Two Years After the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Recovery Effort Has a Mixed Record

The second anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami attracted relatively little attention in a world that has moved on to other preoccupations. But the affected countries and communities continue to struggle, and recovery will still take many years. Their continued precarious situation was underscored by devastating fresh flooding in Indonesia’s Aceh and North Sumatra provinces just days before the anniversary date. Heavy rains, their impact worsened by deforestation, led to the deaths of more than 100 people, with 130,000 people forced from their homes.

Some observers say that only about one third of the reconstruction aid that was promised after the tsunami struck in December 2004 has actually been distributed, and much of the money has been squandered due to corruption, mismanagement, and unnecessary duplication of aid efforts. As a result, hundreds of thousands of tsunami survivors continue to wait for permanent homes.

In Aceh, the head of the Indonesian government’s reconstruction agency, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, estimates that 57,000 houses—roughly half the number needed—have been built to date. He says that 100,000 people remain in temporary barracks. Continuing disputes over land ownership render rebuilding difficult. Of 140,000 properties surveyed in Aceh, deeds have been confirmed for only 7,000. And at least 25,000 families are left in the lurch altogether—as renters, they are in principle not eligible for replacement of a house they never owned to begin with.

The two-year anniversary has been accompanied by a range of fresh assessments of the reconstruction effort. In his introduction to a new report, Key Propositions for Building Back Better, Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, points to “major achievements” such as the approximately 150,000 houses that have been built, and the speedy re-enrollment of children in schools after the disaster. But among the ten “key lessons learned” presented in the report, the following in particular have yet to be translated into reality on the ground:

  • Governments, donor and aid agencies must recognize that families and communities drive their own recovery.
  • Recovery must promote fairness and equity
  • Governments must be better prepared for future disasters
  • Local governments must be empowered to manage recovery efforts, and donors must devote greater resources to strengthening government recovery institutions
  • Agency partnerships must efficiently deliver to those in need without “rivalry and unhealthy competition”
  • Good recovery must reduce risks and build resilience in communities.