IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Most tsunami survivors homeless a year later

Only one-fifth of the 1.8 million people made homeless by last December’s tsunami will be in permanent homes by the end of this year, British-based aid group Oxfam International said on Wednesday.
Acehnese tsunami survivor Usnawiyah and family stay in refugee tent near town of Meulaboh
Acehnese tsunami survivor Usnawiyah, left, holding baby, and her family stay in a refugee tent near the town of MeulabohSupri / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Only one-fifth of the 1.8 million people made homeless by last December’s tsunami will be in permanent homes by the end of this year, British-based aid group Oxfam International said on Wednesday.

In the three worst-affected countries -- Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India -- the total need was for 308,000 homes, the equivalent of rehousing the entire population of Philadelphia, Oxfam said in a report ahead of the anniversary of the Dec. 26 catastrophe.

At least 231,452 people were killed or remain missing after the 9.15 magnitude undersea earthquake off the northern tip of Sumatra and the unprecedented tsunami it spawned.

Hundreds of aid agencies descended on the disaster zone and provided emergency shelters and health care for the survivors of one of the worst natural calamities in memory, preventing a second wave of deaths from disease.

“The emergency response was rightly commended for helping to save and improve thousands of lives, but the rebuilding of communities will take much longer,” Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International, said in the report.

Some of the obstacles were impossible to avoid, such as the fact that in Aceh land that housed at least 120,000 people has been submerged permanently.

Slow to allocate land
Other delays should have been avoided, the report said.

Governments have been slow to allocate land for rebuilding and issued unclear guidelines about coastal exclusion zones where no building was to take place.

For the first three months in Indonesia, aid agencies in Aceh were uncertain about whether they would be allowed to stay in the region after March and therefore unable to plan effectively ahead.

Aid groups, for their part, lacked experience in providing shelter.

“Few humanitarian agencies had ever faced need on this scale, spread over such a wide area,” Oxfam said.

Widespread poverty in Indian Ocean fishing communities compounded the problems

. “The majority of people who suffered lived on the margins, on the edge of both the sea and of society,” the Oxfam report said.

The need to consult communities fully, and severe problems in finding building materials, were also causing delays. Ruined roads and ports have restricted access to devastated areas in Aceh, where the price of timber has tripled since the tsunami.

The report also noted that problems in linking livelihoods and shelters was slowing the process as well: displaced people do not want live in places where no work can be found.

“The reality is that rebuilding at speed involves a difficult balancing act. People want houses quickly but they also want to be consulted and the houses to be of top quality,” Hobbs said.

“In some cases, the rebuilding process may actually have been too fast. Trying to establish a compromise between the two requirements is a hard call,” he said.

Building permanent housing was a slow business even in rich countries, Oxfam said.

Thousands of families remain in temporary accommodation more than a year after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida. And it took seven years for Kobe, Japan to recover from an earthquake that left 300,000 homeless.

Nevertheless, governments and aid groups erred in not telling tsunami survivors in need of new homes just how long they might expect to wait -- and why.