Ten years after tsunami – Revisiting Building Back Better 

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Unicef commends the people of Indonesia’s western-most province Aceh for their resilience and their achievements in rising from devastation. 

“The tremendous effort by the Acehnese people, supported by the international community, to re-build even better what the waves took away, definitely paid off. In fact, the reconstruction based on the principle of Building Back Better has translated into better opportunities for children to grow up healthy and develop their potential,” said Unicef Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson. 

For Unicef , the emergency response to the tsunami, particularly in Aceh, where 170,000 people were killed and 800 kilometres of coastline were devastated, remains one of the largest humanitarian operations in the organization’s history. 

Thanks to unprecedented support and financial contributions by individual and corporate donors from around the world, totalling US$336 million for Aceh alone, Unicef was able to roll out a large-scale emergency response followed by strategic investment in the province’s long-term development. 

In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, Unicef took on an important role in saving children from death and diseases, helping them overcome their traumatic experiences, bringing them back to school and uniting separated children with their parents or other caregivers. Subsequently, Unicef  focused on strengthening the health and education systems, facilitating new approaches to child protection and supporting the government in emergency preparedness. 

“There have been many lessons learned from the efforts to build back better, which have been used in other emergencies. Thanks to this, Indonesia is now considered a leader in the region when it comes to promoting disaster risk reduction,” Ms. Olsson said. 

The experience gained over the past years in Indonesia and other places will also play an important role during the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March in Sendai, Japan, which aims to adopt a post-2015 DRR framework. 

From emergency response to long-term development 

In the immediate response to the tsunami, Unicef focused on providing clean water and basic sanitation and on organizing mass immunization campaigns.  Unicef facilitated the deployment of doctors and paramedics to affected areas, delivered health kits with basic drugs, and trained health workers and midwives in life-saving health care as well as emergency obstetric and neonatal care. 

Thanks to the joint efforts by Unicef and many other organizations, the outbreak of epidemics could be prevented – despite the unimaginable level of devastation. The dozens of water treatment facilities that Unicef helped establish continue to provide clean water to one million citizens of Aceh today. 

At 21 Children’s Centres, set up in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Unicef and partners registered nearly 3,000 children who had been orphaned or separated from their parents and supported the family tracing efforts. The Children’s Centres also provided social and psychological support.  

Unicef also organized a “Back to School” campaign, providing children with some sort of normalcy and the opportunity to overcome their traumatic experiences. The organization supported the recruitment of 1,100 temporary teachers, set up 1,000 makeshift school tents, and supplied about 7,000 school-in-a-box teaching aids and supply kids. 

As the emergency relief efforts were winding down, the works shifted to pursuing longer-term development objectives. Unicef’s efforts to strengthen health services laid the foundation for stronger routine immunization, the promotion of breastfeeding in emergencies and the elimination of malaria. 

Unicef’s investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD) led to a significant increase in ECD gross enrolment, reaching 42 per cent in 2013. The provincial government now aims to install one ECD centre per village.  

Based on the principle of “Building Back Better” Unicef constructed 345 earthquake resistant and child-friendly schools and helped train teachers in emergency preparedness. At national and sub-national level, Unicef supported the integration of DRR into existing curricula. 

Unicef also supported the installation of a Women’s and Children’s Desk at the police and the establishment of a child-friendly Juvenile Court that inspired a far reaching reform of Indonesia’s juvenile justice legislation. 


Notes for editors

For more information, please contact the Unicef UK press office on 020 7375 6030 or media@unicef.org.uk 

Stories from Indonesia

How the chaos post-tsunami helped Aceh become a child protection pioneer http://bit.ly/1x9w1WA

The long-term benefits of building back better http://bit.ly/1zw7O06

Surviving the tsunami, creating a better future http://bit.ly/1AGyt9q

The emergency volunteers who stayed to build a community http://bit.ly/1wDQp3s

Video and photos marking the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami are available for download here: http://uni.cf/13hsLxH or watch it on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST8Bu4pXUYI


Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.  As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk