Ten years later, the Indian Ocean Tsunami response reveals how people in crises can be helped by timely funding, says Oxfam

By Oxfam

The unprecedented generosity of people around the world to help those hit by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 saved lives and gave affected people the means to make genuine long-term recoveries, says international aid agency Oxfam.

Ray Offenheiser, Oxfam America’s President, said: “On this tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, we reflect on those who died and lost their loved ones, homes, livelihoods and so much more. But we also want to mark the tremendous progress that has been made. The overwhelming generosity displayed in response to the tsunami was unprecedented and made it possible for Oxfam to respond quickly with life-saving aid, and to stay for the long process of recovery.”

In a new report, The Indian Ocean Tsunami, 10 Years On, Oxfam says the tsunami was also a pivotal moment for the international humanitarian sector, which learned lessons and emerged strengthened as a result – even while important challenges to it still remain.

The tsunami killed 230,000 people and left 1.7 million homeless on December 26th 2004. Around 5 million people were affected across 14 countries. 

The international community raised $13.5 billion, up to 40% by individuals, trusts, foundations and business. It remains the world’s highest-ever privately-funded crisis response. Oxfam received $294 million, 90% of that coming from private donors in the first month. Oxfam was able to set up responses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia.

Between 2004 and 2009, Oxfam and its partners helped around 2.5 million people. Oxfam gave shelter, blankets and clean water to more than 40,000 people in the immediate aftermath. Oxfam and its partners built or improved nearly 11,000 wells, and a municipal water system to 10,000 people in Aceh that local volunteers are still running successfully today.

Oxfam hired 960,000 people from affected communities in Somalia and Sri Lanka to do clean-up and construction work, including building docks and repairing fishing boats, and repairing 100 schools in Indonesia and Myanmar. Oxfam, as part of a wider humanitarian effort, helped to get children back to school within six months in all 14 tsunami-hit countries.

Oxfam says that while the huge outpouring of donations was vital to save lives and rebuild livelihoods, it noted that adequate responses to humanitarian crises remain a rarity today. Over the past decade, international funding has consistently failed to meet one-third of the humanitarian need outlined in UN appeals.

The report says that factors other than humanitarian need – such as strategic geopolitical and economic factors, international pressure and media coverage – continue to heavily influence government donors. Private donors are often influenced, as in the tsunami, by the type of emergency involved, their ability to identify with the affected people, and by a sense that their donations will make a difference. A study found that for every additional minute of TV network news featuring the tsunami, online donations rose by 13%.

One of the most important lessons from the tsunami was the need for more investment in reducing the risk of future disasters and to better predict when they could hit. This led to the ‘build back better’ framework, which focuses on replacing or fixing infrastructure that is better at withstanding natural disasters and to the development of an early warning system that was put to a successful test before an earthquake in 2012.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami also reshaped the humanitarian sector to some degree as organizations realized they had to be more coordinated on which aspects of an emergency response they are responsible, such as water and sanitation, logistics and shelter.


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