In his fourth blog about how we’ve responded to emergencies over the last 50 years, Mike Noyes remembers the tsunami that hit on Boxing Day, 2004.
On Boxing Day 2004, an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia unleashed a tsunami that ripped through villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. More than 230,000 people were killed, and millions of people from Sumatra to Somalia lost their homes, possessions and means of making a living.
Many of my colleagues have vivid memories of CAFOD’s response to the Boxing Day tsunami: the team saw what was happening on the news, and cut short their holidays to rush back into the office.
The Catholic community in England and Wales showed extraordinary compassion in the aftermath of the disaster, donating more than £10 million in our largest ever emergency appeal. We also received nearly £18 million from the joint appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee. Today, the legacy of these donations can be seen in thousands of new homes, new schools and new businesses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and beyond.
In the eight years since the tsunami, we have worked with CORDAID, Caritas Switzerland, Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief, Jesuit Refugee Service and almost 30 local organisations in the affected region. As well as providing emergency relief, our partners have built 4,500 new homes, 26 schools and helped 55,000 people to restart their businesses through replacing equipment and stock, providing training and setting up savings groups.
We have also been involved in some innovative legal work, helping communities gain clarity over their land and other rights – a factor which makes reconstruction much more likely to be sustainable.
A major part of our response to the tsunami and other recent disasters has been “Disaster Risk Reduction” – helping make sure that the people we work with are less vulnerable to natural hazards in the future. This could, for example, mean helping a village to create early warning systems or to make sure there’s an easy route to safety if a flood strikes.
In the past 20 years, a staggering 4.4 billion people – nearly two-thirds of the world’s population – have been caught up in natural disasters. These disasters have caused $2 trillion in damage, the equivalent of the world’s annual aid budget twenty-five times over. Helping people to prepare for disasters like the tsunami is crucial: it’s far cheaper to prepare well for disasters than to try to pick up the pieces afterwards. More importantly, of course, it can save a lot of lives.
Tomorrow: Haiti 2010