22 December 2005 In the year following the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, “a great deal has been accomplished,” ranging from the immediate prevention of outbreaks of disease, the placing of transitional shelters, schools and other facilities to starting the replacement of permanent schools, health centres and homes, a senior United Nations official said today.
The most challenging days lie ahead, however, as the magnitude of the reconstruction requirements severely test the capacities of many local governments, which lost many of their skilled personnel among the 220,000 people who died, the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, Eric Schwartz, told a news conference at UN Headquarters.
He was launching a UN report on the status of the recovery effort by former United States President Bill Clinton, who is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for the Tsunami Recovery.
To cover priorities for next year, Mr. Clinton will press donors to remain committed even after much of the world’s attention has shifted to other crises. Given the large number of international organizations involved in the recovery, Mr. Clinton will also continue to promote more effective coordination and he will encourage governments to move forward vigorously to implement such disaster reduction policies as community education and early warning systems, Mr. Schwartz said.
He said the Special Envoy will encourage governments to involve their own civil societies in key recovery areas and press for coordinated approaches to generating incomes in such areas as agriculture and fishing.
Mr. Clinton will also continue to work aggressively to improve temporary living conditions for the tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs), especially in Aceh, Indonesia, as he presses governments to step up the pace of replacing permanent housing, Mr. Schwartz said.
Of the $10.5 billion pledged to assist India, Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka, $7.75 billion has been secured so far, he said.
In answer to a question about the increasing global risk of natural disasters, he said the warming of the seas may be playing some role in the growing severity of typhoons, but the best evidence indicates that the increased destruction has resulted from such factors as environmental degradation, increased population pressures, greater poverty and a higher rate of migration to coastal areas.
Mr. Schwartz was accompanied by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Margareta Wahlstrom, World Bank economist Deepak Bhattasali, and executives from two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- Johan Schaar, Special Representative for Tsunami Operations for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC); and Gillian Dunn, Director of the International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit.
In separate releases, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said an analysis of 800 focus group discussions in1,100 villages showed that among Sri Lankan tsunami survivors there was a rise in social stigma, depression among widowers and teenage alcohol use.
On a brighter note, construction spending has made a giant leap in Aceh and Nias in Indonesia from a normal annual total of $50 million to $2 billion, while the UN Population Fund has been helping to restore reproductive health services in tsunami-affected communities in Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.