Asian Tsunami Update

Asian Tsunami Update

It has been eight days since the tsunami wreaked havoc on many of the nations ringing the Indian Ocean.

ImageGlobal Ministries missionary, Tim Fonderlin, has been working with Habitat for Humanity in Malaysia. After the tsunami disaster, Habitat has been developing capacity to help in the rebuilding effort in Sumatra. Tim has been to Banda Aceh three times and will be helping to set up 4 building/training centers that will coordinate local building and re-building. The centers will also be the sites for families to come and build their own doors and windows.

Despite pledges to halt their protracted guerilla war during the tsunami relief efforts, the military is clashing with the guerillas almost daily in Aceh. The army claims to have killed more than 200 rebels in skirmishes since the tsunami hit, but claims they are firing in self defense. The military has also been accused of harassing the residents of relief camps in their search for supporters of the Free Aceh Movement. Aid workers express concern that the conflict may interfere with delivery of relief. Although aid workers have not reported significant interference with aid delivery, there have been accusations of aid being misdirected either by the military or the GAM fighters.

In response to complaints that shipments of aid were not always getting to the intended recipients, Church World Service (CWS) created new forms and procedures to enhance the transparency of their operations. Other major Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are also making a renewed effort to share information regarding capacities, locations and other details. CWS field staff report that Aceh needs more medicines, but not more doctors. Malaria and Dengue Fever incidents are expected to rise in the coming weeks. There have been 14 deaths from Dengue fever and diarrhea in the last 2 months.

ImageThe Indonesian Military is preparing barracks to be temporary residents for displaced peoples until permanent homes can be built. The barracks, however, are not near the sea and the Acehnese people are reluctant to be away from their land and the sea, due both to the need to return to fishing for their livelihoods and to fears that even temporarily abandoning their property will make it possible for unscrupulous authorities to dispossess them of their land. Human rights groups are also protesting the plans to move people to barracks citing the reality that the people fear and dislike the soldiers and that the camps could be used as a form of intimidation and abusive control to serve the military’s political objectives in their conflict with GAM.

Sri Lanka

Dr. Mathews George, Asia Secretary for the World Council of Churches, reported that in a visit to Sri Lanka he attended meetings among Church Leaders and NGOs at which the participants lamented the lack of religious and cultural sensitivities of some of the foreign aid workers who have come to help in the relief and rehabilitation work. In addition, the growing rift between the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam and the government have caused serious concern about the potential politicization of relief. In some ways the presence of the international aid community is seen as a movement toward increased global linkages that may bring greater cooperation and coordination of relief efforts. The down side of the increased international presence, however, is that many of the internationals are excluding local capacities and expertise and instead relying on imported technocrats.

Global Ministries missionary, Grace Bunker, reports that most of the villages along the west coast of the Jaffna Peninsula have been very badly damaged and to this date there has been very little government aid reaching them, though NGOs are helping them. Some villages have been washed away so the people need everything. Others have homes but no means of livelihood as almost all were fishermen. However, many farmers have lost their livelihood too because the salty ocean water invaded their fields. This not only destroyed the current crop but also made the soil saline so it can’t be used for years. The Jaffna Diocese has developed plans to assist in the provision of fishing boats and nets for four groups of six families in Chulipuram; similar livelihood equipment in the village of Tholpuram West; housekeeping packages that will help families get started when they leave the relief camps; and educational classes for 316 children in Potpathy for 3 years (as well as restoration of the Potpathy daycare center). They will also be providing temporary shelter and livelihood assistance for others in Chulipuram, Chempianpattu North and South, Manalkadu and Chavakachchery which are areas that appeared to be in particular need of assistance. The relief activities will include vocational training for girls and women’s empowerment projects.

Disaster relief efforts can create their own set of problems. In response to the presence of so many foreign relief teams and NGO operations, the prices of renting or purchasing a home is skyrocketing in parts of Sri Lanka. Locals are priced out of the the real estate market. The Washington Post described the efforts of one man to re-establish an orphanage which he had lost in the tsunami. The prices for renting a home were twice the normal rate and a year’s rent was required in advance. His family and 16 of the orphans in their care are living in a church until they are able to rebuild. Others have reported that the Sri Lankan Government is not working with the NGOs, but is letting them do what they will. The Center for National Operations was managing the relief effort badly and has been shut down. The responsibilities will be distributed to others in the government.


Dr. Chunakara, Asia Secretary for the World Council of Churches, also visited Southern India States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. He reports that the numbers of dead are far too low in India (and in Sri Lanka) because when someone is missing, law requires a wait of 7 years before you can presume them dead. Children account for 40 percent of those who died in Tamil Nadu. Across India children account for 1/3 of the deaths. In the Kanyakumari District (part of the state of Tamil Nadu), 5016 homes were destroyed and 28,649 families were affected. He was especially struck by the trauma being experienced and expressed by the victims and noted the immediate need for more counselors. The World Council of Churches is developing a project to train people to be trainers of trauma counseling and to supervise the resulting counseling programs in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.


Photo courtesy of UMNS/ACT International, by Mike DuBose

In Kolachel (part of the state of Kerala) Dr. Chunakara witnessed the Churches Auxiliary for Social Action’s (CASA) distribution of relief kits to a clearly distressed population. A total of 7,500 kits had been distributed in three affected Districts in Kerala. About 800,000 people are reportedly displaced in the state of Kerala. He also noted that in many areas agencies from within India and overseas are competing with each other to get approval from the District collector for construction of houses. The Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) has been asked to oversea the relief operations and to construct houses in three villages in Kanyakumari Diocese. Dr. Chunakara was grateful to see good ecumenical cooperation between CASA, World Council of Churches member churches, and the Roman Catholic Church in their relief efforts. He also noted that the need for interfaith cooperation is building relationships and trust where conflict and violence were once common.

CASA cites 6 key problems and issues: (a) Tension between the fisher communities and other communities based on fears about potentially unjust distribution of assistance, (b) Lack of clear policy relating to reconstruction and rehabilitation (and a resulting risk of inequitable distribution of aid), (c) Temporary shelters are barely livable and will have to be endured for months before permanent homes can be built, (d) Permanent homes, by government order, must be 500 meters from the sea, but the likelihood of the fishing communities staying that far from the sea seems remote, (e) Livelihoods of the fishing communities (and others) have been destroyed and boats and nets must be replaced in ways that are seen as fair, and (f) Psychological traumas, both visible and concealed, remain a major impediment to restoration of normalcy to the lives of the survivors. CASA has targeted 50,000 most-affected families regardless of their religion, caste or political background, but giving special attention to widows, single women headed households, physically challenged people, dalits and tribals, for their relief efforts. CASA is committed to implementing their relief and rehabilitation programs in ways that bring caste divided communities closer together and help them to learn to live together in dignity and peace. CASA is beginning the implementation of long-term rehabilitation activities in the three most-affected states of India and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


We have received no new reports from the Church of Christ in Thailand. They are continuing in the delivery of relief to the Thai Mai people and are working to protect the rights of tribal peoples who may face pressures to relocate against their will.


We have received no significant reports from the Christian Conference of Asia or the Myanmar Council of Churches. The military regime in Myanmar is extremely repressive and is unwelcoming to foreign aid groups. Few details are available about the damage to coastal communities in Myanmar, but it is likely that there was substantial loss of life and damage to property.