The Boxing Day Tsunami 10 years on: How we helped and what we learnt

On Boxing Day 2004, a huge earthquake off the coast of Indonesia unleashed a tsunami that tore 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.

Catholics in England and Wales showed extraordinary compassion in the aftermath of the disaster, donating more than £10 million in what remains our largest ever emergency appeal. We also received nearly £18 million from the joint appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Unforgettable scenes

CAFOD Director Chris Bain said: “The scale of the tsunami was quite simply staggering, and those of us who visited the region will always remember the devastating scenes. When I visited Sri Lanka after the disaster, I remember standing in silence in a fishing-village, listening to the wind and the waves, trying to imagine the horror that people must have felt when the disaster struck.

“Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to respond quickly, with many of our staff cutting short their Christmas holidays to do whatever they could to help. Over the days and weeks that followed, we worked with local organisations to provide immediate relief, like food, water, shelter and emergency supplies.”

“In the longer term, our partners rebuilt homes and schools, supported people in making a living, and ensured that devastated communities were safer, stronger and better prepared for future disasters.”

How your money helped

We worked together with our partners in the Caritas coalition of aid agencies – including Caritas Sri Lanka, Caritas India, CORDAID and Caritas Switzerland – as well as with nearly 30 local organisations in Aceh, Indonesia, and with international organisations like Islamic Relief.

As well as providing emergency relief, our partners 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.

Life is better than before the tsunami

Sevvan Reeltmah from Batticaloa in Sri Lanka lost everything in the tsunami, but our partner Caritas Sri Lanka helped her and other women to set up a group that sells food and saves money together. She said: “Life is better than before the tsunami. My children are going to school. Providing meals was difficult. Now income has increased, we have three meals a day.”

Barge Mallou from Krueng Raya, a fishing community in Indonesia, said: “We will never forget that you listened and helped by allowing us to help ourselves in restarting our fishing industry.”

Salet Mary from Manapadu in India received a new home from our partner Caritas India. She said: “I thank God and I thank the people in the international community who have helped us.”

Better prepared

A major part of CAFOD’s response to the tsunami and other recent disasters has been Disaster Risk Reduction – helping make sure that people 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.

Chris Bain said: “Since the tsunami, we’ve responded to hundreds of other natural disasters, including droughts in East Africa and Niger, earthquakes in Haiti and Indonesia, huge floods in Pakistan and Bangladesh and typhoons in the Philippines and Myanmar. Wherever possible we’ve included Disaster Risk Reduction in our programmes.

“One lesson from the tsunami is that helping people to reduce the risks caused by disasters is crucial: it’s far cheaper to prepare well than to try to pick up the pieces afterwards. More importantly, good preparation can save a lot of lives. As we remember the victims of the tsunami, we should also do everything we can to make sure future disasters don’t have the same catastrophic impact.”

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