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Volume 32, Issue 1

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 Reconstruction in countries affected by the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami is expected to take years as areas recover from one of the deadliest and most damaging disasters ever. As of late February, the need for relief efforts in most countries was slowing and the rebuilding phase was becoming a priority.

The tsunami, which affected 11 countries along the Indian Ocean, killed as many as 178,000 people. Combined with estimates of 26,000 to 142,000 missing in the region, more than 250,000 people may have perished in the disaster.

The tsunami recovery is expected to cost between 10 and 12 billion dollars and take three to five years, said United Nation Assistant Secretary General Hafiz Pasha on Feb. 16. She estimated the recovery process would cost up to 10 times more than the initial relief efforts.

“We are beginning to make a transition from the relief to the early recovery stage which will focus on the physical infrastructure – clearing the rubble and helping people to re-establish their livelihoods,” said Pasha in the speech, which was reported by the Associated Press. 

 According to reported U.N. figures, the international community has already pledged $5.5 billion, with additional donations pledged from private entities.

One of the hardest hit areas, Indonesia, has given early damage estimates of about $4.4 billion. In Sri Lanka, preliminary estimates were set at around $900 million, while the Maldives suffered up to $510 million in damages. In India, preliminary government estimates put the tsunami damage at $1.5 billion.

The totals do not take into account potential loss to the tourism or fishing industries; both of which were severely affected.

Relief Effort Aided by Volunteers, World Organizations

More than 50 international organizations and more than 8,000 volunteers were a part of the initial relief operation which began just hours after the early morning tsunami struck. Additionally, military personnel from the United States and other countries were sent to help the devastated areas.

 Dr. Thomas Phelan, president of Strategic Teaching Associates, Inc, visited the tsunami stricken areas as part of a vendor-sponsored crisis response team. Phelan arrived Jan. 1 and remained in the area for 17 days. He spent the first day and a half in India; the remaining days he was based in Sri Lanka.

Phelan has participated in past humanitarian efforts in the United States, but this was his first international experience. He worked in conjunction with the crisis response team and its members doing a variety of tasks to get the relief effort underway.

Phelan described the devastation and destruction as “phenomenal in every village.” In Sri Lanka, he noted the total annihilation along the coastline.

“There were so many temporary shelters on the beach, built by fishermen and squatters, that were just totally destroyed,” he said. “It looked like a landfill where the debris had been pushed by a bulldozer.”

According to Phelan, some 550,000 Sri Lankans were displaced from their homes. Camps were set up for temporary housing. At one point, there were more than 800 camps. One of the first tasks Phelan and the team tackled was collecting data from the camps to help in identification and obtaining appropriate aid. To do this, a special software database was created and Phelan trained others to help with the data collection and entry.

With the use of donated PCs and freshly trained students from a local university, the data was compiled into a database to help track requests, donations, people, camps and volunteer organizations.

Despite media reports of insufficient coordination and slow delivery of donations, relief operations have been labeled a success by many officials involved.

“I think the relief operation has been fairly well-coordinated,” said Dr. Pasha. “We’ve had a large number of agencies involved – military assets, governments, United Nations agencies, and NGOs, but it has been well coordinated as you can see from the speed of the process.”

Phelan agreed with the assessment, saying the efforts he witnessed were incredible.
“The supply chain was a well oiled machine,” he said. “I saw volunteers from DHL, FedEx and UPS working together to get supplies into the needed areas. That’s just one example of how people worked together in this tragedy.”

Pasha said one positive note in the relief efforts was that most of the affected areas had strong national governments that weren’t destroyed by the tsunami.

Phelan had a similar assessment about the area in which he was stationed.
“A significant factor in the relief and recovery effort was that the capitol of Sri Lanka was not affected. The government remained intact,” he said.

Phelan was based in Columbo and met with government officials several times about the data collection, compilation and other issues.

He noted that relief efforts were hindered by damage to transportation modes. Two ports were damaged, leaving only the one in Colombo operational. The railroad system was virtually unusable as tracks were blocked or washed away in many areas. Most supplies were delivered via truck, though some roads were hazardous. The airport, located in Colombo, received no damage from the tsunami, allowing relief missions via air to occur without obstruction.

 Fishing Industry Shows Significant Losses

According to a Bloomberg report, the tsunami disaster “devastated” the fishing industry in the region, destroying docks, boats and ice plants.“The damage caused by the recent tsunami in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors of the affected countries is worse and more complex than expected,” Jeremy Turner, chief of the fishery technology service at the United Nation’s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said in a January statement reported by Bloomberg. The FAO has reported the tsunami destroyed or damaged more than 111,000 fishing vessels in the region. This represents a significant loss for a region where fishing provides an important food source.

In total, some $520 million in damage is estimated. This includes damage to fishing entities in Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and Maldives. To make matters worse fish prices have fallen sharply in the region since the tsunami, both because of a lack of tourists and a fear among consumers that fish have feasted on corpses.

The FAO has plans to help restore the fishing industry infrastructure. No estimate of the costs for the rebuilding efforts has been released.

Tsunami Called ‘Worst-Ever Tourism Catastrophe

The top U.N. tourism official has called the tsunami “the greatest catastrophe ever recorded in the history of world tourism,” reported USA Today. The remark was made by U.N. World Tourism Organization Chief Francesco Frangialli in January during a special tourism conference in Thailand.

In Thailand there was an estimated 27 percent drop in tourism travelers during January. In the Maldives, where some two-thirds of all employment is based on tourism, hotel occupancy dipped below 50 percent during the first month following the tsunami. Sri Lanka lost about 2,000 hotel rooms to damage, but some 70 percent of the tourism industry remains intact.

Normally 50 million tourists visit the Southeast Asian area each year. Experts are predicting it could take more than a year to return to the pre-tsunami totals.
Officials are hoping to instill confidence in travelers by promoting the rebuilding efforts in the area, finalizing a regional marketing plan, and highlighting moves by Indian Ocean countries to set up a regional early-warning system.

According to a Feb. 1 report in USA Today, the United Nations is developing an interim early-warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean that could go into operation almost immediately, until a full-fledged network can be put into place. It would be “a first step to prevent a repeat of the horrendous toll”, the U.N. said in the report.

CNN.com reported in February that Japan and the United States will begin providing tsunami warnings to countries around the Indian Ocean as early as March as a preliminary measure. Under the plan, Japan’s Meteorological Agency and the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center will distribute the alerts after analyzing quakes in the region.

Indian Ocean countries plan to have their own warning system by mid-2006, according to the CNN report.

Tsunami Recovery Offers Lessons for Continuity Planners

Though a tsunami is not a risk most organizations face, continuity planners should still take note of the destruction and recovery efforts that are being undertaken, said Phelan. Beyond the humanitarian interest, the tsunami offers valuable lessons that should be studied – no matter where your office is located.

“If an organization has offices or suppliers in other parts of the world – take heed. These areas may not be nearly as prepared as your office and your mainframe,” he said.
Foreign cultures and politics play a role in the recovery efforts. Continuity planners need to be aware of the environments surrounding their foreign offices or suppliers.

The training and preparedness roles in other areas may be different or less stringent than the home office. Though a company can control security and contingency measures in their own foreign offices, planners can do little about outside forces such as law enforcement, emergency responders or medical personnel.

“They don’t always follow the same rigorous training or have the same regulations that we are used to,” he explained.

Continuity planners also need to consider risks involved when their personnel travel to foreign countries.

“Be aware of the customs and cultures,” said Phelan. “You need to be aware of the risks in that area. What are the vulnerabilities?”

As the recovery phase continues in the affected areas, the tsunami disaster will provide more lessons for continuity planners worldwide.

“With globalization, we are all affected by disasters of this magnitude,” said Phelan.


Janette Ballman, the senior editor of the Disaster Recovery Journal, has written numerous articles covering business continuity and disaster recovery topics. Ballman holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines and other medium.