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Rebuilding Tsunami-Torn South Asia

Almost one year after the tsunami, kids attend temporary
schools while countries wait for building supplies.


By Rachel Laskow

It's been more than seven months since a devastating tsunami struck 11 countries in South Asia. Although the countries are slowly returning to normal, the recovery effort is far from over. In fact, the most difficult work is yet to come. And in some of the hardest-hit places, a full recovery could be 10 years away.

"It takes years for any place, in a country rich or poor, to rebuild from a disaster, but the tsunami affected so many people in so many places," Dan Shepard, communications officer for the United Nations Development Program, told Scholastic News Online.

For now, the main task is to decide what needs to be fixed first. Housing, health, schools, and water are just some of the countries' top priorities.

"Now it's to the point when we start working with communities more and trying to really understand what it is going to take to get these people back on their feet," said Jennifer Poidatz, who works for an aid agency in Sri Lanka, one of the countries the hardest-hit countries.

In Aceh, Indonesia, kids are taking their first steps to a new life by going back to school. UNICEF and the Indonesian government are working hard to build temporary schools in the most damaged areas of Aceh and North Sumatra. The tsunami severely damaged or destroyed around 1,500 schools in this area alone.

"The tsunami may have swept away their past, but it should not be allowed to destroy their future," said UNICEF's representative in Indonesia, Gianfranco Rotigliano. "What we all do now will have a profound influence on the lives of these children."

A Few Bumps on the Road to Recovery

Some parts of the recovery effort are making progress, but there are still obstacles and challenges slowing down the process.

"Before you can rebuild a home, the government has to figure out who owns the land and many land records were destroyed. So this takes time. And proper planning takes time-people have different ideas on how to rebuild, and that takes time to resolve. And getting the right materials to the regions takes time. And it takes a lot of time for governments to do what they have to do," Shepard said.

Although natural disasters can't be prevented, precautions can be taken. An early warning is an important step, but it's going to take more than that.

"We have learned that we can build in a way that makes people less vulnerable to storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Being prepared means proper planning and this has to become part of the rebuilding process," Shepard said.

In the meantime, the United Nations is working hard to not only rebuild the countries, but also to improve them.

"The idea isn't just to rebuild what was there, but to rebuild in a way that will make things better than before, so the survivors of the tsunami have more opportunities to lead better lives than they had before," Shepard said.

For more information about the tsunami, visit Scholastic News Online's Special Report After the Tsunami.