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10 years after the tsunami: When a wave of devastation was met with a wave of support

By Oxfam
10 years ago, the tsunami rolled across these fields destroying the rice in Lampuuk Village in the province of Aceh in Indonesia. A new round of seedlings grows today. Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam

A massive outpouring of support followed in the wake of the disaster, allowing Oxfam to help families recover and rebuild. “Positive things are happening here now,” says one survivor in Aceh.

When the floor of the Indian Ocean suddenly shifted on Dec 26, 2004, releasing the amount of energy equal to an estimated 23,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs, the lives of countless people changed forever. The third-largest earthquake in recorded history triggered a series of tsunamis that raced across the ocean, some at speeds of more than 300 miles per hour, and crashed onto the shores of two continents leaving about 230,000 people dead while displacing 1.7 million others.

A decade later, the turmoil and terror of that time is not easily forgotten by those who survived it, nor is the incredible outpouring of support that swept in, in its own powerful wave, soon after. The international community raised $13.5 billion to respond, 40 percent of it from organizations and individuals—many of them like you. Your generosity was unprecedented, and at Oxfam, the $294 million we received allowed us and our partners to help an estimated 2.5 million people across seven countries.

And we weren’t there to just patch the problem and then disappear. Our commitment was long-standing. Today, families continue to feel the impact of the clean-up, repair, and construction initiatives Oxfam and its partners helped to carry out between 2004 and 2009—projects that included building or repairing nearly 11,000 wells and a municipal water system for 10,000 people in Aceh that local volunteers are still running successfully today.

“Oxfam was with us for three years,” says T. Buhari, who lives in the small fishing community of Lhok Seudu in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Nearly all of the damage and death Indonesia endured occurred in Aceh, and Buhari’s village was no exception.

“I had never heard of Oxfam before the tsunami came,” said T. Buhari. But after the support his village received from Oxfam, Buhari said that things felt better than they had before the disaster struck." Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam

The power of listening

“There were many different NGOs working in Aceh but Oxfam was the only one to work in our village. We trusted Oxfam because you listened to us and communicated with us to find out about our needs,” Buhari says.

When members of Oxfam arrived by boat in Lhok Seudu—the road was too damaged for travel—they quickly appreciated the desire of villagers to stay rather than relocate, even as the government initially proposed the creation of a two-kilometer buffer zone for low-lying coastal areas that would have prohibited permanent construction. For the people of Lhok Seudu, fishing was their life: they needed to stay by their boats and the sea so they could make a living.

“You understood that we were fishing people and wanted to stay here” Buhari says.  “You didn’t force us to move away from our lives. After this three years, our village felt better than it was before because we all had houses and water.”

Oxfam helped the community build 50 new houses, each with a latrine and water supply. It also provided grants so that villagers could start to fish again.

“I have lived in this village all of my life,” says Zuhra, Buhari’s wife. “We all see it as a place of quiet and calm and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Our children go to school in the next village, Layeun, and we feel that we have a good life here again now.”

Some fears linger, of course, adds another villager, Aiyub. But life has started again, he adds.

“We liked having Oxfam here,” says Aiyub. “All the work that you did was good quality and it has lasted. The work took three years, but it was important to do it slowly and well. Our house and latrine are good. . . . Now, 10 years after, we are starting to feel like we did before.”

In Lampaya, looking back—and ahead

A decade ago cousins Gifari Jakawali and Bahagia Rahmatullah looked out at the tsunami damage from the open wall of Jakawali’s home in Lho-Nga in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam

In the village of Lampaya, where cousins Gifari Jakawali and Bahagia Rahmatullah stood looking out through the smashed wall of Jakawali’s house onto a bleak landscape 10 years ago, life is also getting better.

“Positive things are happening here now,” says Jakawali, 20, photographed this time in the home his family received from Oxfam. “Aceh is getting better and we think that we can have a good life.”

Though the tsunami damaged Lampaya, it did not completely devastate the community. After the disaster, Oxfam helped to install water and sanitation facilities and to build temporary homes.

Rahmatullah, who is 16 now and a student at a boarding school away from the coast, says his dream is to finish school and then serve his country as policeman.

 “I think we will have a good future here in Aceh and that it will be a better place,” he says.

“The international community heard about Banda Aceh for the first time because of the tsunami and this is positive, too,” adds Jakawali. “We are rebuilding.”

Cousins Bahagia Rahmatullah and Gifari Jakawali stand on the beach where the tsunami crashed ashore 10 years ago near their homes in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam

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