Tsunami – 10th Anniversary Facts

Tsunami ChroniclesAs we move into the countdown to the 10th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, a few facts might help an appreciation of the scale of the tragedy and humanitarian response.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the whole thing was massive by any measure — the tsunami, the number of people killed, the global impact, the humanitarian response, the money donated to help,  the size of the reconstruction program … and the politics.

I saw it first hand working in tsunami central, Aceh, Indonesia’s westernmost province. This had been in the grip of war for 30 years. Until the tsunami. That was a game changer for everyone. Ironically, the death and destruction from the tsunami brought peace to Aceh.

Some essential facts…

  • The Indian Ocean Tsunami struck on 26 December 2004 just off the western tip of Sumatra near Aceh.
  • It measured around 9.1 to 9.2 on the Richter Scale—that’s massive.
  • Estimates of the number of people killed range from 230,000 to 286,000 – it’s impossible to get a single, accurate figure.
  • The tsunami took the lives of people from 60 countries making it not just one of the world’s largest natural disasters but also the one with the widest global impact.
  • 14 Indian Ocean countries suffered the greatest casualties and damage: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and Yemen
  • The tsunami hit the westernmost province of Indonesia, Aceh, the hardest, killing an estimated 221,000 people there and leaving another 600,000 homeless—again, the figures are inevitably broad and combine the number known to have been killed (around 80,000) with the number missing (around 40,000).
  • The tsunami also killed 2,307 people from another 46 countries, mainly Europe.
  • It was Sweden’s worst single disaster since World War II.
  • Sweden lost 571 people, Germany 552, Finland 179, the UK 149, Switzerland 112, France 95, Austria 86, Norway 84, Denmark 46, Russia 44, Italy 40, Netherlands 36, Poland 13, Belgium 11, Czech Republic 8, Portugal and Ireland 4, Greece 3, Luxembourg and Spain 2.
  • In the Americas, the United States lost 51 people, Canada 20, Mexico 3, Argentina, Brazil and Chile 2, Columbia 1.
  • Australia lost 26.
  • The global community launched its biggest military armada since World War II in response to the tsunami.
  • The reconstruction operation to follow included contributions from over 50 national governments, 27 UN agencies, funds and programs including World Bank, 600 non-government humanitarian organisations and multiple national societies of the international Red Cross movement including Australia’s.
  • The total spent on Aceh’s recovery was US$ 6.7 billion—or somewhere close to this.
  • The Australian Government gave AU$1 billion to help Indonesia, although initially earmarked only $100 million for Aceh, a figure later raised to around $250 million.
  • Indonesia created a purpose-built recovery agency, BRR, to lead and coordinate the enormous reconstruction program. BRR was headed by tsunami minister Dr Kuntoro Mangkusubroto reporting directly to the President.
  • After being introduced by the World Bank, Dr Kuntoro insisted I join him as a condition for accepting his presidential appointment to lead BRR—a life-changing moment.
  • The Aceh reconstruction program ran for four years ending in April 2009. It delivered one of the world’s most successful disaster recovery programs in one of its most isolated and challenging parts.
  • Physical deliverables included 140,000 new houses, 4,000 km of road, 270 bridges, 23 seaports, 13 airports and runways, 2,000 school facilities, 1,100 health facilities and 1,000 government buildings.
  • Social outcomes included a peace settlement with GAM ending a 30-year insurrection, joint land titles for women, permanent land and home ownership for previously landless tsunami victims.
  • Government reforms included a new approach to fighting corruption within government agencies, streamlined treasury systems and simplified salaries for government staff focused on performance rather than process.
  • Peace holds in Aceh but the province remains poorly funded, weakly administered and regrettably isolated by Shariah Law.


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