Tsunami in South Asia

Sri Lankans working on the construction site of a new house.
The work of Swiss Humanitarian Aid in the wake of the 2004 tsunami consisted primarily of a vast home reconstruction programme in Sri Lanka. © SDC SOKAREE

Following the devastating tsunami of December 2004, the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Department of the SDC focused mainly on Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. As well as emergency relief, the aid included various rehabilitation and reconstruction projects designed to be sustainable, and from which the populations concerned still benefit today.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 9.3 that occurred in the Gulf of Bengal on 26 December 2004 provoked enormous waves that destroyed entire cities in a vast region encompassing Indonesia and Somalia, Sri Lanka and India. Altogether 13 countries were affected. Victims of the disaster numbered more than 225,000, and millions were left homeless.

The tsunami inspired an immediate groundswell of solidarity within the public opinion at the time. In Switzerland the offer of public funds and private donations amounted to CHF 300 million. Swiss Humanitarian Aid’s contribution reached CHF 35 million for emergency relief and rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

“Commitment of the SDC in South Asia following the tsunami” fact sheet (PDF, Page 1, 971.8 kB)

Emergency relief

Alerted to the enormity of the destruction caused by the tsunami, Swiss Humanitarian Aid immediately went into action, focusing its efforts mainly on three countries badly affected by the disaster: Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) immediately called up 48 experts for deployment in a variety ofways in the countries concerned: erecting temporary shelter, setting up provisional systems for the distribution of drinking water, providing medical assistance and supplies, plus logistics for the distribution of humanitarian aid. Several tonnes of the aid materials were forwarded to Indonesia from Switzerland, and in the other countries supplies were obtained locally.

The SDC also supported the response in India, the Maldives and Somalia, and at the multilateral level made financial contributions as well as seconding SHA experts to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Rehabilitation and reconstruction phase

Responding to needs identified during the emergency phase, SDC’s Humanitarian Aid launched in the spring of 2005 the next stage of assistance to populations affected by the tsunami: the rehabilitation and reconstruction of essential infrastructure. In coordination with the national and local authorities, it planned a number of programmes to be implemented in the medium and long term in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. The last projects were completed at the end of 2007.

Sri Lanka: repair and reconstruction of homes and schools

In the framework of a “Swiss consortium” involving the Swiss Red Cross, Swiss Church Aid (HEKS), and Swiss Solidarity, Swiss Humanitarian Aid supported a programme initiated by the Sri Lanka authorities for the reconstruction of homes in the south and the west of the country. Entitled “Cash for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction”, this programme had a particular feature: it directly co-opted the beneficiary families, who received financial aid to enable them to repair or rebuild their homes in accordance with their own specific requirements. By December 2007 when the project came to an end, a total of 10,500 homes had been repaired or entirely rebuilt. SDC’s Humanitarian Aid was also involved in the reconstruction of 18 schools in Sri Lanka. Total SDC spending for tsunami-related aid amounted to CHF 15,440,000, with another CHF 350,000 from the Principality of Liechtenstein.

Sri Lanka fact sheet (PDF, Number of pages 2, 280.8 kB)

Indonesia: restoration of the water supply system in the Aceh region

In the wake of the tsunami, Swiss Humanitarian Aid decided to focus its efforts on restoring the principal water treatment plant of the city of Banda Aceh, in the northwest of the country. Experts from the SHA and the Swiss Red Cross oversaw the restoration project with the support of the municipal utility of Geneva (SIG). Financed jointly by Swiss Humanitarian Aid, the Swiss Red Cross and Swiss Solidarity, the project was completed in February 2007. New plant managers and employees were trained so that the restoration would be as sustainable as possible. Furthermore, in agreement with the local authorities, Swiss Humanitarian Aid provided technical backup until 2011 to ensure proper functioning of the renewed installation. Spending in Indonesia totalled CHF 12,848,000.

Indonesia fact sheet (PDF, 468.6 kB)

Thailand: assistance provided to the fishing communities

In Thailand Swiss Humanitarian Aid engaged in the rehabilitation of infrastructure as well as the means of subsistence and production of the fishing communities on the islands of Ko Phra Thong, Ko Kho Khao and Ko Ra, in the southwest of the country. The financing provided made it possible to rebuild a great many homes, schools, jetties and other community infrastructure including a health centre. Furthermore, several hundred families classified as “extremely vulnerable” were provided with new fishing boats. The spending by Swiss Humanitarian Aid in Thailand amounted to CHF 3,000,000.

Thailand fact sheet (PDF, Number of pages 2, 288.5 kB)

Positive outcome of the projects

The infrastructure rehabilitated by the SDC in South Asia – homes, schools, water treatment system – in most cases enabled the populations concerned to resume their lives in the wake of the tsunami disaster. The basic needs of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans, Indonesians and Thais are to a great extent being met today thanks to the contributions of the SDC and its partners. Furthermore, the local economies became dynamic again thanks to restoration of the basic infrastructure, the spending of the beneficiaries of the “Cash for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction”programme, and the provision wherever necessary of new work tools (fishing boats).

This overall success must not obscure the fact that the long term impact of the assistance provided by Swiss Humanitarian Aid in response to the tsunami also depends on the environment in the partner countries. A number of factors such as an outbreak (or renewal) of local conflicts, changes in staffing or at the level of the political authorities managing the institutions, as well as the choices made by certain beneficiary families may in some cases have reduced the impact initially planned.

Even so, the internal and external evaluations carried out by or on behalf of Swiss Humanitarian Aid in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand indicate that the vast majority of projects organised in response to the tsunami bore fruit, meeting the needs carefully identified beforehand, and their implementation proved generally well-coordinated and efficient.