UNICEF is often first on the ground in an affected region at the time of a tsunami disaster and goes to work immediately to provide lifesaving humanitarian relief to the survivors.
“The Indian Ocean tsunami, which struck the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island on December 26, 2004, obliterated entire communities in moments. Banda Aceh, which was the hardest hit, lost 170,000 people. Families lost children, sisters, brothers and parents.
The devastation was unthinkable. Tens of thousands of survivors were left without food, clothing or shelter. But they did have millions of people around the world pulling for them, by supporting what became one of the greatest relief efforts in history. They also had UNICEF.
Tsunami Relief Aid
When disaster strikes, UNICEF is always among those first on the ground and the last to leave. This unprecedented catastrophe was no different. In the immediate aftermath, UNICEF teams worked on the frontline in eight countries — Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India and Somalia — delivering safe drinking water to protect children and their families from deadly water-borne diseases.
Simultaneously, UNICEF set about providing sustainable solutions to the water crisis that would have a longterm impact. In the neighboring town, Lambaro, a water treatment plant that had escaped the tsunami's destruction was found suitable for rehab. Though it had fallen into disrepair, UNICEF and Indonesian engineers were able to get it back up and running.
“We worked day and night around the clock,” says TeukuNovizalAyub, the former director of the plant, which inevitably provided water for around 100,000 shell-shocked survivors who were living in camps in and around Banda Aceh. “We tried to make sure that the work we did create a sustainable resource so that it would continue to provide clean water for as long as possible,” says Mr Ayub.
Those improvements live on. Today, the plant at Lambaro continues to serve the people of Banda Aceh.
Tsunami Relief Measures
“Building Back Better” is core to UNICEF’s emergency response approach. And it wasn't just the Banda Aceh water supply infrastructure that got stronger. The region’s schools and students are more resilient too.
The Muhammadiyah primary school community suffered tremendous losses on the day of the tsunami. Only 17 of the 300 students survived, and the school building was destroyed. To protect future classes and give children a safe learning environment, UNICEF supported the design and construction of new earthquake-proof buildings, with deeper foundations and stronger support systems. UNICEF then used these plans to build 300 more schools in Aceh province.
“We feel very comfortable now knowing that the children are more secure,” IbuZahariah, a Muhammadiyah headteacher observed in 2015.
Helping the children of Banda Aceh recover from their ordeal was UNICEF's immediate priority. But by harnassing the successes of that response — and all others since — UNICEF has been able to find new ways to work smarter, better faster when disaster strikes.
On the 10-year anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Director of Program and former UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami reflected on how that disaster shaped UNICEF as a tsunami relief organization and its emergency response work.
“Ten years on we have all learned lessons from the tsunami aid operation that have fundamentally altered the way we work. We have prioritized helping countries hit by disasters such as the tsunami to build back better – constructing earthquake-resilient schools, introducing safer water supplies, ensuring schools prepare children for emergencies and improving legal and social measures to protect children. We have also invested in building resilience to shocks and disasters by supporting decentralized and community-based health, water and sanitation, education, and social protection systems, working with government and civil society to provide tangible services for children and their families.”
“UNICEF is determined that the legacy of the Indian Ocean tsunami must be more disaster-resilient societies for children – both in the region and around the world.”
UNICEF’s Role in Providing Tsunami Aid
Since the Indian Ocean Tsunami, UNICEF has worked hard to incorporate all the lessons learned in its response to other tsunami disasters. That expertise applied during emergencies since have quickened UNICEF response times and made a lifesaving difference to children and their families.
On September 27, 2018, when a 7.4-magnitude earthquake then tsunami hit Indonesia, UNICEF mobilized quickly to address the evolving threats to children. Some 170 aftershocks sent waves as high as 20 feet surging across the islands, toppling homes, hotels, shopping malls and mosques. The disaster killed more than 2,000 people and seriously injured 4,400 others. Around 525,000 children were left without access to basic nutrition, health and education services.
UNICEF mobilized quickly to help reunite lost children with their families and provided emotional support to 21,000 traumatized kids and teens. Since then, UNICEF has provided nutritional counseling to 72,000 parents of babies and small children and helped vaccinate 776,000 kids against measles and rubella. As of the first anniversary of the earthquake, UNICEF had helped deliver safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services to 750,000 people.
Of all the Tsunami charities, UNICEF has a singular understanding of what children need to process their trauma when they’ve lost their parents, family members and friends and seen their homes, schools and communities destroyed.
At UNICEF child-friendly spaces and temporary classrooms equipped with recreational materials, social workers trained by UNICEF child protection staff and the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs helped children cope with all they’d experienced. UNICEF also helped the government implement a new database designed to children who were separated from their families in the disaster.
One year after the disaster, a safety assessment of schools impacted by the earthquake found that only 135 of the 1,200 buildings damaged are now safe. Some 57,000 people are still living in camps and shelters. UNICEF will continue working with its partners to help the homeless and get tens of thousands of students who are studying in temporary spaces back into permanent schools.