How can region laid waste by natural disaster be rebuilt?

THE task of rebuilding the shattered disaster zone is unprecedented. Never before has a natural catastrophe had such a devastating effect on at least 11 countries scattered thousands of miles around the rim of an ocean.

The immediate task is bringing relief to the millions of survivors of the Boxing Day tsunami.

When whole communities are destroyed it is not just homes that disappear but a way of life – schools, hospitals and workplaces. Agencies will have to concentrate initially on re-supplying the most basic needs – clean water, food and shelter – while guarding against disease.

Aid experts are warning against what has been the normal response: immediate interest, immediate help but long-term neglect. They argue the scale of this unique calamity requires a unique response.

Pete Sweetnam, the emergency programmes manager for Mercy Corps Scotland, who flew yesterday to Sumatra, perhaps the hardest-hit area because it is so near to the earthquake epicentre, said: “The important thing is not to have just a short-term emergency response.

“The world has to stay with this one. The scale of this is truly unprecedented and these communities will not be rebuilt overnight. It will take up to a year to get back to anything like normality and some communities will never be the same again.”

Agencies agree that relief and rebuilding must take place in three stages and in the right way.

In the first place, relief has to go to the right places at the right time. Indian Ocean countries have been split into zones served by different charities to avoid duplication as much as possible.

The Red Cross is active in Somalia, in Africa, where the number of dead is relatively low but the level of economic damage in poverty-stricken fishing villages is high.