Asian tsunami – the road to recovery

With the anniversary of the devastating Boxing Day tsunami just behind us,
the media spotlight will inevitably move on to other issues in the coming weeks.
But away from the cameras, the work of aid agencies like CARE International
helping communities rebuild their lives and homes continues apace.

I started working for CARE last summer, auditing the funds it received from
the Disasters Emergency Committee for tsunami relief and reconstruction. I have
travelled to India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Somalia as part of my work to
ensure that CARE’s allocation from the unprecedented £370m raised by the UK
public through the DEC has been spent effectively.

My audit approach has been to request that CARE’s country offices send me a
spreadsheet listing the expenditure vouchers.

I then select those that I want to audit when I visit the country. The audits
are much more than just matching a list of expenditure to a pile of vouchers.
They also include checking that expenditure is in line with DEC appeal
objectives and that procedures like competitive tendering have been complied

Such visits are the most interesting part of the job, seeing villages where
houses, both temporary and permanent, have been or are being built, verifying
boats have been delivered, or visiting schools to see children wearing shoes
that CARE has provided.

Getting to the sites can be an adventure in itself. In Somalia, it involves a
full day of United Nations flights from Nairobi, followed by a day’s journey in
a four wheel drive over rough tracks to the coast. In all cases, the people are
extremely grateful for the help they have received from the UK public via CARE.
The village elders I met in Somalia feared they would have starved had it not
been for the food aid.

I spend most of my time working with aid professionals who are, quite
rightly, focused on ensuring that aid reaches the people in need and that their
rights are respected. My focus tends to be from the point of view of the UK
donor asking: ‘Is this what the donor intended his/her money should be spent

Interestingly, this is not always as clear-cut as it might seem. While the
public can see the need for food aid and housing, computers are also needed for
administrative purposes. Nomadic peoples in Somalia were not affected directly
by the tsunami but were hit by its economic impact – in order to avoid conflict
they too have to be helped.

The relief effort is not as straightforward as simply giving direct
assistance to people impacted by the tsunami. All sorts of factors come into
play, such as the need to avoid exacerbating existing or potential conflicts.
Also the need to improve infrastructure and to consider other people in the area
who have been indirectly affected by the tsunami.

My visits have also shown me just how much some people have had to bear. In
Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Somalia the tsunami came as a particularly cruel blow,
coming on top of years of conflict. In Sri Lanka, I visited an inland site where
CARE was constructing transitional housing.

The people there had originally lived in the locality, but were caught up in
the conflict and so moved to the coast in 1985 where they became fishermen.
Twenty years later they were struck by the tsunami and the survivors opted to
move back to their original lands.

A similarly cruel fate hit the island of Simeulue off the coast of Sumatra,
one of the areas closest to the earthquake which caused the tsunami. People
there knew the warning signs and fled to the hills. However, further horror
occurred three months later when another severe earthquake struck the island
itself. Some 1,300 people were killed.

These few examples show the complexity of the situation. Criticisms have been
voiced over the slow pace of building permanent housing. Yet it is important to
realise that the task is equivalent to rebuilding homes for the population of
Birmingham and Glasgow combined, often with the added challenges of land
allocation and procurement. More to the point, CARE wants to build homes that
people want to live in. This is why good quality transitional housing is

Recently I saw excellent examples of this in Sri Lanka (a step up from
temporary accommodation) where people can more comfortably spend the next one or
two years until permanent housing is completed.

Here, villagers had been paid to clear the land and then construct, under
supervision, the transitional housing. This gave them some income and somewhere
better to live. However, in Indonesia, I was shocked to see people still living
in tents. Particular challenges here have been land allocation and availability
of timber.

Contrary to some reports UK aid agencies take accountability extremely
seriously. All agencies under the umbrella of the DEC are responsible both to
that committee and to the Charity Commission. The DEC measures its effectiveness
by commissioning independent evaluations of how appeal money is being spent and
publishing accountability standards and a strategic framework.

This job has been one of the most interesting of my career. I’ve seen places
I would never otherwise have seen and at the same time I know that the work I am
doing is worthwhile.

Gordon Dow CA is the DEC funding auditor at CARE International UK.

CARE’s FTC Kaplan Three Peaks Challenge, a classic outdoor mountain
challenge exclusively for the accountancy and finance sector, aims to raise
£100,000 for CARE’s overseas work. To obtain a place in the 2006 event on 10-11
June go to

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