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Learning the lessons of the Tsunami

Wednesday 26 January 2005

Learning the lessons of the Tsunami: One month on

The response of the world to the tsunami has been impressive but important lessons need to be learnt according to a new report issued today by international agency Oxfam, one month after the tsunami struck.

The report, which summarises Oxfam's response to the tsunami, 'Learning the lessons of the Tsunami: one month on', shows how immense the response has been from governments, international aid agencies, the United Nations, local charities and the world's public. The aid effort has helped save countless lives and, one month after the tsunami, many communities are already well on the way to physical recovery. The outbreak of water-borne diseases remains a very real threat, and the aid effort is still racing against time.

Oxfam alone has already helped more than 300,000 people across the disaster zone. In Indonesia, for example, Oxfam has now provided assistance to more than 60,000 displaced people with clean drinking water, jerry cans, hygiene kits, kitchen utensils and sleeping mats. We are beginning the distribution of radios, and are working with a local specialist to make a public health radio programme for the benefit of the displaced and the wider community.

The report shows that despite the scale of the response real challenges remain. In particular, it calls on those coordinating the response to ensure that all agencies working in the region are appropriate to the task. In some cases, the influx of money has meant that there are too many organisations working without the appropriate experience, competencies and skills. In some parts of Southern India, for example, the coordination of agencies is a significant problem, while in others local governments are coordinating the effort very effectively.

National governments, with the support of the UN, need to implement processes immediately to accredit international agencies and ensure their work is suited to their experience.

Aid agencies are also urged to do more to consult with the communities they are there to help. A lack of consultation has meant that some of the aid delivered has not always been what is most needed. In Sri Lanka, for example, some housing is being built without consultation and is inappropriate. Donors and those co-ordinating the response need to ensure that all agencies are working to meet the internationally accepted 'Sphere' standards for disaster relief. "The generous public response to the tsunami has undoubtedly saved lives but there are many challenges that cannot be ignored. The amount of money raised means that governments and aid agencies must address issues of the quality, not just quantity of humanitarian aid," said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand.

“There is also a major responsibility for the international community and the governments in each country to address the broader issues that have beset the region for years, including long-running conflicts. The great majority of the victims of the tsunami were already living in extremely difficult circumstances, and so far governments have not addressed the underlying inequalities.

"At the international level, Oxfam is calling on the New Zealand government to play a leading role in ending conflict, reducing foreign debt and accelerating the reform of trade rules that have contributed to poverty. Unless these issues are addressed, the victims of the tsunami will never escape poverty," added Coates.


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