Lessons from Asia tsunami recovery effort must be passed on, UN envoy Clinton says

21 December 2006

United Nations agencies, aid partners and governments must pass on the lessons learned from dealing with the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 230,000 people and affected more than 12 countries, the UN’s special envoy for the disaster, former United States President Bill Clinton, says in a report highlighting 10 key measures to build upon.

In his introduction to the report, Mr. Clinton, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, says the two-year recovery effort has shown both “examples of great new approaches, as well as decisions and programmes based on flawed assumptions that have caused us to lose time and beneficiaries to suffer.”

“It is critical that we pass on such lessons to actors in future recovery processes,” he writes in the 24-page Key Propositions for Building Back Better, which recommends measures ranging from increased involvement by local communities in reconstruction to ensuring fairness in recovery efforts.

Mr. Clinton acknowledges “major achievements” have been made across the Indian Ocean region affected by the tsunami, including for example some 150,000 houses built, adequate transitional shelters provided for those who continue to be displaced and the speedy enrolment of children back to schools after the disaster.

However he also acknowledges that this recovery effort needs to continue for the foreseeable future, although Mr. Clinton’s two-year term as Special Envoy will end this month.

“As we have learned in other parts of the world in the wake of massive disasters – from Kobe to New Orleans, Tangshan to Bam – rebuilding the physical, social, and human capital of shattered communities takes years,” he writes.

The 10 key lessons learned from the recovery effort and contained in the report are as follows:

Governments, donor and aid agencies must recognize that families and communities drive their own recovery

Recovery “must promote fairness and equity

Governments must be better prepared for future disasters

Local governments must be empowered to manage recovery efforts, and donors must devote greater resources to strengthening government recovery institutions

Good information is key to recovery planning and effective coordination

The UN, World Bank and other multilateral agencies must “clarify their roles and relationships”

The expanding role of relief agencies must be accompanied by increased quality of recovery efforts

Governments and aid agencies must encourage entrepreneurs to flourish

Agency partnerships must efficiently deliver to those in need without “rivalry and unhealthy competition”

Good recovery must reduce risks and build resilience in communities. Speaking at a press conference in New York to launch the report, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, Eric Schwartz, stressed the importance of these lessons as he acknowledged that while progress has been made in the recovery process, much more still needs to be done.

“There’s much to celebrate about the recovery process so far, from the extraordinary work of thousands of first-responders to the work of thousands involved in recovery today… children are back in school, economic growth has accelerated throughout the region in key sectors from tourism to fisheries to construction,” he told reporters.

But “daunting” challenges remain, he said. “We hope that the observations in this report… help to enhance the quality of ongoing responses in the tsunami-affected region as well as to promote more effective recovery in future operations.”

In a related development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released its report on the two-year tsunami recovery effort yesterday. Entitled Much Done, More to Do, it details the work that started after the tsunami struck on 26 December 2004 and warns there’s still much more to do.

“Since the beginning of the tsunami response, UNICEF has been able to reach an estimated 4.8 million children and women in eight countries,” the reports says. “Nearly two years on, much has been accomplished but much remains to be done.”