Civil Society Groups Lead Relief Efforts

January 2005

On tsunami-ravaged Sumatra, the daily business of many local conservationists changed overnight from working to preserve the Indonesian island's unique natural resources to leading relief efforts to help their fellow citizens.

In the northern city of Medan, Conservation International and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) colleagues joined three emergency coalitions of CEPF grant recipients and other partners to collect and deliver food, medicine and water supplies bound for the devastated Aceh and North Sumatra provinces.

While the usual 10-hour drive from Medan to Aceh is now significantly lengthier and arduous due to the destruction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure, a number of coalition trucks managed to deliver supplies.

Along the route back to collect more supplies, the team helped collect and bury bodies - a grim yet necessary task.

"It's so late, and the families cannot do that - it's too traumatic," CEPF Grant Manager Purbasi Surjadi reported from Medan on Jan. 6, 10 days after a powerful earthquake off the island's coast triggered a tsunami across Asia and even parts of Africa.

The tidal waves claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people in 12 nations at the latest count, and left tens of thousands missing and millions more without housing, water or food supplies.

In Indonesia, the hardest hit of the nations, more than 104,000 people are dead and an estimated 77,000 missing. In Sumatra, where whole communities were washed away in the north, the devastation seems apocalyptic.

"I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters after touring the area with World Bank President James Wolfensohn and others on Jan. 7. "You wonder where are the people? What has happened to them?"

More than 60 CEPF nongovernmental and governmental partners are among the dead in Sumatra, a focal area for CEPF investments.

The program launched a $10 million investment strategy for Sumatra in 2002 with the aim of building civil society at the village, municipal and provincial levels to help conserve the island's biodiversity.

Support at the local level was key. Indonesia only recently decentralized management of natural resource, creating an opportunity to build local capacity and coffers so that local people could effectively participate in and benefit from conservation efforts.

CEPF has since provided grants to more than 30 nongovernmental organizations to help build their capacity and enable them to work with other civil society groups, communities and government officials to preserve the island's natural wealth. Many of these groups - including those assisting in relief efforts - have lost staff, family members and friends.

Support at the local level will remain pivotal as relief efforts continue and, ultimately, as rebuilding gets under way.

As the toll of the disaster continued to be assessed and international efforts mounted to avert the spread of disease and further catastrophe in the tsunami's aftermath, the CEPF management team sent its personal condolences to dozens of colleagues across Asia.

The team also agreed to continue supporting basic livelihoods in the most devastated areas of Sumatra.

"While we're not a relief agency, CEPF is dedicated to empowering civil society to conserve biodiversity," CEPF Asia Grant Director Judy Mills said. "We recognize that empowerment at this terrible time means meeting the most basic of needs."

CEPF donor partners also took action in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. In addition to its relief efforts on the ground in Sumatra, Conservation International established an emergency fund for support of its conservation partners and their communities in Northern Sumatra; the Government of Japan sent two disaster relief medical teams to both Sumatra and Thailand and also pledged $500 million in relief; and the World Bank committed an initial $250 million for emergency reconstruction across Asia.

Learn more about these relief efforts: