Tsunami Recovery Could Take 10 Years, Will Cost Billions

JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 7, 2005 (ENS) - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the leaders of 26 nations and the United Nations that it will take "five to ten years" to carry out the tasks of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of December 26. The giant wave has killed more than 150,000 people, injured some 500,000 and left at least five million people in 12 countries lacking in basic services.

"The only way we can honor the memory of the nameless thousands who died in this horrible disaster, the only way we can give meaningful consolation to the countless widows and orphans and all those who lost their loved ones in this tragedy," said Yudhoyono, is to know "that if we strive hard enough, in concert and with transparency and trust for one another, our children will be safer for our efforts."

Indonesia, the country nearest to the epicenter of the 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake has suffered the greatest loss of life. The Indonesian death toll rose by nearly 20,000 people to 113,306, the government announced today.

Hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the one day conference accomplished some of the basic tasks that will help the stricken countries to begin the recovery process.

The leaders agreed to establish a Regional Disaster Early Warning Centre for the Indian Ocean region.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan confers with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta January 6, 2005. (Photo courtesy Government of Indonesia)
They asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who attended the meeting, to appoint a Special Representative to enhance coordination among donor countries, international organizations and non-governmental relief organizations with the governments of affected countries.

They requested the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and other international financial institutions to provide the funds necessary to ensure the viability and sustainability of national rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

"In the framework of ASEAN," said the Indonesian president, "we have decided to establish a stand-by arrangement for the use of military and civil defense personnel and logistics for disaster relief operation."

"We will also be setting up an ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre and an ASEAN Disaster Information-sharing and Communication Network," he said.

Pledges of financial assistance topped US$4 billion today, with the European Union pledging about half of that sum. Speaking at the special ASEAN leaders’ meeting on the aftermath of earthquake and tsunami in Jakarta Thursday, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the total support from the European Union - 25 EU Member States plus the European Commission - will be around € 1.5 billion, or US$2 billion.

In addition, Barroso announced a proposal for a € 1 billion (US$1.3 billion) Indian Ocean Tsunami Lending Facility, to be managed by the European Investment Bank.

The European Parliament and EU Member States must still give a final approval to these proposals.


Devastation in Indonesia's Aceh province Photo by Agus Muldya courtesy Jakarta Independent Media Center
Barroso said, “The people of Europe stand with the people of Asia in this great tragedy. We mourn for the dead. I would also like to state our firm commitment to support you in this hour of need. We will do everything in our power to help you in your efforts to put this tragedy behind us.”

At least four dozen nations are working to alleviate suffering and prevent further loss of life in South and Southeast Asia. The United States has pledged $350 million and the U.S. military is providing logistical support and responding to requests for assistance from Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the leaders that nothing in his military or diplomatic career had preparted him for the scope of this tragedy. "In the course of my career as a soldier and more recently as a diplomat, I’ve been involved in many, many humanitarian relief operations. I’ve had to respond as a commander to any number of natural disasters over the years, but nothing in my experience prepared me for this disaster: 12 countries affected in different continents, separated by thousands of miles. It truly is unprecedented."

Powell said that in addition to the U.S. government's pledge, "private contributions have been pouring in from all across the United States - from big corporations and the piggy banks of schoolchildren, from faith-based organizations and from private donors. These private donations are now estimated at $200 million, and are increasing rapidly."

Other countries such as Japan, New Zealand, France, Germany, China, Australia, Malaysia, India, South Korea, Pakistan, Singapore and the United Kingdom have contributed medical teams, field hospitals, engineers, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters among other critical assets.

“This is a terrific team effort,” U.S. Navy Captain Rodger Welch said from U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii on Thursday “Every country is involved in contributing in a positive way.”


Survivors and wreckage on the Tamil Nadu coast of India (Photo by Ananda Vikatan courtesy T.C. Malhotra)
In the past 24 hours, he said, 29,000 pounds of relief supplies have been delivered to the region. For the first time, he said, C-5 and C-17 heavy lift aircraft are moving into the theater of operations.

Over 14,000 U.S. military personnel are deployed to the region to help. The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Group and the USS Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Group are on station with helicopters and planes for search, rescue and disaster relief operations.

Asked about how the U.S. Navy’s floating hospital ship, the USS Mercy, might be used, Welch said the plan is still under development, but it could house personnel working for nongovernmental organizations and government agencies while they are carrying out humanitarian relief assignments.

Phil Wilhelm of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said what is flowing into Asia “is just the beginning” because nations there will need long-term assistance. Reconstruction has already begun in some areas, he said.

Japan has pledged $500 million for the relief effort and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the ASEAN leaders meeting that Japan, Asia's largest economy, would consider more assistance both in money and expertise.

"Japan will provide assistance to the maximum extent possible in three ways: financial resources, knowledge and expertise, and human resources," Koizumi told the gathering.


Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi addresses the leaders in Jakarta. (Photo courtesy Government of Japan)
In response to Annan's Flash Appeal for $977 million, Koizumi said Japan "will expeditiously provide $250 million out of the $500 million for assistance to diaster-stricken countries through relevant international organizations. Japan will also extend bilateral grant aid of around $250 million directly to countries severely hit by the disaster."

Koizumi called on other countries to jointly apply moratorium on public debt services for a certain period of time, when any disaster-stricken country so wishes.

In Kobe, Japan, hit by a big earthquake 10 years ago, the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction will be held from January 18 to 22. Koizumi proposed that a special session be held there to discuss a concrete framework for the Indian Ocean early warning mechanism.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cut short his vacation to come back to work to deal with the tsunami, in which about 1,000 German tourists are still missing. On behalf of Germany he pledged 520 million euros (US$686 million), the largest single country offering to date.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Lee Jong-wook, today praised the efforts of people in Aceh province, Indonesia, together with national and international relief efforts, to recover from the overwhelming damage inflicted by the tsunami.

Speaking at the end of a visit to some of the worst affected areas of Aceh, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Dr. Lee described the devastation caused as stunning, but added that he was most struck by the fact that people are now actively rebuilding their lives.

Dr. Lee went to Aceh with the WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia, Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, to help assess the damage caused by the tsunami, the relief efforts which are under way and how WHO can further assist in protecting the health of people in Aceh and in other parts of the region.

"It is clear that not one family in Aceh has been left untouched by this terrible event," Dr. Lee said. "But the spirit with which people are responding is extraordinary. Already, people are looking to the longer term and planning how they can reconstruct not just their homes but their communities."

"What is impressive is the way that people are starting to pick up their lives," Dr. Lee said. "Homes and communities have been destroyed even several kilometres from the coastline. There are still body bags and bodies for all to see. But people are now beginning to clear out the debris, clean out houses and hospitals and salvage what they can of their normal lives."

Nongovernmental organizations are contributing to the relief and recovery effort. The Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, and its crew of 19 will transport equipment, food, fuel, medical supplies and Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical staff to Aceh, northern Sumatra - the most devastated area which has proven difficult to access for aid organizations.


The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior will deliver medical and survival supplies and food. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The ship departed from Singapore on January 2 sailing for Medan, where it will load supplies before heading to Banda Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra.

"The northwest coast of Sumatra is certainly one of the areas most severely affected by the earthquake, but it has so far been logistically difficult for aid organisations to reach the region," said David Curtis, MSF emergency coordinator in Jakarta.

"In order to save lives, a massive relief effort is needed. By using the Greenpeace ship to transport medical staff and supplies, we hope to reach people in remote areas that we would otherwise be unable to help," said Curtis. "We plan to use the ship to travel along the west coast with a full package of food, medical supplies and materials such as plastic sheeting and mosquito nets on board."

In addition to causing tremendous loss to human life and property, the tsunami may have also caused extensive environmental damage throughout the nearshore marine ecosystems in this region, warns the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“The nearshore marine ecosystems affected by the recent Indian Ocean tsunami are likely to have experienced direct damage from severe wave action and indirect damage from sedimentation and excessive amounts of debris,” said Rusty Brainard, chief of the coral reef ecosystem division within the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

It is likely that coastal beaches and nearshore land areas devastated by this tsunami could be restored within a few years, but the most severely impacted nearshore marine ecosystems could take centuries to fully recuperate. The future of marine resources in the region could also be dramatically affected, said Brainard, especially the coastal fishing and tourism industries.

Other major indirect damage could have been caused by excessive amounts of debris, including buildings, cars and buses, boats, or refrigerators that ended up in the shallow marine environment. When debris of this type is caught up in strong nearshore waves and current, it can easily bulldoze corals and other parts of the ocean bottom.

Many of these items and other debris flushed out to sea could have contained hazardous chemicals, oils, paints, freons, or cleansers, which could be deposited in and cause stress to nearshore marine ecosystems. These stressors could cause disease in corals, algae, fish and other invertebrates. Brainard said these impacts could be long-lived and not become apparent to researchers for months or even years.