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Working out of Disaster: Tsunami, one year after

On the morning of 26 December 2004 a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia triggered a series of tsunami waves that struck the coastal regions of Asia and Africa. In Asia, the coastal areas of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand bore the brunt of the damage. The ILO, together with the governments, employers' and workers' organizations in these four countries has been engaged in its largest-ever income generation and employment creation effort, helping to restore the livelihoods of people affected. To mark the first year after the disaster the ILO has documented the lives of those people affected by the disaster and their efforts to get back to work quickly and rebuild their lives

Article | 06 January 2006

LAMBADA LHOK, Indonesia (ILO Online) - A year ago, this village on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, the capital of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Province, was a busy port with some 2,200 residents, an ice factory and a thriving fishing culture.

But on 26 December 2004, a tsunami reared up out of the Indian Ocean, raced over the beach, and flattened everything but the mosque and the municipal water tank. Nearly two-thirds of the population died.

Among the 636 survivors is a man who today has rebuilt his coffee shop. Adrian, 48, introduces himself and adds unprompted - as so many others here do - "I lost my wife and four of my five children."

After the tsunami Adrian shared a camp with other survivors for two months. Then he borrowed money from friends to start rebuilding his small business. He was offered the opportunity to follow an ILO Start Your Business (SYB) training scheme and received his share from a budget gathered by the ILO from various donors for the community's recovery.

"I received 8 million rupees (US$ 800) which helped me to complete the coffee shop and to recover mentally", he says. "Today the business is coming back but I would need more chairs and tables because I also want to sell noodles and other food items."

Quickly back to work

Chairul Amri is the headman of Lambada Lhok and also a teacher. "In this community", he says, "the ILO conducted meetings and together we identified the needs and proposed solutions and a budget. It took only a few weeks to get the ILO's approval. Since then, in partnership with the local NGO Muslim Students Organization (HMI), we have distributed cash to the people through a revolving fund system.

"When their business returns to profit, they will give the money back through a cooperative, which in turn will disburse it to somebody else." The community's chief is all praise for the implementation of this system. "By empowering a local NGO, we will guarantee sustainability once the ILO has left," he adds.

Indonesia's Aceh province, being the closest to the earthquake's epicentre in the Indian Ocean which triggered the tsunami, was by far the worst-hit area. According to official figures, more than 120,000 people died in Aceh, and more than 37,000 are missing. Over 600,000 people have lost their jobs, mainly in the agriculture, fishing and services sectors.

In line with the ILO's belief that employment creation should be an explicit and central objective of economic and social reconstruction efforts, the organization developed a catalogue of projects revolving around the central issue of jobs. The ILO worked with local authorities and other national and international organizations to help thousands of people rebuild their lives through local economic activities and livelihood programmes.

One of the lessons learned from the experience of dealing with the tsunami was that the response differed from country to country. In Indonesia, the focus was more on an operational programme to bring back basic livelihood to the affected communities, including the establishment of emergency employment service centres, and a cash-for-work programme for infrastructure projects.

In the case of Sri Lanka the approach was more upstream. From the start the ILO focused on advice to support the Government's efforts to develop policy for recovery and reconstruction. This included the formulation of a cash-for-work programme in response to the tsunami disaster. In the meantime the ILO provided support for the protection of vulnerable groups, particularly the many orphaned children.

In southern Thailand, the ILO took a leadership role within the UN country team on advocacy and support to help migrant workers regain productive employment. Together with the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the ILO has assisted migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, to re-establish registration documentation, facilitating re-registration and other administrative tasks that have to be carried out prior to gaining employment.

In India the ILO has supported the social partners - employers' and workers' organizations - in their efforts to expand their services to help their members and families regain their livelihoods. Together with three local and national employers' organizations, the ILO has initiated pilot activities on a livelihoods programme for fishers; entrepreneurship development, including Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) programmes and business development services (BDS), especially for women and young people; and working with local trade and industry associations.

"Lest we forget, there is still a lot of work to be done in the coming months and years to restore the livelihoods of the bereaved families. Reconstruction and full recovery is a long-term process. Together with governments, employers' and workers' organizations and other partners, the ILO will continue to make the utmost efforts to support those affected in their struggle to find decent employment and rebuild their livelihoods", concludes Shinichi Hasegawa, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.