Exactly six months after the Boxing Day tsunami pounded 13 countries around the Indian Ocean, leaving nearly a quarter of a million people dead or missing, few of the damaged waterfront communities are back to normal.
In spite of the $6bn (£3.3bn) aid pledged by donor governments for recovery and rebuilding, and $5bn more in private donations, experts predict that it will take up to a decade to repair such widespread destruction.
As a Muslim prayer service was held yesterday in Aceh and British forensic scientists and police held a memorial ceremony at the Thai resort of Phuket, Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, said: "It took between five and 10 seconds to destroy thousands of communities; five to 10 seconds to wipe away 225,000 people. It will take five to 10 years to rebuild all that was lost. We are in for a very long haul."
Former US president Bill Clinton, appointed by the UN to raise funds for tsunami victims, underlined the need for a "gargantuan reconstruction effort". The UN's World Food Programme feeds more than 700,000 people daily, and it will take time before they can sustain themselves from their saltwater-burned fields. Thousands of distressed families still need counselling.
Government aid which was pledged to tsunami victims in an outpouring of sympathy following this century's worst humanitarian disaster has not all materialised. According to ActionAid, both Japan and Britain have met virtually all of their initial commitments, but the US and the European Union have delivered barely a third of their promised funds. Australia has come up with just 7 per cent of the money it committed to tsunami relief and reconstruction efforts.
Administrative difficulties have stalled rebuilding, in a region known for corruption and land seizures, because so many displaced people lost their identity documents and property records in the sea. The poor and marginalised still languish in flimsy tents and barracks, while the wealthy have moved quickly to obtain official compensation.
Months after troops from 40 countries organised emergency food, water and shelter for traumatised survivors around the Indian Ocean, progress has slowed and many victims still live in despair. Widows or lone women are particularly vulnerable to abuse in crowded refugee camps, and an estimated one million people have lost their livelihoods.
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