On Dec. 26, 2004, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami caused incredible destruction and loss of life across five time zones and 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
More than 225,000 people were killed, thousands were injured, and 1.7 million people were left homeless.
As frequently occurs in emergency scenarios, the poorest and most vulnerable groups suffered the greatest losses from lack of access to quality medical services, along with loss of land, shelter, and employment opportunities.
2004 South Asian Earthquake and Tsunami destruction
Thanks to a generous outpouring of support from donors, Direct Relief was able to work with a strong network of nearly 90 local partners in the hardest-hit countries, including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, to provide nearly $60 million in medical humanitarian aid, including more than $13.5 million in targeted cash grants and $45.4 million in medicines, nutritional supplies, and equipment to help people affected the tsunami to recover.
Direct Relief developed a comprehensive strategy that allocated resources per country as well as per specific relief, recovery, and rehabilitation activity.
Initiatives focused on 7 specific response areas: disease prevention; health-facility construction and rehabilitation; medical and technical equipment assistance; health and medical services; psycho-social services; shelter; and water and sanitation. These interconnected response areas allowed the organization to support both immediate and long-term health-care services.
For example, Direct Relief’s support helped rebuild fishing villages in Thailand, as well as to build latrines in a refugee camp in Sri Lanka. In the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 34 health clinics were constructed and outfitted with supplies and equipment, replacing the facilities destroyed in the tsunami. And in Chennai, India, Direct Relief funded training for more than 700 nursing assistants through a program sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. The program pays tuition and living expenses during a 2-year course that prepares women for careers in the medical field. These women often come from very humble backgrounds and are able to make a living wage while contributing to health-care service in India upon graduation.
Ongoing Support: Building for the Future
Direct Relief’s tsunami response also helped improve the region’s resilience to subsequent emergencies. For example, when floods struck India, a telemedicine van that Direct Relief provided to Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences was able to bring sophisticated medical care to populations displaced by the floods. The state-of-the-art vehicle enabled doctors to reach rural and remote populations to provide screenings and consultations via satellite connection. On the basis of the success of the first telemedicine van project, similar vans were deployed in other parts of India.
Direct Relief has continued to support medical organizations such as Yayasan Bumi Sehat, which established a clinic in Aceh, Indonesia, after the tsunami. A nonprofit nongovernmental organization with a staff of mostly nurses and midwives, Yayasan Bumi Sehat set up its clinic and mobile services in regions hit hardest by the tsunami. The organization has spent decades operating a safe motherhood and infant survival clinic in Bali. After the tsunami struck, the group worked to bring trained medical professionals to Aceh, recognizing that a lack of primary and prenatal care was a serious concern for a population of more than 10,000. Yayasan Bumi Sehat’s vision, dedication, provision of care regardless of patients’ ability to pay, and respect for the community in which it works have made it a valued Direct Relief partner.
Funding from Direct Relief allowed Yayasan Bumi Sehat to continue providing much-needed medical assistance to the people of Samatiga, Meulaboh, and Aceh. Conditions in Aceh were incredibly harsh for the tsunami survivors the organization served. As noted by Ibu Robin Lim, the organization’s head midwife, “The tsunami of poverty is still breaking upon the people of Aceh.”
Working with in-country organizations that had the greatest stake in the success of response and recovery efforts, Direct Relief supported projects that improved the overall quality and availability of both urgent and ongoing health-care services. These projects included building community health-care centers in isolated or underserved areas that previously had little to no access to medical services; reconstructing physically stronger, more disaster-resistant, and larger medical clinics (often adding accommodations for a trained health-care provider); purchasing ambulances, including a specialized vehicle for the care of neonates; purchasing medical equipment including emergency, intensive care, and diagnostic items; designing and building customized mobile telemedicine units that use the expertise of physicians in tertiary care facilities to diagnose and treat people in more remote areas; cleaning and rebuilding wells, toilets, and septic tanks; and training local health-care providers. All of these preparations would support and inform future relief efforts in the region.
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