Two Years After the Tsunami: Building Back Better

By Ken Hackett
CRS President

Two years after one of the most horrific natural disasters in memory, the survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami have made great strides in rebuilding their devastated communities. The pace of recovery has been steady and measured. We are striving not just to replace what was lost, but, as President Clinton, the United Nations special envoy for tsunami recovery put it, to “build back better.”

CRS is completing the second year of a $195-million, five-year relief and reconstruction effort that will ultimately assist more than 600,000 people. We are working in the hardest-hit areas, helping to rebuild communities and restore hope. CRS, working with the local Catholic church and other organizations, has completed thousands of houses and has started on thousands more. And the agency is helping to reconstruct the framework for daily life: roads, bridges, sources of clean water, jobs, hospitals and health services, education facilities and opportunities for women.

In India, with committed resources of almost $39 million, CRS' long-term objectives are to restore the necessities for daily living, including rebuilding homes and livelihoods. We are also helping communities prepare for the possibility of future disaster and are providing information and tools that communities need to protect their most vulnerable – children, women and people living with HIV. CRS and Caritas have supported the construction of more than 1,000 permanent homes, in addition to providing more than 1,800 temporary shelters. The CRS tsunami program in India represents perhaps the best illustration of our work with the local Caritas agency and our investment in disaster response and mitigation. CRS and Caritas India responded within hours of the tsunami, providing food, water, shelter and clothing.

In Indonesia, CRS has committed more than $123 million to aid in the reconstruction of homes, schools, businesses, churches, hospitals and markets. Recovery here will take more time than in other areas because Aceh province, where CRS is working, received the full impact of the tsunami. Nevertheless, we've made significant progress given the context of loss and devastation, and we are ensuring the highest quality of homes and construction. As we've mounted this unprecedented and complex rebuilding effort, we've encountered certain difficulties we expected and some that we didn't. Among those constraints are a lack of skilled labor, the loss of land certificates to prove ownership, the loss of land due to earthquake subsidence and flooding, and debilitating destruction of infrastructure. In spite of the challenges, about 2,000 temporary shelters have been constructed, and we've worked with communities to design and build over 700 permanent homes, with another 1,800 currently under construction. We also have built the region's first hospital for women and children, a state-of-the-art facility that will provide a safe place for women to seek care for themselves and their families. We have constructed 13 major markets that enable fruit, vegetable and fish vendors to keep the economy in motion. In addition, CRS has fixed, and in many cases, rebuilt 100 community infrastructure projects that are fundamental to daily life, including massive piers, bridges, schools and clinics.

In Sri Lanka, CRS has committed $32 million to the rebuilding of homes, communities, businesses and schools, the restoration of livelihoods and the care of thousands of orphaned children. We continue to provide trauma and psychological counseling to thousands of adults and children. More than 5,000 permanent houses have been either completed or are under construction. CRS staff members in Sri Lanka have made great strides in carrying out reconstruction activities while operating in a challenging environment, as hostilities have escalated between government and minority Tamil forces in the eastern part of the country.

CRS also provided funding in Thailand to bring emergency supplies, housing, and water and sanitation systems to the poorest fishing communities. In the aftermath of the tsunami, CRS worked to help tsunami survivors establish partnerships with concerned communities in other parts of the world.

Much progress has been made, and over the next year, we expect to accomplish even more. I have been truly inspired by the dedication of our staff and the local agencies we work with, by the resiliency of the people we serve, and by the generosity of the U.S. Catholic community that has made this response to our brothers and sisters possible. It is a reminder, during this holiday season and as we approach yet another New Year, that we are all one human family.

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