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Remembering the Tsunami: A Decade of Strengthening Humanitarian Response

The catastrophic force of the tsunami wiped out entire communities in Banda Aceh, leaving behind nothing more than shells of broken homes and lives. © Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
The catastrophic force of the tsunami wiped out entire communities in Banda Aceh, leaving behind nothing more than shells of broken homes and lives. © Photo: Josh Estey/CARE

Ten years ago, the global community faced what was one of the biggest tests of humanitarianism in recent history. On Dec. 26, 2004, an earthquake rumbled off the coast of Indonesia, triggering a series of devastating tsunamis that struck 14 countries across the Indian Ocean. At least 228,000 people lost their lives and millions more were left homeless.

A decade later, lessons learned from the tsunami humanitarian response continue to influence and improve how the world responds to disasters today.

A new report from CARE International, marking 10 years since the Indian Ocean tsunami, outlines some of the major milestones and innovations in the humanitarian system and in CARE’s own emergency work, and raises questions for how the world will continue to evolve and address emerging challenges in the years ahead.

“The tsunami was a turning point for the global aid community. Never before had such a massive, coordinated emergency response been launched after a natural disaster. The world succeeded in helping the affected countries rebuild and recover, and the way we respond to and prepare for crises was altered forever,” says Sally Austin, CARE International Head of Emergency Operations who previously worked in Indonesia as CARE’s Tsunami Response Director.

The global community mobilized with a massive emergency effort. CARE was among the leading humanitarian agencies that responded and worked with affected communities across five countries to reconstruct homes and livelihoods and promote economic and social development, reaching more than 1.3 million people.

Since the tsunami, the world has faced a decade of disasters – natural, like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; as a result of conflict, like the ongoing crises in South Sudan and Syria; and outbreaks of disease such as the Ebola virus in West Africa.

With growing needs, there are emerging challenges both for people affected by disasters and for humanitarian actors. Aid organizations and donors need to be more flexible and innovative; build resilience of communities before, during and after a crisis; and expand partnerships with local communities, governments, civil society groups, the private sector and all who have a stake in responding to crises, according to CARE in its new report Learning from Crisis: Strengthening Humanitarian Response Since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

“We hope that this report will be used by many, as it will be by CARE itself, to continue to improve our collective humanitarian efforts to ensure we’re being as effective as possible and having the greatest impact in helping people most affected by these crises, particularly women and girls, as they are often disproportionately affected during a disaster,” said Barbara Jackson, CARE International’s Humanitarian Director. “The people who survived the tsunami worked against the odds to rebuild their homes and communities. The best way to honour them, and the memory of those who died in the disaster, is to continue to work together to find new, innovative solutions to help people affected by crises.”

Return to Aceh, Indonesia, 10 Years Later

CARE’s team recently returned to Aceh, Indonesia, which was the area worst hit by the tsunami. While the losses of loved ones cannot be forgotten, what was found were communities rebuilt and renewed, able to move on from the tragedy.

“It has been extraordinary to see the change in Aceh since the tsunami,” says Ibu Sinarti, a midwife who was seriously injured in the disaster 10 years ago. “Things look normal now, and in some places, like this health clinic, they are better. Everyone here was helped, somehow. The world came to help, and we helped each other.”

About CARE:

Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty and providing lifesaving assistance in emergencies. In 84 countries around the world, CARE places special focus on working alongside poor girls and women because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to help lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty.

Media Contact:

Holly Frew, Emergency Communications Officer, hfrew@care.org, +1.770.842.6188

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