Tsunami five years on: A legacy for older people


Five years on, older people who survived the Indian Ocean tsunami are facing more secure futures and are better prepared for the impact of natural disasters.

The tsunami, which struck on 26 December 2004, left more than 220,000 people dead in 11 countries.

HelpAge International received a large grant from the UK Department for International Development. We also received £8 million from the British public as part of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal through our partner in the UK, Help the Aged.

With this money we assisted over 200,000 people in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, so that they could rebuild their lives.

Huge challenges

Eduardo Klien, East Asia Pacific Regional Represenative for HelpAge recalls the enormous challenges facing aid organisations:

"After a few weeks, it became clear that our response had to be long-term, at least two or three years. We were thinking at the time of the tsunami of a gradual change in our structures and capacities, but this was shock-treatment. We had to do everything now."

In the aftermath of the tsunami, HelpAge tackled the invisibility of older people by ensuring that the most vulnerable older people, their carers and families were identified and registered, their health needs were addressed, and appropriate aid was given. Our local partners provided survivors with food, shelter and clothing.

In the medium term, we provided healthcare and helped set up older people's associations so that older people could learn new trades and get counselling.

In the long term, we provided cash grants and loans so that they could set up new businesses, and provided innovative housing solutions such as the model village scheme in India.

Lessons learned

Eduardo Klien continues:

"In the months and years after the tsunami, we saw the humanitarian community deploying with all its might and all its shortcomings. Mistakes were made, but lessons were learned.

"But now five years on, we see these communities and see how roads, schools, clinics and houses have been rebuilt and, very often, rebuilt better than before. Most of that has been down to the sheer will of communities to get back on their feet. We're proud too that we played a part in helping those communities."

HelpAge has also applied those lessons to subsequent disasters and we now respond better to the continuing number of natural disasters in South East Asia, such as the recent floods and earthquake in the region.

Most humanitarian agencies now have regional emergency response teams who can be deployed within a couple of days and have pre-requisitioned stock, such as medical and shelter kits that can be distributed immediately. Humanitarian aid and the generosity of donors will continue to play a vital role in saving lives.

Safer futures

Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive of HelpAge concludes:

"HelpAge continues to engage with many of the communities that were affected by the tsunami through our network of partners and affiliates. Over the past decade, approximately 26 million older people have been affected by natural disasters every year.  

"Natural disasters can't be prevented but, five years after the tsunami, we know that more older people have as good a chance as anyone else of reducing the risks to themselves and increasing their ability to withstand future shocks."

Download "From disaster to development: How older people recovered from the Asian tsunami"

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