Andreï Neacsu in Nairobi, Tapiwa Gomo in Harare and Roy Probert in Geneva
It took about seven hours for the deadly wave to reach the Somali coast, from the moment it was caused by a massive earthquake under the sea near Indonesia, 5,000 km away.
When it struck on 26 December, it had left an estimated 150 people in Somalia dead and, according to the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 54,000 directly affected. The worst hit area was the region of Puntland.
For while the Asian countries that sit on the Indian Ocean rim have been hardest hit by the tsunami, the countries in East Africa have also been affected, with Somalia suffering the heaviest toll.
Other countries in East African were hit by the tsunami, among them the Seychelles, where two people died, 21 were injured and 500 families left homeless
Elsewhere in the region, two people died and 200 were affected in Kenya, 10 people perished in Tanzania and 1,200 were reportedly affected in Madagascar. The islands of Mauritius, Comoros and La Réunion suffered minor damage.
But this is not a yet another story of Africa the victim, in need of outside help. The tsunami’s impact in Asia and Africa has generated a wave of its own: a wave of sympathy and solidarity across the continent.
If the common denominator between countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Seychelles and Uganda has been that they are big aid recipients, the recent tsunami tragedy has changed the dynamic. In these countries, Red Cross Societies and governments have launched public appeals to assist those affected by the tsunami in Asia and eastern African.
“Our appeal was launched to assist both the 500 families affected in our country, but we felt that we should not limit ourselves to that. Although not very rich, people came forward donating for the Sri Lankan victims,” explains Roy Nibourette, Disaster Preparedness and Response Coordinator for the Seychelles Red Cross.
It was a similar story in Kenya, where a groundswell of support prompted the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) to launch an appeal in the presence of diplomatic representatives from the affected countries, including Sri Lanka and Thailand.
“With our preparedness mechanisms well in place and with a swift reaction from the authorities we managed to avoid major loss of human life in Kenya. We were motivated to launch our solidarity appeal by the enormous amount of calls from the public who wanted to know how they could help,” says Mary Kuria, Secretary General of the KRCS.
The Uganda Red Cross has also launched a national appeal on behalf of the Federation operation.
The solidarity shown throughout the continent has not gone unnoticed in the affected countries. “Every life lost in a disaster is a tragedy; numbers matter less for the family who lost a child, a mother or another loved one. Our volunteers were extremely moved at the wave of sympathy that was shown by Africans to people affected by this disaster,” says Dr. Ahmed Hassan, President of the Somali Red Crescent.
And it is not only the affected countries of eastern Africa that have given generously. In South Africa, the Red Cross has launched a fundraising drive to raise 10 million rand (CHF 2 million) as a contribution towards the International Federation’s operation.
“We were greatly touched by the moving and terrifying scenes of destruction on television, but the overwhelming numbers of affected people, especially the death toll, compels us to play a part,” said Mr Lesley Mondo, South Africa Red Cross (SARCS) secretary general.
Through the support of the local media, SARCS in South Africa, the Red Cross has so far established partnerships with the government, ABSA, a local bank which hosts the Asia Appeal account, the Netcare company and the Pick ‘n Pay chain store which is placing joint adverts in the press, and helping to collect donations.
“Our office in Cape Town has been inundated with phone calls from people who want to help in whatever way they can and we have advised them that the quickest route is to contribute in cash towards the global appeal through our office in Cape Town,” Mondo said, adding that since the launch of the initiative, SARCS had received nearly R2 million, and were getting an average of 30-40 calls per hour.
As in other parts of the world, the red Cross in South Africa is advising against people donating clothing and food items. “While appreciating the generosity and good intentions of these items, we are unable to transport all these goods to the affected countries,” says Mandisa Kalako-Williams, SARCS national president. “We urge our partners to to make financial donations. It is faster to purchase in the affected countries, closer to the affected communities. In this way, the people of South Africa can have an impact and add value to the lives of the devastated communities.”
The government of South Africa announced in meeting with all stakeholders for this initiative that they will channel their support through the Red Cross and will encourage everybody else to follow suit in order to ensure well coordinated relief efforts. Activities such as the opening of bank accounts and tracing services are being carried out by other National Societies in the region, including those in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“We are humbled by such initiatives from Red Cross societies in the southern Africa region that are mobilizing resources to assist the affected families in Asia against a background of enormous social and economic difficulties in their own countries,” said Françoise Le Goff, head of the federation’s regional delegation in Southern Africa.
In West Africa, the Senegalese Red Cross is coordinating a fundraising drive in the country. This money will then be handed over to the Federation’s appeal.
Meanwhile, on the ground in Africa’s affected countries, efforts to help those affected by the disaster continue. In Somalia, one of the worst affected areas was Bari region, in particular the town of Hafun, where many properties were destroyed. Relief efforts to Hafun, which lies on a peninsula, have been hampered by roads being rendered impassable to large trucks, and relief goods are having to be shuttled over the last 50 km by small 4x4 trucks. Other areas affected include Bender Beyla, Eyl and Gara'ad.
Three Somali Red Crescent branches have been directly involved in the emergency response to disaster. Volunteers have been mobilised to all the worst-hit areas. In partnership with UN agencies and other humanitarian actors and supported by the International Federation and ICRC, SRCS teams been helping with the distribution of relief supplies, giving first aid and other direct health services through their clinic network, clearing rubbish and debris to improve hygiene and sanitation, and conducting assessments of the damage and needs of the affected population.
In the Seychelles, where one person died, the tidal wave hit the coastal areas of Mahé, Praslin and la Digue, damaging 500 homes and washing away several bridges. The Seychelles Red Cross, the only humanitarian organisation assisting the government, has helped to evacuate some of the 375 families moved from their homes because of the risk of landslides. It has also distributed food and non-food relief materials and given psychological support to the worst affected families.
In Madagascar, the south-eastern towns of Manakara, Sainte Marie, Sambava and Vohemar were seriously affected by 10 metre-high waves, with a large number of homes in Manakara damaged as a result.
In Kenya, two people are known to have died in Watamu and Malindi, while more than 200 fishermen lost their boats and other property. In Mombasa, tourist beaches were closed as a precautionary measure. In Tanzania, ten persons drowned while swimming near Dar-es-Salaam.