One year after the Indian Ocean tsunami wreaked havoc on hundreds of thousands of people across a dozen countries, large numbers of survivors remain forced to live in sub-standard conditions and women are increasingly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, according to two United Nations experts.
“We are concerned that a year later, reconstruction efforts are plagued by serious delays and have not been awarded the priority they so urgently warrant,” the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the UN Commission on Human Rights Miloon Kothari and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Walter Kälin, said in a statement.
“On this, the one-year anniversary of the Asian tsunami, we strongly encourage the international community to intensify its efforts to assist the governments of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand and Somalia to rebuild the lives, livelihoods and homes of those affected by the tsunami, in fulfilment of their obligations under international human rights law.”
Among their concerns the experts cited poor living conditions that fail to meet international human rights standards, lack of attention to high numbers of IDPs, lack of access to basic services like water, sanitation and healthcare, inequities in aid distribution and failure to involve affected communities in aid distribution, and reconstruction.
“Although international attention seems to be waning rapidly, post-tsunami challenges continue to have an enormous impact on affected communities, family structures and social relations,” the experts said, noting that this was particularly so in the case of women and vulnerable groups such as children.
“The presence of military forces in some camps where tsunami survivors are living, as well as the lack of privacy in temporary shelters, has raised serious concerns regarding women's physical safety, and has increased their vulnerability to physical and sexual violence, illustrating once again the close nexus between violence against women and the lack of adequate housing,” they added.
“Reports of domestic violence have been widespread, as the inadequate nature of housing design and settlement layout have only served to exacerbate already tense relations in the home due to the stressful nature of life post-tsunami.”
Noting that the phenomenon of so-called ‘tsunami marriages’ among under-age girls was common in some areas, especially in southern India and Sri Lanka, they said it was essential that relief and rehabilitation efforts were carried out in a gender-sensitive manner and take into account the special needs and concerns of women.
Efforts must also be made to uphold the rights of children. Special guarantees should be put in place for orphaned children to enable them to receive entitlements to land and compensation instead of merely absorbing them into existing family units exercising temporary guardianship.
Urgent steps they recommended include: increased accountability of public and private aid providers toward the people they are trying to assist; a more pro-active role in reconstruction efforts by governments; mechanisms ensuring transparency in the disbursal of funds; and concerted efforts to ensure that political interests do not threaten rehabilitation work, especially in conflict-ravaged areas.