Communities affected by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced an estimated two million across South and Southeast Asia, should be given more say in the recovery effort, a senior United Nations official said today at the end of his 10-day assessment mission to the region.
The UN’s Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery Eric Schwartz visited Indonesia, the country worst affected by the disaster, and India during his trip to assess the status of the tsunami recovery effort and he said that while he was impressed with the progress achieved, there were still “some very real concerns” and much still to do.
“This recovery effort will only be truly successful if we ensure that the affected communities are engaged in the process. And we need to be serious about including traditionally marginalized communities in the decision-making processes if we are to build back better,” Mr. Schwartz said.
“I am genuinely impressed with the progress achieved since my visit last December. While the task ahead of us is still daunting, we are beginning to see some real momentum in the construction of shelter, the promotion of employment and investment and disaster prevention,” he added.
During his visit, Mr. Schwartz met with various government, UN and other officials, civil society leaders, affected communities and representatives from the private sector, and he said he was particularly impressed with the collaboration between the UN and the reconstruction agency in Aceh, the Indonesian region in northern Sumatra that was hardest hit by the tsunami.
“Yet we still face some very real concerns with hundreds of thousands of people eager to move into a permanent home and regain a source of livelihood,” he added. Across the region, some 390,500 houses were reduced to rubble in a disaster that lasted just eight minutes.
Commenting on the ongoing peace implementation efforts in Aceh, which has seen nearly 30-years of separatist conflict, Mr. Schwartz highlighted the link between a successful tsunami recovery and a lasting peace.
“Donors should work with the government to ensure that victims of the conflict are included in a broadened definition of beneficiaries in Aceh. This will be essential to Indonesia’s vision of building back better and the long term development of the province,” he said.
In India, Mr. Schwartz visited temporary shelters in North Chennai where he was moved by the resilience of countless tsunami survivors and he praised the Indian Government’s response to the disaster.
Mr. Schwartz’s trip to the region was his fourth in the last six months and he will now meet with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva to discuss human rights-related aspects of the recovery effort.