Ten years ago today, the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami was triggered by a massive 9.0 magnitude underwater earthquake. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.
From Indonesia to parts of East Africa, a series of catastrophic tsunamis that tore across the Indian Ocean killed over 270,000 people and millions were left terrified and homeless. The destruction was unlike anything people had ever seen.
Today, we pause to remember those who lost their lives ten years ago. And we're reflecting on the incredible outpouring of generosity from people all over the world to help survivors in their greatest time of need. Because of compassionate supporters like you, people in some of the hardest-hit areas were able to survive those first days and communities built back stronger in the years that followed. See photos from our emergency response below.
The coastal village of Meulaboh in Indonesia was destroyed by the tsunami. Mercy Corps was one of the first organizations to respond there. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
Within hours, we mobilized our largest emergency response to date, sending dozens of staff to tsunami-devastated areas with lifesaving relief and supplies. Mercy Corps was one of the first humanitarian organizations to arrive in remote areas of India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia’s Aceh province, a war-torn coastal region near the epicenter of the deadly earthquake.
We rushed emergency food rations, temporary shelter supplies and blankets to help more than half a million people survive immediately after the disaster.
A group of men in Banda Aceh, Indonesia receive tools to help in the rebuilding efforts. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
Building supplies helped people construct temporary shelters for their families. We also quickly began building and repairing latrines, bringing in water trucks and reconstructing wells, and repairing essential health clinics to ensure that survivors stayed healthy in even desperate conditions.
Fisherman try to push a washed-up boat back into the water after the storm. Photo: Cate Gillon for Mercy Corps
In Indonesia, where the storm hit hardest, we helped more than 423,000 people in 64 villages earn daily wages to repair public facilities. Local workers cleared and constructed hundreds of miles of roads and cleared debris from more than 32,000 acres of public land. This work helped revive the local economy and gave individuals a way to earn income to restore their own livelihoods.
A Mercy Corps staff member from Indonesia observes one of the first rice harvests after the tsunami. Photo: Shirine Bakhat-Pont/Mercy Corps
We also distributed seeds, tools and fertilizer to help farmers earn income after their fields were washed away. More than 1,000 farmers were able to replant and harvest their rice fields.
Mothers hold onto their children at a refugee camp in Sri Lanka. Photo: Dwayne Newton for Mercy Corps
Our teams in India, Sri Lanka and Somalia responded to urgent relief and recovery needs in similar ways: providing emergency relief supplies, hiring locals to rebuild roads and public spaces, and helping people restart their farms and small businesses.
With an eye on the future across the tsunami-struck region, we also paid workers to repair ruined classrooms and provided supplies, uniforms and tuition to help 30,000 children return to school as quickly as possible.
Over the course of our tsunami response, Mercy Corps provided assistance to more than 1 million survivors of the disaster. More than 250 of our field team members and hundreds of local partner staff in the region contributed to this massive effort.
It's been a decade since the Indian Ocean tsunami, but the work that supporters like you made possible has not been forgotten.
“Much of the disaster response work Mercy Corps is now doing has been informed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. We learned so many lessons at the time – lessons which are now incorporated into our program design to help ensure that a disaster of that magnitude does not claim that many lives again,” said Indonesia Country Director Paul Jeffrey.
Mercy Corps in Indonesia today
Our work in Indonesia continues today, to make sure communities are more prepared for future disasters and have the resources they need to recover more quickly. We've worked with the government and local businesses to create earthquake and tsunami education programs, early warning systems and tsunami evacuation maps, as well as establishing shelters that are adapted to better withstand a disaster.
Outside of emergencies, we're focused on improving health in areas where disease and malnutrition are a chronic threat, helping communities increase access to water and sanitation, and working with new mothers to ensure proper infant care. We are also partnering with local people to create new economic opportunities and more inclusive businesses and social enterprises that bring greater prosperity and security to people throughout this region for years to come.
You can continue to make a difference by:
Most days are the same for women in rural Niger. The work appears never-ending.
Santou’s life is no different.
She wakes up and prays.
Sweeps the house and courtyard.
Washes the children and their clothes.
Makes millet porridge for them, including Zouberou, 8.
Fetches water and tends the garden.
Pounds more millet.
Makes more porridge.
Fetches more water.
The idea of rest puts a smile on her face, but those stolen moments of calm are rare.
“If you aren’t suffering, you will see that you are happy. Like if you don’t have anything to pound and you can come sit down, or if you have already prepared the porridge and you can come sit down,” Santou explains.
Her taxing daily routine highlights the challenges of life in the Sahel, a semi-arid region that stretches below the Sahara Desert.
Like Santou, most people here depend on subsistence farming, mainly growing the staple grain millet. But increasingly frequent droughts are drying up the land, making every day a struggle to meet the most basic needs.
Even more than rest, Santou dreams of food.
“Health is the only thing that you are praying for God to bring you. I want to know there will be enough food for the year,” she says. “If you can get that, you’re going to laugh and be happy.”
Finding enough food always seems to be precarious. But Santou is a determined woman — obstacles have only made her work harder to find ways around them, to make life move forward.
When the millet harvests started getting smaller, she planted a garden with tomatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce. She added to her family’s diet, and when it grew well, she sold the extra to buy more grain.
Then another enemy appeared —not drought, but bugs.
“A pest came and ruined my tomatoes. You work hard watering the plants until they should bear fruit, and then something comes along to ruin everything. We needed a new kind of work to do, to not rely on only the tomatoes and the plants.”
So she saved little by little and bought a goat. Santou knew that the animal could be the start of a different life, providing milk even during the dry seasons — enough to keep her children fed and to make money by selling yogurt and cheese.
What could happen next? A flood.
It’s the bitter irony in a land wracked by drought — the ground is so dry and poorly managed that when the rains finally do come, the ground can’t absorb it and the water has nowhere to go.
“If the water comes up, it carries everything with it. People tried to stop it until they tired. There was nothing anyone could do,” Santou remembers. “Even the houses over there, the water took them.” Her goat was lost.
And Santou was lost, too — for once, she wasn’t sure what to do next. All of her savings were invested in her goat. How would she start over without any money?
That’s where Mercy Corps came in — after hearing about the flood, our team visited Santou’s village and assessed the damage. They helped families repair their homes, they taught people to prepare the land before the rainy season so prevent another flood, and they brought Santou and many other women new goats.
“If Mercy Corps hadn’t come after I worked so hard to get that one goat, I don’t know what I would have done,” she says. Read our original story about Santou from 2012
“I’ve had these goats for almost three years now," she adds. "My goats are healthy. We are thankful.”
Caring for her goats isn’t necessarily less work — every morning, Santou walks for nearly an hour taking them into the bush to graze, and then has to round them up again at the end of the day.
But she is resting easier knowing that she has a sustainable and growing source of food and income — in fact, she’s already turned the pair of goats into a herd of five.
If the worst happens, like a desperate food shortage, these goats are a safety net: “Now if I don’t have enough to feed my children, I can sell one of my goats to buy food for them,” Santou explains.
She’s looking beyond the obstacles now — to a future where she can cope with whatever comes her way, to care for her daughter and grandson, Massaoudou, and her five other children.
“If these goats keep reproducing, then I will have enough food for many years,” she says. “If you have what you need, then you can smile.”
Hear from Santou herself in this short video.
You can help another woman like Santou lift herself out of poverty.
Give the gift of hope. Your generous gift helps women and families like Santou's become less vulnerable and helps improve their health and access to nutritious food. Thank you!
Just over a year ago, Typhoon Haiyan, swept across the Philippines leaving chaos and destruction in its path. More than 6,000 people lost their lives and 4.1 million people were uprooted from their homes.When you learned about how this storm had impacted communities and families, you donated to support emergency response relief and recovery efforts - Thank you! Your generosity has made a real impact on the lives of Filipino families.In the first weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, Mercy Corps coordinated with with partners and provided food, water and emergency supplies such as blankets, soap, and shelter materials to more than 18,000 people. Mercy Corps' emergency response focused on communities that had received little or no aid and those living in remote areas. In addition, Mercy Corps established two child-safe spaces to help children process fear and trauma. In addition, with your support the organization worked with partners to improve water and sanitation services for 5,000 people living on remote islands – building toilets and hand-washing facilities in schools, repairing community wells and providing water filters.
Mercy Corps knows that even as emergency response teams were helping survivors meet their immediate needs, they must also begin the work of longer-term recovery and rebuilding. It became clear that survivors had an accute need for money so early 2014 Mercy Corps launched an emergency cash assistance program. The assistance provided families the resources to begin their own recovery process, depending on their needs and priorities – to buy food, repair their homes, and restart their businesses.
One of the first individuals to sign up for the cash assistance program was Florida Go, pictured below. Florida and her husband Realino Go were lucky to emerge from the devastating storm alive, but like millions of others, found their world destroyed. Their only source of income — the humble candymaking business they ran out of their kitchen — was wiped away. With cash assistance they were able to get their business back up and running. Watch their inspiring story here.
In partnership with BanKO, a microfinance bank in the Philippines, recovery teams made electronic cash transfers through mobile phones to 25,500 families, like the Gos. For many families, the mobile accounts are the first formal bank accounts they have ever had access to, and the accounts allow them to store, spend and save their money. Many recipients have used the funds to rebuild after the storm and some families have managed to accrue some savings, a small but important safety net for future crises.
Thank you again for bringing help and hope to Typhoon Haiyan survivors!