The long-term development work outlined in this issue of All the World followed an emergency response on a scale never before undertaken by The Salvation Army. So what happened in those frantic weeks after the worst natural disaster in living memory?
THE Salvation Army’s record shows it is often among the first relief agencies to arrive at the scene of a disaster and the last to leave. This has rarely been seen as clearly as it was after the India Ocean tsunami of late 2004.
When the tsunami struck, Salvationists living in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were among the first to offer help. Initial aid efforts took the form of practical help in rescuing people trapped in the wreckage of their homes or public buildings, providing clean water, food, clothing, medical supplies and temporary shelter, and counselling bereaved people and shocked holidaymakers. This aid stretched around the world, with Salvation Army airport chaplains meeting many flights returning from the region.
Most Salvation Army buildings in the region were left undamaged and none of its personnel were killed or seriously injured. This meant that, with its infrastructure largely intact, The Salvation Army was able to mount an immediate response in many of the areas where it already had a presence. It was also able to send personnel into neighbouring communities accessible by road.
In India, mass feeding centres were set up, making use of Salvation Army centres to provide shelter, food and clothing. Salvation Army volunteers fed more than 1,200 people in the Kaniyakumari and Muttom region, and its facilities were used to provide feeding sites and emergency shelter along the coast. The Salvation Army also took responsibility for a number of camps set up for people made homeless by the disaster.
In Nagapattinam, The Salvation Army – the only non-governmental organisation in the area – set up three field kitchens, which provided two hot meals a day for 1,200 people. Food and other essentials were also provided to people in some of the hundreds of temporary camps across the region. The emergency response on Andaman led to The Salvation Army re-establishing permanent work there several years after leaving the remote islands.
Fishermen were among those hit hardest. Many lost homes, family members, friends and the tools by which they earned a living.
In Chennai, India, blankets and food were distributed by The Salvation Army to more than 1,000 families. Rice and cooking materials were also given out to another 1,000 families of fishermen in other coastal towns.
The Sri Lankan Government put out an urgent plea for clean drinking water, tents, food, clothing and medicines. Teams of local Salvation Army assessment personnel helped to identify the most pressing needs.
A Salvation Army team which travelled to Galle, on the south coast of Sri Lanka, found local Salvationists not only providing relief aid and counselling to survivors, but also actively assisting in the recovery of bodies of the victims.
The devastated beachfront at Meulaboh, Indonesia (photo by Dan Chung/The Guardian)
Indonesia suffered terrible damage from the tsunami. The Salvation Army’s 14 ‘Compassion in Action’ relief teams provided asisistance that included counselling for relatives of the thousands of victims and Commissioner Johannes Watilete, then leader of The Salvation Army’s Indonesia Territory, spoke of the urgent need for body bags, medical masks, gloves and disinfectant.
Salvation Army personnel worked in the areas of Indonesia hardest-hit by the tsunami, including Nias Island and Banda Aceh, delivering relief supplies and clothing in a coordinated effort with other church groups.
Representatives of the Emergency Services section at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters in London moved into place in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka to support a sustained programme of reconstruction in the affected areas.
Wherever The Salvation Army was at work, spiritual comfort was offered, along with pastoral support and professional psychological counselling where appropriate. Living up to its motto, where there was a need, there was The Salvation Army.