INDIAN OCEAN TSUNAMI
In the early hours of the morning of Sunday 26 December 2004, a massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck the west coast of northern Indonesia, followed by aftershocks ranging from 6 to 7.3. The epicentre was some 30 km under the seabed and 250 kilometres south-southwest of Banda Aceh. The quake triggered a large tsunami that surged across the Indian Ocean, damaging coastlines of the west coast of northern Sumatra, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the east coast of India, the Maldives, and the east coast of Africa, notably in the Seychelles and Somalia.
Approximately 240,000 people across 12 countries were killed in the disaster, with children comprising one-third of the victims in some parts. In many affected areas, three times as many women were killed as men; in some communities it was more than half. The tsunami flooded coastal areas and wiped away homes and buildings, roads and bridges, water and electricity supplies, crops, irrigation and fishery infrastructure, food and fuel networks. In Indonesia, Somalia and Sri Lanka the disaster took place within the context of long-standing complex crises. The earthquake and tsunami predominantly affected poor coastal communities, destroying critical infrastructure and basic services.
The response to the tsunami challenged OCHA as never before, calling on the entire Office. Experienced OCHA staff members were quickly deployed to the affected areas to coordinate the various humanitarian actors, and headquarters staffing levels were immediately reinforced to provide maximum support to the response efforts. In Geneva, OCHA established a Tsunami Task Force, which involved all relevant sections within the Office.
Anticipating the magnitude of the operation required, the Secretary-General immediately appointed the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Margareta Wahlström, as the Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance to Tsunami-affected Communities, to provide leadership and support to United Nations Country Teams and, particularly, to facilitate the delivery of international assistance through high-level consultations with the governments of the affected countries. The appointment of the DERC reinforced OCHA’s role as the main focal point for inter-agency coordination.
Five UNDAC teams comprising 44 disaster-response experts from 18 countries and four international organisations were deployed to five of the tsunami-affected countries. Sixteen UN Agencies, 18 IFRC response teams, more than 160 international NGOs and countless private companies and civil society groups deployed to affected areas to provide emergency food, water and medical services to an estimated five million people in need of assistance.
OCHA deployed 74 international staff in total, spread over four countries, to cope with the enormity of the coordination challenge, and had 14 new central and sub-offices at the peak of the crisis.
Two Humanitarian Information Centres (HIC) were deployed to Sumatra and Sri Lanka to assist in the significant information management challenge created by the massive scale of the destruction, the influx of humanitarian, military and government personnel, and the degraded communications infrastructure in the affected areas. HIC generic products were provided quickly, enabling the humanitarian community to gain a broader understanding of the dimensions of the crisis and the response.
Except in Indonesia, where the Humanitarian Coordinator position was already established, OCHA quickly appointed as HCs the existing Resident Coordinators in the affected countries to ensure that their efforts received the full backing and support of the international humanitarian community.
During the course of 2005, OCHA either decreased its presence in countries where the immediate needs were met, or advocated for an integrated office concept. As the focus of the response operation shifted to recovery and reconstruction, OCHA increasingly merged its staff and functions into the office of the RC/HC. This occurred in the Maldives at the end of 2005 and the integration process is continuing in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
As the disaster generated an unprecedented display of public and private solidarity, OCHA worked to channel funds in a coordinated and transparent manner. OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service played a central role in monitoring financial flows and funding status, thus allowing advocacy for under-funded projects and organisations. To ensure the highest standards of accountability and transparency, OCHA both developed a new partnership with a private sector accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which leant vital support to ensure that OCHA was able to effectively monitor the disbursement of funds, and instituted real-time, online financial tracking.
During this period, OCHA continued to provide guidance to donors on humanitarian priorities and, during February, OCHA and the Geneva-based Task Force proposed a mechanism to channel unearmarked contributions received from donors to the tsunami operation, which was endorsed by the IASC Tsunami Task Force. The amounts made available to UNCTs and the HCs in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Seychelles and Somalia were calculated on a proportional basis of their unmet Flash Appeal requirements. Clear project selection criteria were defined by each UNCT, and agencies and projects benefiting from 100 percent funding or more were not eligible for funding. There was also a grant component for regional projects. A total of US$ 50 million was allocated to 49 projects from 13 partner organisations.
Overall, the United Nations estimates that a total of US$ 6.8 billion was pledged to the tsunami effort, including US$ 5.8 billion from government sources and US$ 1 billion (35 percent) from corporate and private donations. These figures represent the amounts reported through the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the CAP; the actual amount is much higher, but as it comes from donations not reported through the FTS, it is not represented above. One estimate puts the total amount pledged at US$ 14 billion.
OCHA supported the establishment of UNDP’s Development Assistance Databases (DAD) implemented in Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand and at the regional level. DADs were set up at the governments’ request, to support them in enhancing aid coordination capacity for recovery and reconstruction. The DADs provide detailed accountability on funds received and programmed and have led to a more transparent system of providing expenditure information. In each country, the work is led by the nodal government agency, supported by the UNDP Country Offices and the UN. In Indonesia, the HIC played a significant role in supporting the roll-out of the DAD in support of the government.