Caritas organisations from India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand joined confederation members from around the world, Church and other religious leaders in Sri Lanka 3-5 December to remember victims of the 2004 Asia tsunami.
“Ten years have passed since the tsunami” said Caritas India’s Babita Alick. “And thousands are still living in emotional turmoil. Remembering the destructive power of the tsunami, we remember those who lost lives.”
The tsunami hit 26 December 2004, leaving over a quarter of a million people dead and 1.5 millions without homes.
“It was a quiet morning following Christmas celebrations. Then the tsunami struck our shore with unprecedented vehemence,” said Bishop Vianney Fernando, Chairman of Caritas Sri Lanka during the inaugural session.
It was an unprecedented disaster beyond what anyone had ever experienced.
“You were dead, drowned, or your life devastated,” said the US Ambassador to the Holy See and former CRS Director, Ken Hackett, in the keynote address. “Millions were affected, made homeless, without the means to support themselves and their families.”
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was the papal nuncio to Indonesia during the tsunami and helped coordinate the initial Caritas response.
In his homily during 10th anniversary commemorations, the cardinal said, “The whole world became one people irrespective of national borders, of colour, or religion, to show their closeness to the hundreds of thousands of people who had suffered.
“Most people in Aceh were Muslims but there was Caritas without any regard for the difference ready to share what they had.”
In its biggest emergency response to date, the Caritas confederation completed a $485 million recovery and rehabilitation programme.
“The waves of the tsunami took away the lives of so many,” said Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Michel Roy. “But an unprecedented wave of solidarity never known in humanitarian history unrolled on the suffering of the people.”
In the affected countries, the Caritas confederation:
- Provided one million people with emergency assistance;
- Built over 12,000 temporary shelters and almost 33,000 permanent ones to help build rebuild their homes;
- As the ability of people to earn a living was swept away, Caritas gave livelihood asset replacement (fishing boats, engines, nets, etc.) and vocational training to 55,000 households in India and Sri Lanka and 31,000 people in Indonesia;
- Gave over 700,000 people psychosocial support in Indonesia and Sri Lanka;
- and in Indonesia completed 350 infrastructure projects such as schools, clinics, roads and markets.
Noting the speed that he received a 13-page document dated December 30 entitled “Caritas India/CRS India Joint Response to the Tsunami Emergency in India”, Ambassador Hackett urged the confederation to focus on preparing at risk communities for future disasters.
“Looking ahead, we still must ask ourselves if we are prepared for the next emergency. How deeply embedded and mobilized are we in high risk places?” he said, highlighting also the importance of social justice in the humanitarian field.
Only one in ten of the people exposed to natural hazards live in poor countries, but they account for more than half of total deaths. Poverty equals vulnerability. The audience heard that with governments and business refusing to tackle climate change, the problem will worsen.
Caritas delegates visited communities affected by the tsunami in coastal Sri Lanka during the commemoration events.
“Many of our brothers lost their homes and their roofs and Caritas came and helped them rebuild their lives,” said one Buddhist monk in a village outside Galle. “We are grateful to all nations who came forward in our time of darkness.”
Caritas delegates joined local communities in prayer for those who lost their lives and to God for his guidance in rebuilding after the tsunami.
“What is noblest and finest in the human spirit emerged,” said Bishop Vianney Fernando of Caritas Sri Lanka. “Our hearts which ached for the victims are now filled with joy that the survivors and their loved ones can live with hope as part of one human family.”