Reflections on responding to the 2004 Tsunami in Somalia

Published December 22, 2014 by Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy

Bender Beyla coastal town in Somalia hard hit by 2004 tsunamiBender Beyla coastal town in Somalia hard hit by 2004 tsunami

This holiday season, as many of us gather with family and friends, our joy of the season will be tempered by remembering the tenth anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters of all time.

On the 26th of December, 2004, a massive Indian Ocean earthquake caused a tsunami that took the lives of over 260,000, with the greatest damage in Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. While the greatest loss of life was suffered in Southeast Asia, East Africa was not unaffected.

The Indian Ocean tsunami left thousands displaced, hundreds of lives lost, and property destroyed across the coast of East Africa.  The death toll in Somalia stood at 298 with more than 50,000 people displaced, and crippled the coastal infrastructure and economy. Despite the loss of life and other devastation, international media coverage was minuscule on the tsunami’s impact on Somalia compared to that of Southeast Asia.

Adeso, then operating under the name Horn Relief, was already working within many of the affected communities. Our team members immediately recognized that the tsunami, coupled with other factors, threatened to cripple the already impoverished and war-torn country. Successive years of famine, political instability, and lack of basic infrastructure were some of the factors that escalated the vulnerability of the communities. Bendar Beyla, a Somali coastal fishing village, was among the worst-affected areas. The tsunami flattened the coastal fishing infrastructure, destroying boats, piers, and roads, and the community’s livelihood came to a standstill. The tsunami also destroyed the coastal environment, including coral and mangrove habitats which supported the fisheries.

In partnership with the American NGO Mercy Corps, Adeso immediately intervened by setting up a project offering humanitarian assistance in Bendar Beyla and other affected communities. The project’s goal was to prevent further deterioration of the food security conditions and to promote the recovery of fishing and pastoral communities by injecting cash in the economy and improving longer-term market access. In addition, the project sort to reverse the damage to the coastal environment caused by the tsunami.

Among the positive outcomes of Adeso’s intervention was the assistance given to 900 beneficiaries who were paid to repair and rehabilitate the road, piers, and other infrastructure. This not only provided a cash buffer to aid the recipients but also provided them with an opportunity to participate in the restoration of their environment. Through this, Bendar Beyla’s 50 km main access road was completed, reconnecting the community to key markets and distribution centers throughout Somalia.

Adeso partnered with WAWAEN (We Are Women Activists Emergency Network), to ensure that women in the community could participate fully in the project.  The women worked as on-site laborers and through this process, Adeso registered households and distributed cash jointly to a male and a female member of each target household.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the tsunami, Adeso remembers the affected families as well as those whose lives were lost. The comfort we found was in offering significant assistance through our partners to the victims who survived the tsunami, as well as in our contribution restoring the land and coastal environment.