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One Year After the Tsunami, Many People Are Back to Work

By Oxfam

One year after the south Asian tsunami, more than half of the people in affected areas are back to work and economies are quickly returning to normal, according to a new report by Oxfam International.

The new report, Back to Work,” estimates that as many as 60% of the people who lost their jobs are earning a living again, and predicts that 85% of jobs will have been restored by the end of 2006.

The report also shows that:

  • By 2007, 1.4 million people will have been lifted out of the poverty that they were forced into by the tsunami.
  • In Sri Lanka, 84% of destroyed fishing boats have been rebuilt or replaced; in Aceh, almost 70% of damaged fishing boats have been delivered or are being constructed.
  • Even by August, the fish catch in Sri Lanka – having initially dropped by 95% - was back up to 70% of its previous level.
  • Thousands of acres of land have already been desalinated, salt-resistant plants have been introduced, and farmers have already had successful harvests.


According to community surveys, those affected by the tsunami placed the restoration of livelihoods at the top of their list of priorities, even above shelter.<


“A year after the tsunami, more than half of the people who lost their jobs are back at work, most fishing boats have been replaced, and thousands of acres of farmland have been replanted,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Some problems remain, of course, and we continue to focus on solving them. But the public’s generous response and the resilience of the tsunami survivors have made the rebuilding of livelihoods one of the principal achievements of the entire aid operation.”

According to the report, the scale of damage done to the economies of the affected countries threatened to push 2 million people into poverty:

  • One million jobs were lost due to the tsunami.
  • 64,000 hectares of agricultural land were damaged or contaminated – an area six times the size of Paris or twice the size of London.
  • In Aceh, unemployment rocketed from 1 in 14 (7%) to 1 in 3 (33%). In the affected districts of Sri Lanka it more than doubled from 9% to 20%.
  • As well as losing their jobs, many people also lost all their savings, which was often kept in the form of cash, jewelry or property.
  • The worst-affected livelihoods were in fishing, small-scale farming, small business, wage labor, and tourism.
  • In Sri Lanka, 65% of the fishing fleet was destroyed, together with 10 of 12 fishing ports; in Aceh, 70% of fishing fleet was destroyed; in India, 70,000 boats were damaged or destroyed.


“A year after the tsunami we are seeing an impressive recovery,” Offenheiser said. “Getting people back to work, in addition to giving them an income and some control over their future, has been critical in helping them deal with the trauma. We are well on the road to recovery.”<


Oxfam has spent its largest block of money, $27 million in the first nine months, on helping people regain their livelihoods. Working with others, Oxfam has helped 375,000 people get back to work. The initial interventions, which many agencies engaged in on a larger scale than previously, were “cash for work,” where beneficiaries were paid for basic work which varied from desalinating farmland and clearing rubble to rebuilding houses and burying bodies. This program provided beneficiaries with more choices and control over their options and helped to rapidly stimulate the economy. According to the report, these programs were also critical in helping people resume a routine and sense of normality that helped them deal with the trauma of the tsunami.

The report also identifies some of the continuing problems:

  • It will take between two and five years for the soil to return to full productivity.
  • In some cases, fishing communities are being given new land which is too far away from the sea to sustain their livelihoods.
  • The lack of access to markets remains a problem for local communities.
  • Assistance must not be restricted to only the most high-profile livelihoods.


Oxfam and other aid agencies have also given out thousands of small grants to restart businesses and replace economic infrastructure. Much of Oxfam’s livelihoods work has targeted women, as they can be neglected in the aid response and their jobs often help see the family through the low season of agriculture, tourism or fishing.<


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