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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March 2005, 23:11 GMT
Tsunami aid 'building better futures'
By Stephen Robb
BBC News

Residents settle into new homes in Tangalle, Sri Lanka, built with funding and support from Oxfam (Tori Ray/Oxfam)
Local people have helped design their own new homes
The British public's 350m of pledges to the Asian tsunami appeal has helped ensure that, just three months after the disaster, emergency aid work is now giving way to the beginnings of long-term reconstruction.

"It's now less about saving lives and more about rebuilding them," said Brendan Cox, spokesman for Oxfam GB.

Oxfam is one of 12 charities in the Disasters Emergency Committee, which coordinated the tsunami appeal in the UK.

"When we asked the British public to respond and respond generously, they did exactly that," said Mr Cox, who has spent a month visiting projects funded by that generosity in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Jan Egeland
Put your questions on tsunami aid to the UN's Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Jan Egeland.

"Three months will mark the end of the emergency stage - which is providing clean drinking water, sanitation, basic shelter, food and medicine - and the transition into the beginning of the recovery stage," he said.

"To have been able to respond in that way, and respond so quickly, is testament not only to the contribution of the international community, but also the amazing effort by the locals who have worked and are still working incredibly hard to rebuild their communities."

Cash for work

Oxfam's belief in the importance of involving local people at every stage of the aid effort is highlighted by its "cash for work" programme.

A lot of these communities lived in quite serious poverty before the tsunami, so what we are hoping to do when we rebuild is produce something better
Oxfam spokesman Brendan Cox

The charity has paid thousands of people in the tsunami-hit countries for work including clearing debris, repairing roads, rebuilding boats, and even collecting and burying bodies.

"You get people involved, they get some empowerment - people are incredibly proud they are taking part - but also it provides money to people and that in turn stimulates the local economy," Mr Cox said.

He said community input was particularly vital to ensure rebuilding work actually met people's needs.

Mr Cox recently visited the village of Tangalle in Sri Lanka, where Oxfam engineers had consulted residents on the design of around 40 semi-permanent homes.

A man paid by Oxfam to repair fishermen's boats near Trincomalee, Sri Lanka (Tori Ray/Oxfam)
'Cash for work' pays locals to help restore homes and livelihoods
The villagers had highlighted various requirements, including the siting of the kitchen outside because of the heat, of which aid workers might not have been aware.

"What the community said was: 'Only when we have houses and somewhere to live can we make decisions or can we even think about the future'," said Mr Cox.

"The design had been their idea. It was really inspiring - them taking control, them making decisions, them being very proud about being able to do that after the tsunami had hit."


Meanwhile, villagers in the southern Indian state of Kerala stressed the need for homes to be able to withstand monsoons and high winds, prompting the use of more corrugated metal.

"If you don't use the local knowledge, you make major mistakes and that means you end up wasting aid money," Mr Cox said.

A man learning how to build a new home for his family in Tangalle, Sri Lanka (Tori Ray/Oxfam)
People have been proud to join the reconstruction effort
Oxfam projects have also included helping fishermen rebuild boats and farmers clear fields and ready them for planting again after their pollution with salt water.

"It's very important to make sure these people can get their livelihoods back up and running, and don't become dependent, waiting for aid handouts."

Mr Cox added: "A lot of these communities lived in quite serious poverty before the tsunami hit, so what we are hoping to do when we rebuild is produce something better.

"We are hoping to improve livelihoods and basic things like housing, so these people are more able to make their way out of poverty."

Poverty fight

Oxfam is also hoping to channel the public reaction to the tsunami into its ongoing fight against poverty worldwide.

Mr Cox said: "People's amazing generosity and people's commitment and people's resolve was the result of hundreds of thousands of lives lost in an event that could not be prevented.

"But the estimate is that the equivalent of a tsunami is taken every week just from basic poverty, so it's trying to engage people in that bigger struggle.

"With poverty, we can actually prevent these needless losses."

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