The range and complexity of the challenges to successful and sustainable tsunami recovery operations cannot be overstated. At the same time, the extent of resources available and the commitment of all major actors to a successful outcome are highly positive elements that encourage us all.
A number of challenges are being addressed by working groups in the context of the Global Consortium for the Tsunami Affected Countries, led by the UN's Special Envoy.
Among these is the establishment of effective coordination mechanisms between all involved at the country and international levels.
We want to be fully accountable in the use of resources by establishing a financial and project tracking system which will give a full picture.
We recognize the limited capacity of governments and the need to secure material for the reconstruction effort without plundering and depleting natural resources.
We want to be able to measure the final impact and outcome of our joint efforts, not simply follow operational progress.
Finally, we have boldly stated that we want to build back better, that we will not be satisfied with simply restoring what was there. Instead, we want to leave communities in a more secure and resilient state than before the tsunami.
Against the backdrop of these general challenges and commitments, I would like to use this intervention to present four specific challenges to recovery that have emerged during the course of our operations since the 26 December. They are not new challenges, but they acquire dimensions specific to the context of the tsunami.
First, recovery lessons have not been learned and internalized. In spite of decades of repeated international engagement in recovery and reconstruction we had no ready structures or mechanisms for operational coordination, nor could we point to established good practice, policies and guidelines known to us all.
There is therefore the risk that mistakes will be repeated. That is why recent international initiatives are so important, particularly the documentation and analysis of recovery experiences by the World Bank and the ProVention consortium, and why the ambition of the International Recovery Platform to enhance recovery operations is commendable.
Within our own organization, we are now also documenting our recovery experiences in the Red Cross Red Crescent context. It is our collective challenge to ensure that we adopt and institutionalize the best possible practice to be implemented in the tsunami recovery operation and in future post-disaster efforts.
Second, individual and community initiatives for recovery must be reconciled with the need for overall and comprehensive government planning. People do not sit around and wait for national and international actors to get their act together. They take their fate in their own hands through whatever means they can find to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
But this may result in rebuilding household and community risks. Governments need to ensure better building standards, that urban planning is done for safe neighborhoods and secure evacuation routes, that coastal vegetation is restored for mitigation and protection, to provide the framework within which community action can take place.
The challenge is to channel the energy and drive of local initiatives into community planning processes, guided by government policies for sustainable recovery and risk reduction.
For us as outside actors, the challenge is specifically to provide the time and space for these processes to take their proper course, not letting the perceived need to spend money quickly force our action.
Third, the step from emergency shelters to newly constructed homes is too long. In areas requiring the sometimes complex process of establishing or reestablishing land titles, or where the government is considering relocating coastal communities but has difficulties finding new land, or where not only homes but whole towns and villages are being rebuilt, it will take time before everyone is living in good and safe homes again.
They cannot and should not live in tents or barracks during this time. There is a need for much better transitional shelters, close to where people will ultimately live so as to allow them to take part and lead reconstruction.
Understandably, there is reluctance to engage in transitional shelters as we have seen too many examples of such shelters becoming permanent.
We have to be the guarantors that this will not happen, that people will eventually live in their new homes. The gap in shelters providing dignified living conditions needs to be closed.
Finally, there must be equity between different groups in need. In both Aceh and Sri Lanka, there were IDPs before the tsunami, people displaced by internal conflict since many years.
There is a clear risk that their needs are being overlooked, that land meant for their ultimate settlement is being allocated for those displaced by the tsunami, that they see resources pass them by.
Tension and conflict among and between communities could result from agencies and governments focusing only on tsunami victims.
To the extent possible, priority should be given to the reconstruction of facilities and services that benefit all, and/or to agreed division of responsibilities where resources aimed for tsunami victims are complemented with other, non-earmarked resources, for other groups in need.
We now have new opportunities. The attention to recovery as part of risk reduction enables us to squarely address these challenges.
If we succeed, we will be much better equipped to support future victims of natural disasters.