Emergency on the Subcontinent

This article was written with assistance from Beth MacNairn and Lea Radick 

John Lancaster is a member of the Board of Handicap International’s U.S. national association and serves as the Treasurer of the newly formed Handicap International Federation. He recently served as the executive director of the National Council on Independent Living in Washington, D.C.  John was the executive director of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities under the Clinton administration. He spent four years in Vietnam working with the Government and National Assembly to develop laws to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. He and his wife, Christine, live in Potsdam, New York. 

On December 26, 2004, at 6:58 am, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck Indonesia off the west coast of northern Sumatra. The earthquake triggered a tsunami, which caused extensive damage in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, the Maldives, some parts of Malaysia, as well as Myanmar, the Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania. In total, 12 countries were affected by the disaster, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, with Indonesia and Sri Lanka suffering the highest casualties and the greatest devastation. In the Aceh province of Indonesia along the archipelago’s Indian Ocean coastline, an estimated 200,000 people died and 400,000 were left homeless, according to Handicap International.

The international humanitarian aid community quickly launched a massive and, at times, poorly coordinated emergency response to support the victims and help the most affected regions rebuild and recover. UNICEF’s 2008 Humanitarian Action Report highlighted the unprecedented challenges faced by the international humanitarian assistance community in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and the resulting lessons learned, such as the need for “greater predictability, accountability and leadership in humanitarian action.” A report completed in May 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly Economic and Social Council confirmed the coordination challenges faced by governments and humanitarian actors, but characterized the relief response as disjointed given that it was “not predicated on joint needs assessments by agencies, bilateral donors, and governments.”

Although a massive humanitarian crisis, such as the Indian

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