Posted: March 26th, 2021

United Nations Response to the 2004 Tsunami

United Nations Response to the 2004 Tsunami
The United Nations rushed to provide aid to the victims of an unprecedented and devastating tsunami that had struck South Asia. According to the organization, the tsunami could not be termed as the largest in record history, but its impacts were the biggest every as many individuals and families lived in exposed sections. Therefore, it was necessary to respond quickly if people were to rebuild their lives as required. The United Nations also made appeals to donor nations to respond generously to the tremendous tragedy. The effects of the tsunami included pollution of drinking water, diseases, and deaths, among other unprecedented adverse impacts. The help from the United Nations included water storage tanks given to India, safe delivery kits for pregnant mothers in the Maldives, and fishery professionals in Indonesia. The fact is that the international organization succeeded in deploying parallel operations to attend to the needs of many nations that were affected by the disaster. The rationale for this was that the tragedy was so severe that many communities required huge international aid for a long time. For the United Nations, the experience during the tsunami increasingly magnified the need to articulate a policy to design coherent transition from emergency and recovery to rebuilding and development.
About the Tsunami
The Indian Ocean tsunami left a big impact on the affected areas. The disaster occurred on December 26, 2004, when an earthquake with an approximated magnitude of around 9.1 hit the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia (CNN Editorial Research). Statistics that were released by the National Centers for Environmental Information indicated that around 227,898 individuals were killed or were highlighted as missing persons and presumed dead (CNN Editorial Research). Most importantly, the material losses reported in the Indian Ocean area were approximated to be worth $10 billion. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami emerged through slippage of around 600 miles of the territory between India and Burma plates (CNN Editorial Research). The 9.1 magnitude earth movements were the biggest and strongest ever since the 1964 quake happened in Prince William Sound, Alaska (CNN Editorial Research). With such strength, the tsunami brought adverse impacts to the sections affected. In response, the United Nations had to intervene and assist the victims.
United Nations Response to the Tsunami
The United Nations responded to the 2004 tsunami when it realized that the impacts of the strategy were so severe that communities were going to need massive international help. In response to the requests that were made by the tsunami-affected governments, the United Nations Systems, through the leadership of Kofi Annan and the Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, mobilized emergency humanitarian help (UNEP 9). The assistance included housing, health care, education, mobility, and water and sanitation amenities. Through all the help, the United Nations worked collaboratively with many public and private global relief bodies to solve the urgent daily needs of the victims of this disaster (UNEP 9). Several bodies under the United Nations were involved in the disaster response programs.
One of these included the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that played a critical role in helping victims after the tsunami. The rationale for the involvement of UNEP was that the tsunami arose as an unprecedented natural disaster with immense impacts on the region’s environment (UNEP 9). On December 28, UNEP Executive Director established what was known as the Asian Tsunami Disaster Taskforce that was given the mandate to help governments to evaluate and respond to the environmental effects of the catastrophe. In action, UNEP deployed professionals to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Thailand (UNEP 9). Others were later sent to Seychelles and Yemen to assist in the assessment process and the coordination of environmental recovery programs in collaboration with national bodies, United Nations counterparts, and the international community. Therefore, as a division of the United Nations, UNEP played a significant role in the recovery process.
In India, contaminated water became the greatest challenge after the tsunami. Experts were concerned because of the deadly illnesses after the disaster. In response to the threat, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) started transporting almost 2,500 500-litre water storage containers to relief that camping areas and gave 3 million water purification chlorine tablets (UN News). Furthermore, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) planned the disease prevention initiative that was to begin at the district levels, protecting people against contracting measles and offering vitamin Aa and oral rehydration salts (UN News). The UN food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was mandated with the role of coordinating fisheries in India (UN News). Through such a multifaceted approach in India, the country was able to at least recover from some of the most profound repercussions it faced after the tsunami.
The response team from the United Nations also played a significant role in Indonesia after the tsunami. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began to airlift shelters and other emergency supplies for the first 100,000 people that were affected by the disaster in Aceh province (UN News). Aceh province was deemed to be among the worst and the most inaccessible catastrophe areas at the time. Moreover, the United Nations joint logistics model was formulated in Banda Aceh. At the same time, an FAO urgency coordinator alongside a fishery expert were sent to Indonesia to take care of the assessment and recovery models (UN News). Through such initiatives, it was possible to make sure that the affected people got shelter, supplies, and food that they required to survive after the tragedy.
The United Nations also played a critical role in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. In the Maldives, its country group was focusing fundamentally on the distribution of water, food, and transportation systems. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was mandated with the procurement of safe delivery kits for pregnant women. Moreover, in Maldives, UNICEF continued to provide food, shelter, and other supplies (UN News). In Sri Lanka, UNFPA continued to conduct reproductive health evaluations. UNICEF operating in Sri Lanka helped transport the wounded and dead people to the regional hospitals. It also continued to offer bedsheets, drinking water bottles, and mats, among other items to help victims (UN News). UNHCR provided non-food items in Sri Lanka to help those affected survive and restore their lives.
Furthermore, the strategies adopted were not different in Thailand either, as more help was needed to assist the victims of the 2004 tsunami. Through the United Nations, UNFPA deployed mobile clinics, while UNICEF started evaluating the needs of the children at the time. On the same note, FAO began to help the affected areas of fisheries and farming that had been critically hit by the tsunami. Moreover, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) started sending body bags and formalin to Phuket in Thailand (UN News). Most importantly, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) focused on education in Thailand, working collaboratively with the World Heritage Committee to evaluate the destruction that had impacted the relevant sections of Thailand. Moreover, the United Nations International Labor Office (ILO) concentrated on long-run reintegration and employment of people after the disaster (UN News). Such efforts from the United Nations had significant impacts on the restoration process of Thailand to its current state after the disaster.
Schools of Thought
One of the applicable schools of thought in the 2004 tsunami is realism. The concept emphasizes the competitive and conflictual side in international relations. The assumption is that the state is the principal player in international relations (Antunes and Camisao 1). Other players include individuals and entities, but their authority tends to be limited. The other issue in realism is that the state is a unitary factor. From this understanding, the national interests, mostly in times of disaster, cause the state to speak and act with a single voice (Antunes and Camisao 1). In this regard, realism appears to be quite evident in the event that happened during the 2004 tsunami. The reactions by the governments from the affected nations, such as Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, are the representation of realism. The nations all spoke in a single voice to restore their countries from the disaster. Most evidently, they reached out to the United Nations to assist them in helping those that had been affected by the calamity.
The other applicable school of thought in the case of the 2004 tsunami is liberalism. The concept is founded on the moral notion that every individual has a right to life, liberty, and property, which should be the priority for every government (Meiser 1). In this regard, liberals tend to stress on the welfare of people as the primary building blocks of a just political mechanism. The main concern of liberalism is to have institutions that safeguard individual freedoms by restricting and checking political power (Meiser 1). Liberalism is quite applicable in the case of the tsunami that happened in 2004 in the sense that the reactions by the governments were meant to enhance the wellbeing of their people. The idea to work collaboratively with the United Nations was meant to protect individuals, their properties, and liberty after the tsunami.
One of the most applicable ontologies in this scenario is the international organization as an actor. Such institutions are actors, especially in world politics. Using such a concept, they are constituted through the international law as independent players, which are separate from the nations that create them as their founders and members (Hurd 9). Therefore, being acknowledged as an actor needs a certain kind of social recognition in addition to capacity for action. The United Nations can be seen as a great actor in addressing the problems that came with the 2004 tsunami. The institution is highly recognized for its efforts in providing supplies, food, water, and transportation among other things that were needed by the victims. The United Nations is known through the international community as an actor whose services brought some impact to the victims.
The other ontology is resources, which is evident with the United Nation’s response to the 2004 tsunami. International organizations are political resources as they continue pursuing their goals at both domestic and global levels. States tend to use statements, choices, along with other outputs of international entities as resources to back up their positions, and many global disputes encompass competing interpretations of the materials (Hurd 11). The same case can be seen with the United Nations in that in its response to the 2004 tsunami in various countries affected by the disaster, the governments viewed it as a resource. They expected it to help in providing financial assistance to rebuild their economies. Furthermore, they expected its help in resettling some of the people that were displaced because of the disaster. The power of such an organization has strongly been reinforced through its critical response to such scenarios.

In general, the 2004 tsunami that hit south Asia is a good illustration of an international organization that responded to a disaster on a global level. When the calamity struck, the affected nations suffered significant disruptions. Infrastructure systems were destroyed. For India, its clean water system was contaminated. As a result, it was necessary for international partners to help the affected countries transition from the calamity. The United Nations was clearly and effectively involved in helping alleviate the troubles that faced the affected states after the catastrophe. It became evident that the organization, in collaboration with the affected governments, worked through its departments to make sure that the issues of the victims were addressed. The institution helped in the distribution of basic needs, including shelter, food, clothing, and other supplies.

Works Cited
Antunes, S., and I. Camisão. “Introducing Realism in International Relations Theory.” International Relations Theory, E-International Relations Publishing. pp (2018): 15-21.
CNN Editorial Research. “Tsunami of 2004 Fast Facts.” CNN. 2020,
Hurd, Ian F. “Choices and Methods in the Study of International Organizations.” Journal of International Organization Studies 2 (2011).
Meiser, W. Jeffrey. “Introducing Liberalism in International Relations Theory.” International Relations Theory. 2018,
UNEP. “After the Tsunami: Rapid Environmental Assessment.” 2018,
UN News. “Multifaceted UN Response to Tsunami Focuses on Both Large and Small.” 2004,


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