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by Thalif Deen
 Tsunami Article Index  

Donations Sit In Banks While Tsunami Victims Huddle In Tents

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- A survey of more than 50,000 tsunami survivors in five Asian countries has revealed that most of them have been doubly devastated: losing their loved ones in the December 2004 natural disaster, and subsequently having their human rights abused by their own governments.

The five countries -- Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives -- are accused of discrimination in aid distribution, forced relocation, arbitrary arrests and sexual and gender-based violence.

These governments "frequently ignored human rights principles and failed to protect survivors from discrimination, land grabbing and violence," says the five-country study by three non-governmental organizations (NGOs): ActionAid International, People's Movement for Human Rights Learning (PDHRE) and Habitat International Coalition.

In many places, tsunami survivors have been driven from their land, cut off from their livelihoods and denied food, clean water and a secure home, according to the three NGOs.

"Whilst much of what governments have done in exceptionally difficult circumstances has been good, this report highlights a culture of failure to deliver to some of the most needy, some of the poorest and some of the people already on the margins of society due to their gender, their race or their ethnicity," says Ramesh Singh, chief executive of ActionAid International.

"The responsibility is on us all -- community groups, international NGOs and governments -- to use the money donated to make a lasting difference to the millions of families affected by the tsunami," he added.

According to some of the findings of the survey released Wednesday:

  • The disaster has provided an opportunity for governments to introduce new statutes and/or reinforce old ones that threaten to take away people's right to their land;
  • 'Buffer zones' have been used to remove people from coastal areas under the guise of safety, thereby jeopardizing the livelihoods of those who rely on the sea for a living;
  • Single women, including widows, have not been recognized as a household unit and have frequently been denied compensation;
  • Housing design and layout in particular have been gender-insensitive, affecting women's privacy and security and;
  • Migrant laborers, landless people, dalits (or formerly untouchables of India), and ethnic minorities have all received little or no support and have also been excluded from decision-making.

The tsunami, which hit a total of 12 countries in Asia and Africa, has been described as one of the world's worst natural disasters. The number of deaths has been estimated at over 250,000, with 2.5 million people either displaced or rendered homeless.

More than 13 months after the disaster, the conditions endured by many tsunami survivors have been described as being "unbelievably grim."

"Hundreds and thousands of tsunami survivors are still living in virtually uninhabitable shelters. They often lack access to health and other basic services," the report notes.

At the same time, "thousands of children have not been able to go back to school, women do not feel secure, people's livelihoods have not been restored, and people are still distressingly uncertain about their future."

According to the United Nations, the post-tsunami relief and recovery challenges were "unprecedented." The international community pledged a total of more than 13.6 billion dollars in assistance.

But mere aid is insufficient to tackle such a situation, the report argues, pointing out that the role of the government is crucial.

For aid to be effective, the onus is on governments to introduce legislation that helps vulnerable groups; to transfer the largest share of resources to the poorest; defend the most marginalized through social protection measures; to prevent corporate interests from trampling over people's rights to housing and livelihoods; and to enable communities to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

"We believe that relief and rehabilitation is not just about giving money and resources -- it is also about respecting the dignity of victims," the study said.

The recovery process should therefore be measured against international human rights standards. At the core of these standards, the report points out, "is the full and informed participation of affected communities, including women and other marginalized groups."

Among the recommendations, the study calls on the UN system to play a larger role in monitoring human rights compliance, and urges the international community, including international financial institutions, to integrate human rights in their humanitarian donor policies.

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Albion Monitor   February 2, 2006   (

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