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Six Months Later: Tsunami Reconstruction and Recovery Continues


Six months after the tsunami struck South Asia, survivors are struggling to regain their livelihoods, homes, and a sense of normalcy. Recovery is slow, even as relief agencies, governments and survivors themselves work to rebuild.

In Thailand's Phuket region, where tourism is a major industry, lounge chairs once occupied by foreign vacationers, now sit empty while idle resort employees look for something to do.

Six months after massive waves claimed more than 170,000 lives throughout South Asia, the sea is calm, sparkling in the sun's rays. Still, tourists are few.

They are outnumbered by remnants of the devastation -- battered and broken boats, requiring months of work to make them seaworthy again.

Like those who work in the tourism industry, the country's fishermen are desperate to regain their livelihoods.

In a fishing village overlooking the Indian Ocean, workers are rushing to repair trawlers damaged by the tsunami's 10-meter-high waves.

Yod is a fisherman who now lives in a makeshift shelter in a resettlement camp. He and his family survived the tsunami, but he lost his home and his income.

"I'm not working now. My fishing boat is broken. I've ordered a boat, but I'm still waiting."

Yod is one of the millions of tsunami survivors who are struggling to regain their livelihoods, a struggle that is familiar to millions of people throughout South Asia's coastal regions.

In Nagapattinam, India's hardest hit district, some fishermen returned to the water last month. Many of them manage to earn two or three dollars each day, but hundreds more are still out of work.

Not far from their minds is the memory of December 26th, when a 9.0 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra Island triggered a deadly swell of water. The giant waves crashed down on a dozen nations, pummeling coastlines, leveling entire towns, sweeping people out to sea.

In all, more than 200,000 people died or are considered missing.

In the immediate aftermath, donations and assistance poured in from private individuals, relief organizations and governments, such as a U.S. military floating hospital to tend to the injured. Pledges for relief and rebuilding efforts have reached about $6-billion.

About half has been spent so far.

Without homes and jobs, people in Nagapattinam worry because the government subsidy of about $25 a month is ending long before the long-term reconstruction has begun.

In Indonesia's hard-hit Aceh province, temporary housing has only begun to go up in the past few weeks.

Only a fraction of the billions of dollars in foreign aid has been spent in Aceh, because aid agencies are trying to ensure that the money is spent wisely - and none of it is lost to corruption.

And sometimes it is hard to tell if the governments are helping or hurting relief efforts.

British charity Oxfam is one of the agencies that is helping to rebuild in eastern Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government was criticized for charging the charity $1 million in import taxes for the relief vehicles it brought into the country.

David Crawford, Oxfam's Country Director in Sri Lanka, says the government may reverse its decision.

"Oxfam is really keen to have a good relationship with the government of Sri Lanka and I think from what I've been hearing, there's a very positive attitude from the Ministry of Finance and the government of Sri Lanka, so we're all very hopeful."

From Indonesia to Somalia, economic recovery has been slow.

A sandy coastal stretch in Somalia used to be a bustling town, where there was barely room to stand. It is barren but for debris and a few walls that did not succumb to the tsunami's force.

One-point-eight million people worldwide have been displaced by this natural disaster. People live in temporary shelters in resettlement camps, where parents try to create a sense of normalcy for their surviving children.

Meanwhile, they mourn the children they lost, and people, such as this Sri Lankan fisherman, are anxious about the long term. One fisherman says, "Can we go fishing, get back our last wealth and live happily ever after? This is the first problem. Next, our people do not want to go fishing anymore. Even though the men would like to do it, their wives are totally against it."

As is the case for many coastal residents, their futures rely on the very sea that took so much from them six months ago.

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