I thank the Chairman for scheduling this item on today's agenda because Ireland's unprecedented response to the tsunami and the report thereon warrant discussion at this forum. The contribution of the Government alone amounted to €20 million, the largest single contribution to a single crisis event. Many lessons, both positive and negative, have been learned by the international humanitarian community from its engagement in the tsunami relief effort and I hope the findings and recommendations in the report presented to members today will ensure that those lessons are constructively applied.
In my role as the Government's special envoy to the tsunami region, I visited the region on three occasions. I went to Sri Lanka and Indonesia in February 2005, Thailand and Sri Lanka in April 2005 and Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka in July 2005. I am most grateful to all who assisted me with my task, including the staff of Irish Aid, officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs serving in the region and the many Government Ministers and officials, United Nations representatives and national and international non-governmental organisations who gave so generously of their time to brief me on my visits.
The tsunami was a unique emergency for a number of reasons that are detailed in the report. It was a massive and sudden catastrophe which affected more than a dozen countries. In two of the worst affected locations there were pre-existing conflicts that had already displaced communities.
The death toll was massive in a matter of hours. It was initially estimated at 300,000 but thankfully has been reduced over time to 228,000. For the survivors, the trauma of what they witnessed in terms of the scale of the death and destruction is difficult to overstate. Whole families and whole villages simply disappeared. There was an unprecedented public and official response to this crisis owing to the scale of the destruction, the time of year, the media coverage and the fact that many victims, particularly in Thailand, were tourists from the United States and Europe.
It is estimated that at least €12 billion was raised in formal international assistance. Unofficial estimates of the cash and material support provided by local communities and unrecorded international donors could be as much as a further €3 billion.
In the wake of the tsunami there was an enormous influx of non-governmental organisations from around the world, most of them experienced, professional organisations but many newly formed groups moved to respond. In Aceh province in Indonesia there was only a handful of foreigners prior to the tsunami. This was because the province was under a state of emergency due to the conflict between the Free Aceh Movement, GAM, and Government of Indonesia forces. Within a matter of days a handful became 5,000 foreigners working with the 300 NGOs, the International Federation of the Red Cross and the United Nations. Given the huge resources at their disposal, the NGOs came to play a central role in the relief and recovery effort. While the process of recovery is largely state-led, NGOs, UN bodies, and multilateral banks are providing crucial support.
The worst affected countries were those defined by the United Nations human development index as being of medium human development. As such, when compared to countries with low human development ranking, such as Sudan or Somalia, they had the capacity to mount substantial relief operations themselves. The immediate emergency response was undertaken by local communities and local authorities, including the military, and was then augmented by the international community. The overall effect was successful. There were no disease outbreaks and no food shortages. No unnecessary deaths were recorded and as such the humanitarian objective of saving lives was achieved. By the time of my first visit, eight weeks after the tsunami, the emergency phase was, by and large, over.
The recovery phase has proven more challenging. Recovery processes are necessarily more complex and difficult to define and implement. This would be the case for any country — we only have to look at the example of New Orleans and hurricane Katrina. Here the complaints and frustrations of flood-affected communities mirror almost exactly those expressed in Aceh and in Sri Lanka. The past year, 2005, was a year of considerable learning for many organisations. Many had only limited previous experience of working in the disaster affected areas and in order to effectively engage in the more complex and participatory process of recovery they had to learn how local administrative, legal, financial and communication systems function and about local methods of working. Misconception and, on occasion, mistrust about the role and capacity of the many actors in the recovery process led to mistakes being made and inevitable delays. Delays were encountered because the scale of the destruction was enormous and local and international capacity limited. Delays still occur in Indonesia where the scarcity of legally sourced timber means that construction programmes are continually being stalled. Across the region, pressure on available human resources at national and international level continues to cause significant delays in the achievement of recovery objectives. In spite of this, major steps have been made over the course of the past year towards building local and international capacity to respond. The process of sustained recovery has gathered momentum.
The political situation in Sri Lanka is worrying. I had the privilege of meeting Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on two of my visits, the last occasion being July 2005. His assassination in August last year was shocking and a major blow to an already fragile peace process. There was an attempt to develop a joint management mechanism for the internationally allocated funds for the tsunami response in Sri Lanka. This would have included representatives from all communities affected by the tsunami, including those from Government and LTTE controlled areas, and the intention was to ensure equitable and needs-based distribution of the recovery funds. The establishment of this mechanism has been plagued by problems reflecting the political tensions in the country.
Also in Sri Lanka, there has been confusion about policy on the buffer zone, the area close to the seashore within which it is not permitted to rebuild. Yesterday protestors took to the streets in the mostly Muslim area of Ampara, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, expressing frustration at the failure of the Sri Lankan Government to thus far identify when and where some homes will be rebuilt. On the positive side, temporary housing has been provided for all the survivors in Sri Lanka. Three quarters of all families have regained their main source of livelihood, tourism earnings are climbing, and definite progress has been made towards the construction of 82,000 of the 98,000 permanent homes that need to be rebuilt.
This progress has been overshadowed by the state of the peace process. While an agreement on the resumption of talks has been reached, NGOs implementing programmes funded by the Irish Government are reporting cases where work is being hampered by the increasing conflict tensions in certain parts of the country.
Regarding conflict, the situation in Indonesia is more optimistic. In what many people feel has been a positive outcome of the tsunami, a peace agreement was signed in August and significant steps have been made towards implementing the terms of the agreement. Local elections are scheduled for April this year and while some commentators feel that this may be too soon in the peace process, there is a general feeling that peace, the fundamental foundation for recovery and development, remains on the horizon for Aceh.
Yesterday the official development assistance programme of the Irish Government changed its name from Development Cooperation Ireland to Irish Aid. My report notes many positive features of the response of Irish Aid. Some €19.9 million of the €20 million committed by the Government of Ireland was allocated by June 2005. There is continuing active engagement by technical staff in monitoring and evaluating this expenditure. The visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in January and my visits to the region have been very well received and the continuing engagement after the initial phase of the response is well regarded.
Irish Aid's programme of response is multi-faceted and includes partnerships with United Nations agencies, multi-donor trust funds, the Red Cross family and Irish and international NGOs. The response of Irish NGOs made an outstanding contribution in terms of funds raised and activities undertaken. The Irish NGOs raised €80 million, a hugely creditable response. For all involved, there were major co-ordination challenges and some inappropriate responses. However, as I noted, the humanitarian community has learned much over the course of 2005 and I am positive this knowledge will be usefully applied to the recovery process as it continues in 2006.
My report offers four principal conclusions. First, co-ordination is a constant theme in my report and other reports and remains a major challenge. The issue has become somewhat less problematic with the passage of time as many of the small, informal organisations which were present for the initial response have departed. It is, however, still a major concern for the tsunami and all humanitarian responses.
Second, with regard to the pace of the recovery effort, there have been failures of policy direction, for example, on the buffer zone. In addition, inappropriate responses have been made in terms of temporary shelter and some of the shelter provided in the immediate aftermath has had to be rebuilt. Staff turnover was high within many of the organisations which responded to the tsunami. Structures are now in place in Aceh and Sri Lanka to enable the pace of recovery to speed up and we expect faster progress in the coming year. We must, however, bear in mind the scale of the task. The number of permanent housing units required region-wide is estimated to be 308,000.
Third, with regard to land, issues of legal title, access, zoning and allocation of land have been among the most contentious and problematic for all parties to the relief and reconstruction effort. Fourth, with regard to conflict, the critical situation in Sri Lanka has potentially enormous implications for tsunami affected communities.
I offer 12 recommendations based on my experience of the response. Ireland should continue to acknowledge and support the special role of the UN co-ordination function in all future emergencies. The Government should engage the public, media and formal humanitarian community in an effort to work towards much greater co-ordination for future crises. It is imperative that the proposed charities legislation be enacted without delay to reassure donors and protect reputable NGOs. There is limited scope for engagement by the Army, particularly in countries which have well developed institutional frameworks. The findings of the independent audit of Ireland's civil protection assets will be very useful in crafting future policy on the use of these assets in emergency response overseas. Ireland should continue to support multilateral and NGO partners to improve their own emergency response mechanisms and capacities. It should develop a register of people with skills which could be applied in a humanitarian emergency.
The comprehensive strategy for response adopted by Development Cooperation Ireland, now known as Irish Aid, is recommended as a model for future responses. Ireland should seek to support and engage with multi-donor trust funds in future emergencies. It should continue to explore options via diplomatic and programmatic channels through which it can contribute towards the resolution of conflict and land issues. Disaster risk reduction measures, in particular those which build upon the inherent capacities of communities at risk, should be addressed in an holistic way throughout the entire development co-operation programme. Sufficient resources have been committed by the Government for the recovery process and in the event that major humanitarian needs arise, these can be considered within the usual response framework. I recommend that Ireland remain engaged with the monitoring and evaluation of the recovery effort.
I am pleased to report that progress is already being made as regards the implementation of several of these recommendations. For example, work is ongoing in the Department to develop the proposed rapid response register. Previous registers and those operated by other countries are being examined with a view to informing how best the new Irish initiative can function. To facilitate the effective functioning of the register discussions are ongoing with potential partners for this initiative, including the United Nations joint logistics centre and UNICEF.
On the issue of the holistic approach to disaster management, tangible progress is being made. A series of background papers have been drawn up and disseminated among staff of the Irish Aid programme. These have specifically examined the issue of linking relief and development — a necessary precursor to effective and coherent disaster risk reduction. The issue has been included in the agenda for several country strategy planning sessions and a day long high level workshop is scheduled for tomorrow, 1 March, to facilitate further discussion as to how best this approach can be incorporated into Irish Aid's programme.
On the issue of humanitarian co-ordination, Ireland has provided consistent support for this key role of the UN. Most recently, €1.25 million was allocated to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs for its programmes in Sudan, the Great Lakes Region and Chad. Furthermore, Ireland has actively promoted the revision and upgrading of the UN central emergency response fund which is administered by the Office of the Emergency Co-ordinator. Ireland's support for this initiative was expressed through the commissioning of an independent study to facilitate the reform of the structure and followed by the pledge of €10 million in funding support. This pledge was made in advance of the official launch of the fund to act as an indication of Ireland's support and to help mobilise other contributions from the donor community. Further concrete progress has been reported to me as regards other recommendations in the report.
I repeat my thanks to the Chairman and extend our appreciation to all present for taking the time to attend and to engage in discussions. I look forward to hearing comments and to exchange views which may arise.