JAKARTA, Indonesia – One month after an epochal tsunami hit South Asia on Dec. 26, the basic needs of food and shelter for the survivors are largely being met, according to international aid agencies.
But more than 1 million throughout the region have lost their means of earning a living, from farmers and fishermen to tourist-resort diving instructors.
The number of dead is certain to be many thousands more than the current tabulation of more than 150,000. Tens of thousands are still unaccounted for a month later, and most are presumed dead. Official counts won’t be completed for a year.
Having saved lives, governments and aid agencies face the monumental task of rebuilding them.
“It is enormous,” Bo Asplund, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Indonesia, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from the devastated city of Banda Aceh. “It’s going to take time.”
Throughout the region, the massive relief effort has begun to shift from providing food and temporary shelter toward longer-term reconstruction.
“We’re beginning to worry about issues like getting kids back to school and providing livelihoods to people, so we’re on the path to recovery quite clearly,” Asplund said.
The primary concerns are twofold: housing and jobs.
The United Nations’ International Labor Office estimates that the tsunami wiped out jobs for 600,000 people in Indonesia and more than 400,000 in Sri Lanka, the second hardest-hit country.
Another 100,000 are thought to be out of work in Thailand, according to U.N. officials in that country.
The unemployment rate in the affected provinces of Indonesia has reached 30 percent or higher, the International Labor Office estimated, with most of the job losses in fishing, small-scale and plantation farming, and small business.
The tsunami destroyed fishing boats and nets or washed them out to sea, and wiped out acres of farmland, leaving behind such high concentrations of sea salt in some places that many crops won’t grow until the salt somehow is washed out.
In Sri Lanka, where the losses were largely in fishing and tourism, the unemployment rate in the affected provinces probably tops 20 percent, the International Labor Office said.