Aid Agencies Urged to Heed Lessons from 2004 Tsunami Response

A man looks at a house buried by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Photo by: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep / CC BY-ND Radio Nederland WereldomroepCC BY-ND

International aid agencies are likely to waste millions of aid money and commit unnecessary mistakes in their response to future disaster situations unless they learn from the international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, a report released July 12 noted.

A good portion of the USD8 billion relief and rehabilitation money made available in the wake of the tsunami was “wasted” because of competition among aid agencies and their haste to stage a response, the report commissioned by the Australian Agency for International Development said.

There were several examples of effective action where aid agencies made an effort to ensure that their assistance was properly targeted, according to Martin Mulligan of Melbourne-based RMIT University and lead researcher of the report.

“But we also found a lot of post-tsunami aid money was wasted by aid agencies acting in haste and in competition with each other,” Mulligan explained.

The study was conducted by the RMIT and Monash universities in Melbourne, Australia, Madras University in India and Colombo University in Sri Lanka. It mapped the status of social recovery from the 2004 disaster in various local communities in Chennai, India and across southern and eastern Sri Lanka.

“In Sri Lanka, competitive aid agencies were often in a rush to complete the construction of new houses and settlements,” the report stated, emphasizing that aid agencies could have better planned the construction of the temporary shelters for tsunami survivors.

It added that pressure from the media, international funding bodies and the government contributed to the waste of the money.

Mulligan emphasized the need for aid agencies and the government to learn from this disaster.

“The relief and rehabilitation effort after the 2004 tsunami remains the biggest global response to a natural disaster in human history, yet little has been done to capture and share what the affected communities learnt from the recovery effort,”

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.