On December 26 2004, a massive earthquake of the coast of Indonesia shook the sea bed for ten minutes. Within three hours, more than 226,000 people across 14 countries were dead.
The towering tsunami caused by the quake rose to more than 20 metres high in some areas. It flattened hotels, homes, schools and hospitals and washed away entire coastal areas.
The world watched in horror as footage of black rivers carrying millions of tonnes of twisted debris through towns and villages was beamed across the globe. An outpouring of public support followed and 3.1 billion Swiss Francs in donations was received by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), signalling the start of what was the biggest single relief and recovery operation in its history.
The IFRC’s Asia Pacific director, Jagan Chapagain, said: “The scale of the suffering, devastation and loss of life was hard to comprehend at first.
“But the overwhelming generosity of the public enabled us to support millions of people across the worst hit areas - not only with emergency aid in the aftermath but with long term programmes that have spanned the last decade.”
The operation was mainly focused on the four most affected countries; Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Thailand. More than 4.3 million people received humanitarian support thanks largely to the efforts of thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, many of whom had been affected by the tsunami themselves.
Providing safe housing was a priority and 57,000 new homes were built. More than 700,000 people were given access to improved water supplies and 1,000 schools, community centres, hospitals and clinics were also rebuilt or repaired. Almost 63,000 families received cash, training or equipment which helped to restore livelihoods shattered by the tsunami. Despite each country’s different needs and context, there was one aspect of the IFRC’s programmes that linked them all – reducing disaster risk.
“Supporting people to become more resilient and better prepared for future disasters was the thread that ran through all of our recovery work,” said Chapagain.
“The legacy of the tsunami is not only safer houses and sustainable livelihoods but also stronger communities that can better cope with and recover from disasters.”
Since 2004, the Indonesian Red Cross or Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI) has rolled out disaster risk reduction programmes in hundreds of villages to provide straight-forward advice and tangible ways to prepare for emergencies - including first aid training and drawing up evacuation plans. In other areas, it is running mangrove seeding schemes to cut the threat of flooding. The Sri Lanka Red Cross has set up disaster response teams nationwide and works with communities on hazard-mapping, evacuation plans and preparedness. It also launched a water safety programme that has taught 7,500 people how to swim, trained 2,000 lifeguards and saved more than 800 lives.
The tsunami was also the catalyst for the creation of the Maldives Red Crescent (MRC) which was inaugurated in 2009. It now has 10 branches and almost 3,000 staff and volunteers and has trained thousands of people in first aid, responded to national emergencies such as flooding and civil unrest and runs health programmes, including disease prevention, across the country.
To find out more about the human impact of the tsunami, the stories of survivors and how the Red Cross and Red Crescent has supported communities to recover from what will be remembered as one of the worst disasters of all time.