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Three years after the Boxing Day tsunami, lives continue to change

Thursday December 20, 2007

Three years on from the most devastating natural disaster to hit the Asia Pacific region in living memory, lives are still changing but this time for the better says Robert Tickner, CEO, Australian Red Cross

'Over the last three years Australian Red Cross has assisted tens of thousands of tsunami survivors and given hundreds of thousands of people access to improved community infrastructure in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives' said Mr Tickner.

The impact of the tsunami was immense, with the equivalent of 120 average Australian suburbs obliterated. More than 230,000 lives were lost, millions injured and left homeless, and houses, businesses, roads and infrastructure washed away.

'The tsunami operation is the largest relief and recovery operation in modern history' continued Mr Tickner.

'Australian Red Cross is spending more than $126 million on about 40 tsunami projects in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives and has already sent more than 150 aid workers to affected areas.'

After three years Red Cross has built or is in the process of building around 2,200 houses and will have completed around 3,600 houses by the end of 2008.

But the Tsunami Operation is about much more than replacing damaged houses.

More than 125,000 people in tsunami-affected communities can now access clean water and/or better sanitation as a result of our programs.

Right now on Simeulue Island, Red Cross is finishing off about 600 new latrines, constructed with locally made bricks, ceramic tiles for aesthetic appeal, and a carved-out window to let in the light. Another 700 will be completed by mid 2008.

We are also helping thousands of people get on with their lives.

People like Mr Priyadasa, a Sri Lankan tsunami survivor who was a fisherman and lived on the coast before that devastating day in 2004.

Sitting on the verandah of his new house two kilometres from the ocean, facing a tropical garden where plants in many shades of green fight to grow on top of each other, it is hard to imagine the barren land that Mr Piyadasa inherited when he moved into his new house in the south of the island.

When Red Cross built a new water system in Seenimodera village earlier this year, the Piyadasa family had water available right at their house and the garden bloomed. Theirs was such a success that now a number of families in the village are growing their own gardens.

With the new system up and running, Mr Piyadasa has even changed his line of work. Instead of fishing, he's now employed by the community based organisation, reading water metres and distributing bills. He also runs a small shop at the front of his house, selling food and home supplies to his neighbours.

It's another example of how the tsunami and subsequent recovery has changed peoples' lives in ways they would never have expected.