Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

For many, it was the first time they'd heard the word tsunami. A decade later, the worst-affected countries - Indonesia; Thailand; Sri Lanka and India - have rebuilt almost all that was destroyed.

Ten years ago a disaster of epic proportions devastated several countries in Asia. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami killed over 230,000 people in a day, while over 45,000 people still remain missing.

For many, it was the first time they'd heard the word tsunami.

When I heard the news, I was at home in the UK with my family. I was working as the director of the BBC World Service and we became a lifeline to many communities as we broadcasted news of the tsunami's impact in multiple Asian languages.

Now, a decade later, the worst-affected countries - Indonesia; Thailand; Sri Lanka and India - have rebuilt almost all that was destroyed.

In most places, only a few remnants of the disaster remain, yet each are poignant. In Aceh, a fisherman's boat still sits on top of a house; a giant freighter which travelled five kilometres inland and destroyed numerous communities, sits close to the centre of Banda Aceh - a reminder of the sheer destructive force and scale of the tsunami. Clamber atop the freighter and you can see the entire city of Banda Aceh, in a chilling reminder of just how far this monstrous wave travelled inland.

If you speak to the locals, their story is just as relevant today as it was back then. The pain remains, as many victims fight back tears as they recall their stories. Houses were devastated, livelihoods were lost and family members were killed.

Sunday 26 December 2004 still remains etched, in their mind, as it does in the minds of those thousands of miles away like myself who still remember the Boxing Day Tsunami.

Twelve-year-old Yaumul, from Aceh, Indonesia, lost his father to the wave and still doesn't know where he is buried. "l miss him every day," he says.

Nineteen-year-old Surya, from Aceh, Indonesia, was just nine when he was separated from his family and caught in the wave for hours. He lost over half his family. It took him three months before he was able to find his sister. Now, he lives with his sister and her family and is back at secondary school, hoping to complete his education.

Surya, 19, from Aceh, lost over half his family in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Photo credit: Plan/Fauzan Ijazah

Then there's Mariana, a 28-year-old woman, from Aceh, Indonesia, whose community was devastated by the tsunami. Supported by the child rights organisation, Plan International, she trained to become a pre-school teacher and now runs her own learning centre in her village.

These stories - both heart-breaking and hopeful - show how reduced-to-rubble communities can begin to rebuild their lives when the world pulls together.

My organisation, Plan International, was at the forefront of the response to the tsunami and these anniversaries provide us with an opportunity to honour the victims of this tragedy and revisit and remember them, ten years on.

In the immediate aftermath, Plan tailored its relief efforts to each country's unique needs and coordinated with government and NGOs.

We put children at the centre of relief and development programmes, providing back-to-school kits and books - many of which now sit in the community libraries for all to use. We also worked to make sure that children's needs, their protection and their long-term development were central to our programmes, ensuring that psycho social care was provided to both children and adults.

This disaster was also a testimony to the global community.

The tsunami marked an extraordinary outpouring of international aid. Individual donors, governments, and foundations demonstrated a level of generosity and commitment never before seen.

When events like this capture people's hearts, it reminds us that the world really is just a village, and that we look after each other. Politics matter less. International rivalries become irrelevant. Nations act like a community and rivals act like neighbours. People open their hearts, across the world to help, to give something, to do something, to help respond to the scale of human suffering.

That generosity allowed NGOs like Plan International, and other humanitarian aid organisations, to mobilise relief on a level rarely seen before.

Multi-country responses were assembled, in some cases within hours, for the emergency distribution of food, shelter, and medicine.

This later transitioned into a long-term response dealing with everything from the psychological trauma suffered by hundreds of thousands of children, to rebuilding schools and health centres, and launching livelihood projects to help communities regain their incomes and independence.

This 10-year anniversary provides us an opportunity to remember the colossal number of people who lost their lives, and commemorate the survivors and the resilience and strength that underlies their recovery.

But this anniversary also provides us an opportunity to recognise the generosity and the ability of the international community to pull together in the lives of disasters and emergencies.

And as we look across the world, at the number of humanitarian interventions, which need consistent support - Syria, Northern Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and of course West Africa and the Ebola crisis - we need to take the spirit of generosity, and apply it just as well as we did after the tsunami - for the sake of the innocent children and communities whose lives are at risk and who deserve the very best we can do for and with them.


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