The Asian Tsunami

The Asian Tsunami

Aid and Reconstruction after a Disaster

ADBI series on Asian Economic Integration and Cooperation

Sisira Jayasuriya and Peter McCawley

The 2004 Asian tsunami was the greatest natural disaster in recent times. Almost 230 000 people died. In response, governments in Asia and the broader international community announced large aid programs. The resulting assistance effort was one of the largest humanitarian programs ever organized in the developing world. This book discusses the lessons of the aid effort for disaster protection policy in developing countries.

Chapter 1: The tsunami

Sisira Jayasuriya and Peter McCawley

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, environment, disasters, politics and public policy, international politics


Early in the morning of Sunday 26 December 2004, Boxing Day, just before 8 am local time, an earthquake rumbled in the deep in the sea off the coast of Northwest Sumatra. Immense geological pressures triggered the earthquake. The Indian Ocean tectonic plate moved abruptly against the Eurasian plate causing a 100 foot bulge on the seabed along a plate more than 600 miles long. The sea bed rose by up to 5 metres in places, displacing a phenomenal volume of water. A series of smaller aftershocks followed.1 The main earthquake prompted immediate warnings in geological centres around the world. The energy of the earthquake generated giant waves travelling at speeds of up to 1000 km per hour across the Indian Ocean over a giant area. But there was very little time for countries in the region to act. In any case, rapid-response warning systems in most poor countries across Asia were non-existent or ineffective. There was, in fact, very little that could be done. In the largest nearby provincial town in Indonesia, Banda Aceh at the tip of North Sumatra around 300 km from the epicentre of the main quake, thousands of people rushed into the streets. Buildings and houses across the town rocked. Much local damage was caused by the earthquake. But worse, far worse, was to come. As teams of people in Banda Aceh began to organize immediate assistance after the quake, giant shockwaves from the deep sea earthquake were spreading outwards from the epicentre. In the...

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