the one from the Ottawa Citizen was typical of many, and I copy it below: Towards the end of this post, I write in more detail about my meeting with Martha Gellhorn.

Quiet, studied, cerebral and eerily compelling, the new HBO biopic Hemingway & Gellhorn is both a throwback and surprisingly modern.
The two-and-a-half-hour film, long by TV-movie standards, is a reminder that made-for-TV movies don't have to pander. Increasingly, films made by adults for adults are being seen on cable channels like HBO. If the Hollywood studios had their way, and it weren't for indie filmmakers, summer at the movie theatres would be one long superhero movie. There's a reason A-listers like Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman choose to slum in TV. Increasingly, that reason is movies like Hemingway & Gellhorn.
As directed by seminal filmmaker Philip Kaufman - few film directors can claim credits as distinctive and differing as The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Invasion of the Body Snatchers within a few years of each other - Hemingway & Gellhorn is a reminder, too, that, long before Arwa Damon, Marie Colvin and Christiane Amanpour, women were at the front lines of the world's most prominent, respected war correspondents. Gellhorn, considered by the Daily Telegraph to be one of the greatest war correspondents of her generation, covered nearly every major conflict that occurred during her storied 60-year career.
Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn from the movie Hemingway & Gellhorn. Photograph by: The Movie Network

Although Hemingway is the more familiar name, Hemingway & Gellhorn is Gellhorn's story. It's a cliche to describe Gellhorn as a woman before her time, but consider this: Shortly after meeting Hemingway in 1936 in Key West and becoming his third wife in 1940, Gellhorn chafed at being cast in the shadow of the renowned novelist and ladies' man, famously remarking to a friend that she didn't care to be "a footnote in someone else's life." Extramarital affairs followed - on both sides - and the marriage fractured, as the saying goes: "We were good in war. And when there was no war, we made our own."

Kaufman, Kidman and Owen faced the press at a meeting with TV critics in Los Angeles earlier this year. Predictably, perhaps, it was Gellhorn, not Hemingway, that commanded the most interest, and Kidman who fielded the most questions.
"(Gellhorn) found her voice when she was with Hemingway," Kidman explained. "He was a big part of helping her to, as he says in a line in the film, 'Get in the ring and start throwing punches for what you believe in.' The great thing about Gellhorn was she was the first female, really, war correspondent. She wrote about people's lives, and she wrote with direct truth. That's hard to do.
"During their relationship, you see her formulating who she is as a writer. She's not Hemingway. She didn't want to write novels. She wanted to be a correspondent. I love that she was the first woman to really do that. In the film, you see her on the front line, you see her hands bloody. She's a sponge, and then she's able to feed that back to America and the world. She was a trail blazer."
Is Hemingway & Gellhorn right for you? If the first image that comes to mind when you hear the words Island in the Stream is Kenny Rogers, possibly not. If the image that comes to mind is the posthumous Hemingway novel set in Cuba, Bahamas and the Florida Keys, or the George C. Scott movie with Claire Bloom, you owe it to yourself not to miss Hemingway & Gellhorn. This is the kind of movie that brings history to life and makes you feel better for understanding it.

Martha Gellhorn - War correspondent by Bob McKerrow

In 1971, sitting in the bar at the Continental Palace in Saigon I met the famous war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, the woman who changed the face of war reporting by giving accounts of the suffering of real people . A pioneer in journalism, telling the story of war in a unique and personal way, she reported on virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career.Gellhorn covered the Spanish Civil War the Finnish-Soviet winter war, World War II, the Vietnam War and the 1977 Arab Israel conflict.

When I met Gellhorn she must have been 62 going 63 and was a compelling person with a magnetic personality and had just come back from having been with US forces somewhere in the central highlands.; I was 23 on my first Red Cross mission sitting at a table with a few other journalist and she joined us. I was unsure of who she was at that moment but I could immediately see the respect accorded to her by journalists that knew her incredible history. I can recall her commenting on the futility of war and the deeper meaning of life...”That spiritual world up or out there,” she described so wistfully with delicate hand movements, and then she dismissed the comment.

Many years later I found out exactly what she thought about the US engagement in the Vietnam war.
"The American army in Vietnam was an army of occupation, victims and victimizers both," she later wrote. "Victims because they were wrongly sent 10,000 miles from home, to take part - even as mildly as storekeeper, clerk, cook - in a political aggression. Victimizers because they looked on Vietnamese as a lesser breed..."

 I find her courage and writing ability as two things I will remember forever about this pioneering war correspondent.

Caroline Moorehead, author of Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life, says Gellhorn remained undaunted for most of her 90 years. "I think she was fearless but she knew what it was like to be frightened," a toughness she got from her upbringing, Moorehead says.

Gellhorn covered wars in a different way than other journalists. "She didn't write about battles and she didn't know about military tactics," Moorehead says. "What she was really interested in was describing what war does to civilians, does to ordinary people."

In 1939 Gellhorn witnessed the first weeks of the Winter War between Finland the Soviet Union. She was in Helsinki when the Soviet air forces bombed the city, as a declaration of war. "An Italian journalist had remarked in Helsinki that anyone who could survive the Finnish climate could survive anything and we decided with admiration that the Finns were a tough and unrelenting race, seeing them take this war as if there were nothing very remarkable in three million people fighting against a nation of 180 million." (Gellhorn in The Face of War, 1959) Gellhorn also met President Svinhufvud, whose name she wrote "Szinhuszue". Svinhufvud offered his guests small apples from his orchard. At the Karelian front Gellhorn interviewed Finnish fighter pilots, astonished by their age: "they ought to be going to college dances," she remarked. Gellhorn's reports emphasized that Finland was not the aggressor and deeply influenced the public opinion in the United States about the war.

Gellhorn married Hemingway on November 20, 1940, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. (photo left) Hemingway's friend, Robert Capa, photographed the ceremony for Life. The author dedicated his famous novel about the Spanish Civil war, For Whom the Bells Toll (1940), to Gellhorn. Maria in the book was partly modelled after her. "Her hair was the golden brow of a grain field," Hemingway wrote of his heroine. In the film version of the book, Ingrid Bergman played Maria, but hair was darker than Gellhorn's. However, Gellhorn had suggested her for the role.

The first years of their marriage were happy, although Gellhorn was never really attracted to Hemingway, or believed in romantic love. Hemingway taught her to ride, and shoot, and fish. In the afternoon they played tennis.

Gellhorn was sent to China by Collier's to report on the China-Japan war. They met General Chiang Kai-shek ("he had no teeth"), and continued to Burma, where they spent some time. Hemingway returned to Hong Kong and Gellhorn left for Singapore and Java. "She gets to the place,"

Gellhorn was sent to China by Collier's to report on the China-Japan war. They met General Chiang Kai-shek ("he had no teeth"), and continued to Burma, where they spent some time. Hemingway returned to Hong Kong and Gellhorn left for Singapore and Java. "She gets to the place,"

Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking, China, 1941

Since she walked out on Ernest Hemingway in 1943, after five years of marriage, Gellhorn had refused to talk much about him. She was a writer in her own right, a woman who had covered the heaviest of wars, and she wished to be remembered for that. Yet all people recalled was the marriage. That obviously was disappointing to such a talented writer.

After the war she served as a correspondent in Java. Her only play, Love Goes to Press (1947), written in collaboration with Virginia Cowles, did not gain much success. Liana (1944) was a story of a mulatto woman. "True, there is a suspiciously Hemingway-like handling of the dialogue," wrote John Lucas in Contemporary Novelists (1972), "but for the rest there is a sharpness, a truth of observation in the studies of Liana herself and of Marc that would make the novel worth reading if there were nothing else to commend it." The Wine of Astonishment (1948) fallowed a U.S. in Europe in World War II. "Anything at all would do," thinks one of the characters, Lieutenant Colonel Smithers, "except this hour to hour hanging on, with time like a rock in your brain." A young soldier, Jacob Levy, confronts man's inhumanity toward man in Germany. The book was partly based on Gellhorn's experiences - she had been at Dachau a week after American soldiers had discovered the concentration camp.

The Continental Palace in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where I met Martha Gellhorn in 1971.

In 1958 Gellhorn received an O. Henry Award. The sale of a short story to television enabled her to pay in 1962 her own way to Africa. Gellhorn's love affair of the continent lasted off and on for thirteen years. Much of her time she spent in Kenya, where she had a residence in the Rift Valley. Eventually she fond hopeless to try to write about the "natural world where everything was older than time and I was the briefest object in the landscape." One morning she was attacked on a beach - according to her friend, she was raped. Later she wrote a short story dealing with the traumatic experience.

Between 1934 and 1967, Gellhorn published six novels. She covered wars in Vietnam in the 1960s, and the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967 for the Guardian of London. "The American army in Vietnam was an army of occupation, victims and victimizers both," she later wrote. "Victims because they were wrongly sent 10,000 miles from home, to take part - even as mildly as storekeeper, clerk, cook - in a political aggression. Victimizers because they looked on Vietnamese as a lesser breed..." In 1962 Gellhorn made a tour of German universities.

She could describe vividly decades later, how people were dressed and what they discussed on particular occasions. She had a sharp eye for significant details, and her writing was clear, clever, and precise - all qualities of a good reporter.  Her article Is there a new Germany ? written in February 1964 shows her accute powers of observation, analysis and committment to truth. She could describe vividly decades later, how people looked like on any ocassion when questioned..

There is an excellent doco on youtube with a Spanish commentary. You'll love it as you see the places she visited and so many photos of her exciting life.

How I enjoy her writings, love her as a person and am so grateful to have met her. R.I. P Martha..
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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

ANZAC Day - The loss of New Zealand's Innocence

The Homecoming from Gallipoli by Walter Armiger Bowring, 1916.

On the 15 July 1915 the SS Willochra arrived in Wellington loaded with the first wave of New Zealand wounded from the Gallipoli Peninsula. Bowring's The Homecoming from Gallipoli illustrates the poignant loss-of-innocence moment when civilian New Zealanders first confronted the grim reality of wounds, amputations, psychological trauma and death. The painting is dominated by a seemingly unending line of khaki and bandages zig-zagging down from the ship into the jostling throng of anxious civilians. The flag and coloured streamers all hang limply, suggesting that the families waiting at the dock had expected a victorious celebration but were met instead by parade of exhausted men

ANZAC day is a very poignant day for New Zealanders and Australians as many of us lost relatives in the First and Second World Wars. Tomorrow morning I am going with my two sons to the Commonweath War Graves section of the Kanatta Cemetery in Colombo for the ceremony at 5.30 a.m.

I used to sit on my Grandfather's (Thomas Farrow McNatty) knee as a child and play with a medallion on his watch . After he died my brother was given the watch, medallion and chain and it had the year 1900 engraved on it and showed that his platoon had won a shooting competition in my home town Dunedin. When the 1st World War broke out my Grandfather was too old to go, but five of his brothers went to the war. He told me how his mother (Hannah) and his father (John) hearts were broken when they received news that their son Henry John McNatty had  died on 06 August 1915 at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, Turkey  and buried at Chunuk Bair.  Over two year later John and Hannah received word that another son, Walter Ernest McNatty died of wounds, in France, on 03 October 1917. The three other brothers - 4/2202 Sapper Charles Burton McNatty, 65117 Private Frank Kingsland McNatty, 59033 Private Robert McNatty - all survived and I recall vividly meeting two of them in the first 15 years of my life. Tomorrow, 25 April 2013, ANZAC day, I would also like to honour Great Uncle Bert Hodgson, my Grandmother's brother, who left his Southland farm in about 1898-99 to join the Third New Zealand Rough Rider Contingent, as a member of the No. 5 Company, that went to South Africa to join the British Forces against the Boers.

Then to my Father James William Godrey McKerrow who fought with New Zealand's 23rd Battalion in Egypt and later Italy during the Second World War. My Dad had a horrible war, but like many of his generation, seldom talked about it. But during all night long talks I had with him a few years before he died , he opened up and told me of the horrors he witnessed.

Here is a photo of Uncle Bert (second from the left, standing) with the beard, in older age, out hunting with a group of younger men near Waikawa, Southland, New Zealand.

The making of ANZAC day

Anzac Day, as we know it, began to take shape almost as soon as news reached New Zealand of the landing of soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April, 1915. Within a few years core elements of the day were set and the Anzac story and sacredness of the commemoration enshrined.
New Zealand soldiers bow their heads in prayer at an Anzac Day service at El Saff in Egypt, 25 April 1940.

1915: Gallipoli remembered
The first public recognition of the landings at Gallipoli occurred on 30 April 1915, after news of the dramatic event had reached New Zealand. A half-day holiday was declared for government offices, flags were flown, and patriotic meetings were held. People eagerly read descriptions of the landings and casualty lists – even if the latter made for grim news. Newspapers gushed about the heroism of the New Zealand soldiers. From the outset, public perceptions of the landings evoked national pride. The eventual failure of the Gallipoli operation enhanced its sanctity for many; there may have been no military victory, but there was victory of the spirit as New Zealand soldiers showed courage in the face of adversity and sacrifice.
New Zealand soldiers at Sling Camp, England, created this cover for a publication in 1916. It illustrates how the Gallipoli campaign was celebrated as a source of national pride from the beginning.
New Zealand soldiers at Sling Camp, England, created this cover for a publication in 1916. It illustrates how the Gallipoli campaign was celebrated as a source of national pride from the beginning.

1916: a half-day holiday

Day Gazette notice New Zealanders soon demanded some form of remembrance on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. This became both a means of rallying support for the war effort and a public expression of grief – for no bodies were brought home. On 5 April 1916 a half-day holiday for 25 April was gazetted, and church services and recruiting meetings were proposed. Returned servicemen wanted something else: 'the boys don't want to be split up among twenty or thirty different churches on Anzac Day, and it is certain they don't want to go to a meeting to hear people who haven't been there [to war] spout and pass resolutions'. Instead, returned servicemen preferred a public service conducted by an army chaplain. Returned servicemen soon claimed ownership of the day's ceremonies. These included processions of returned and serving personnel, followed by church services and public meetings at town halls. Speeches extolled national unity, imperial loyalty, remembrance of the dead and the need for young men to volunteer at a time when conscription loomed. Large crowds attended the first commemorations in 1916. There were 2000 at the service in Rotorua, and in London, there was a procession of 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops and a service at Westminster Abbey. New Zealand soldiers in Egypt commemorated the day with a service and the playing of the last post, followed by a holiday and sports games. Only a year after the landings some people saw potential profits from using the term Anzac to promote their products. On 31 August 1916, after lobbying by returned soldiers, the use of the word Anzac was prohibited for trade or business purposes.

Patriotism and remembrance
New Zealand Returned Soldiers' (later Services') Association, in co-operation with local authorities, took a key role in the ceremony, organising processions of servicemen, church services and public meetings. The ceremony on 25 April was gradually standardised during and after the war. It became more explicitly a remembrance of the war dead and less a patriotic event once the war was over. The ceremony was conducted around a bier of wreaths and a serviceman's hat, and there was a firing party of servicemen men with their heads bowed and a chaplain who read the words from the military burial service. Three volleys were fired by the guard, and the last post was played. This was followed by a prayer, a hymn and a benediction.
Barbara McKerrow, my sister-in-law, visits the graves of New Zealand soldiers who died at Monte Cassino during WW II. My Father fought with the 23rd New Zealand Batallion in this war. Photo: Barry McKerrow


 Homecoming from Gallipoli

The word Anzac is part of the culture of New Zealanders and Australians. People talk about the 'spirit of Anzac'; there are Anzac biscuits, and rugby or rugby league teams from the two countries play an Anzac Day test. The word conjures up a shared heritage of two nations, but it also has a specific meaning.

Anzac is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This corps was created early in the Great War of 1914–18. In December 1914 the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force stationed in Egypt were placed under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood. Initially the term Australasian Corps was suggested, but Australians and New Zealanders were reluctant to lose their separate identities completely.

No one knows who came up with the term Anzac. It is likely that Sergeant K.M. Little, a clerk at Birdwood's headquarters, thought of it for use on a rubber stamp: 'ANZAC' was convenient shorthand. Later the corps used it as their telegraph code word.

The Anzacs first saw action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The small cove where the Australian and New Zealand troops landed was quickly dubbed Anzac Cove. Soon the word was being used to describe all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Eventually, it came to mean any Australian or New Zealand soldier.

After Gallipoli

There were two Anzac corps on the Western Front from 1916, with the New Zealand Division serving in II Australian and New Zealand Army Corps until early 1918. During the Sinai–Palestine campaign the combined Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division was more commonly called the Anzac Mounted Division.

The term continued into other wars. A new Anzac corps was briefly formed during the campaign in Greece in 1941. During the Vietnam War, New Zealand and Australian infantry companies combined to form the Anzac Battalion.

A sacred holiday - Anzac Day

Anzac Day took on a new meaning in a time of peace. Most New Zealanders saw it as a time to express sorrow, not to glorify war. It became a sacred day, but one that was secular in tone and less like a mournful funeral.

A public holiday

The status of Anzac Day was not clear until the early 1920s. Peace was celebrated from 19 to 21 July 1919, but there was no official day of commemoration for the war. The government was prepared to move St George’s Day to 25 April and declare that day to be a government holiday. There was little support for this. Government holidays tended to be religious observances or patriotic occasions, and Dominion Day, the self-styled national day, possessed no emotional appeal.

Anzac Day had strong public appeal. In 1920 the government responded to Returned Services’ Association (RSA) lobbying for 25 April to be declared a holiday; the first was marked in 1921. Legislation making the day a holiday also closed hotels and banks and prohibited race meetings, but this did not meet RSA demands for the day to be ‘Sundayised’. In 1922 the government backed down, and 25 April became a full public holiday as if it were a Sunday.

Nationhood and peace

The features of Anzac Day evolved during the 1920s and 1930s. Public war memorials erected in the 1920s took the place of town halls or churches in the ceremony. In the process, the ceremony itself became less overtly religious. There were occasional protests from churches, but it was RSA leaders, servicemen and local politicians who increasingly made the speeches, rather than clergymen.

Gradually the service became less like a mournful funeral. The laying of wreaths became more central to the ceremony, and there were fewer speeches and hymns. Uniformed members of the armed forces became accepted in many places as participants in the march and service.

New Zealand’s Anzac Day services began to include new features taken, appropriately, from the Anzac partner. The dawn parade, commemorating both the time of the initial landings at Gallipoli and the routine dawn stand-to in the trenches, was an Australian idea. It was widely adopted in New Zealand from 1939 (although some centres, such as Whanganui, had included dawn parades in their commemorations for several years before this). The cold and darkness breaking into sunrise added to the symbolism of the occasion.

Common themes in the speeches were nationhood, national and imperial loyalty, sacrifice and peace. During the Depression, Anzac Day speeches mentioned the ideals of unity and selflessness. As the international situation deteriorated in the 1930s, Anzac Day speeches focused on the need for defence preparations and the importance of not forgetting past lessons. The number of marchers grew as returned servicemen became more interested in commemorating their war experiences through public ritual. Anzac Day began to take on the features of an annual reunion.

My thanks to New Zealand History on Line for permission to use extracts from their site.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

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. 

I was proud that the New Zealand Government funded a global workshop on  'Promoting Initiatives on Disaster Risk Management' that embedded both concepts of risk reduction and resilience  as an integrated cross-cutting initiative to be a crucial part of all future disaster planning and recovery operations,  and was etched forever in the final tsunami report from all Governments: 

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

Pak Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (left) then Minister of Tsunami, and Bob McKerrow Head of Delegation IFRC Indonesia.

It is worth having a read of the Executive summary of this report to refresh yourself of what was learned from the Tsunami Operation.

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.