On Sunday, 26 December 2004, an earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred under the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Sumatra. The earthquake triggered a series of tsunami (large sea waves) which devastated coastal and immediate inland areas in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and coastal areas of a number of other countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The area affected is shown in Figure 1. Across the region some 300,000 people died, including 141 Britons. Many more were injured and some 1.6 million people were displaced or otherwise affected by the disaster.
1 Figure 1: Area worst affected by the Tsunami
Source: United Nations
Map provided courtesy of the ReliefWeb Map Centre, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.
When disasters occur, lives can be saved by the prompt provision of appropriate assistance to the areas affected. The Department's response to the tsunami disaster was both rapid and impressive, and ensured that appropriate assistance was delivered to survivors.
The government committed £75 million in humanitarian assistance to the victims of the tsunami. By May 2006 - some 16 months after the disaster - £64.1 million had been spent either directly by the Department or through grants to third parties. But some £9 million of the grants given to third parties remained unspent, and were sitting in bank accounts earning interest.
Focusing on the lessons learnt from the tsunami, there are areas where the Department and the international community may be able to improve the effectiveness of the response to future disasters. In the context of their work in the UK, the Department need to continue to work with partners in the humanitarian relief sector to develop further that sector's capacity and to help provide a wider choice of partners with which to work when future emergencies occur. And, as the Department recognise, they need to develop a more systematic framework for working with the Ministry of Defence which would enable more efficient utilisation of military personnel and equipment in disaster areas.
In the international context, the Department need to continue to work with the international community to raise the level of awareness of their eight-point plan for the reform of the United Nations' humanitarian aid system, and so to influence the implementation of beneficial change.
On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General and two memoranda provided by the Department for International Development (the Department), we examined the Department's performance following the tsunami and the subsequent action taken to obtain assurance that the funds disbursed for humanitarian relief were properly spent and accounted for.