FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department has played a leading role in helping fishers and fish farmers in the region get back on their feet, building and repairing boats, providing replacement fishing gear, and clearing and rehabilitating damaged fish farms.
Now, as the immediate impact of the disaster is fading, the UN agency remains engaged in affected countries, helping fishing communities and national authorities transition from short-term recovery to looking at long-term issues like fisheries resources management, safety at sea and sustainable development.
A new phase of rehabilitation
'Now that many fishers and aquaculturists are back to work, we're trying to address the underlying vulnerability and unsustainability of their livelihoods that characterized many areas prior to the tsunami,' says Lahsen Ababouch of FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, who coordinates the agency's post-tsunami assistance in the areas of fisheries and aquaculture.
'This means doing things better. For example, working with national authorities we've helped establish boat construction standards appropriate to local conditions, published construction manuals, and have helped train boatbuilders in best practices. New boats will last longer and be safer,' he explains.
'In a similar vein, we're working with governments and communities to provide training and technical advice that will strengthen their capacity to better manage fisheries and aquaculture and plan their future development.'
Noting that FAO has provided a good deal of material assistance, Ababouch argues that the UN agency's most valuable contribution to tsunami rehabilitation is in the area of providing technical training and policy advice, rather than in delivering goods and making repairs. 'Think of the first as software and the second as hardware,' he says. 'It's the software that makes everything else work.'
Assisting tsunami affected countries with this “software assistance”, through commissioning institutional reviews and capacity assessments of fisheries management institutions in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives, is one of the core tasks of FAO's “Coordination and Technical Support Unit (CTSU) to Tsunami Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in Fisheries and Aquaculture”, established through Swedish funding in 2006 . The objective of the CTSU is to establish sustainable livelihoods in coastal communities and reduce their vulnerability to future natural disasters.
The CTSU will continue to provide this type of assistance well into 2008, as countries recognize capacity building needs and strive to implement improved strategies for resources management. To this effect the CTSU also lends support through the design of targeted, country-specific or regional cooperation projects for longer-term recovery and sustainable development.
From disaster relief to sustainable development
In Sri Lanka, the tsunami affected 1 300 km of coastline and damaged or destroyed 75 percent of the country’s fishing fleet. Over 70 000 survivors had been involved in fishing or fisheries-related activities prior to the tsunami.
FAO, with key support from the government of Italy and help from other donors, partnered with the Sri Lankan government to help fisherfolk cope. Efforts to repair or replace boats, engines, and fishing gear allowed over 21 000 fishers to get back to work.
But beyond material aid, the project moved on to promote new sea-safety measures and improve fishing vessel stability through awareness campaigns and providing training to thousands of fishers. In the boatyards, builders and workers were given both better safety equipment as well as training. FAO also supported the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Sri Lanka in the preparation of a new set of national regulations to standardize the construction of fishing vessels and the establishment of a new government unit responsible for certifying the safety of all new fishing vessels constructed in the country.
Spectrum of assistance
In Aceh Province of Indonesia, around 55 percent of boats and fishing gear were lost to the tsunami. An estimated 70 percent of brackish water fish ponds were also destroyed and 70 percent of related infrastructure, including landing places, fish markets and small-scale traditional boat-building facilities was severely affected.
After the disaster, generous support from a number of donors helped FAO meet the immediate needs of affected fisherfolk and aquaculturists. This included providing replacement boats and equipment and rebuilding jetties so fishermen could land their catch. For fish farmers, it involved clearing and repairing their ponds and providing them with fingerlings, feed and fertilizer -- and getting the hatcheries on which aquaculturists depend to renew their stocks back up and running.
FAO also helped those who process, transport and sell fish get back to business by providing them with fish drying and processing equipment, vehicles, a reliable source of ice, coolers and new marketplaces.
'All of these activities certainly were important, but I think 25 years from now, the work that we have been engaged in once emergency relief tapered off will have been our greatest contribution,' says Rudolf Hermes of FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, who worked on the ground in Banda Aceh following the tsunami.
This included coming up with a new boat design -- an improved and safer version of the traditional wooden craft favored in the region -- and publishing an easy-to-use builder's manual in the local dialect that gives clear guidance on proper construction techniques. FAO also trained scores of boat builders in best-practices of vessel construction and engine fitting techniques.
The UN agency also offered training and technical assistance in a number of other areas as well, all aimed at strengthening local capacities to sustainable manage fisheries and aquaculture. These included: issuing guidelines on how to rehabilitate damaged fish farms; holding workshops for fish farmers on best management practices; introducing hatchery operators to modern biosafety practices and techniques; educating processors and marketers in proper post-harvest fish handling, and; helping district and provincial authorities with rehabilitation planning and coordination.
Now FAO has recently partnered with the American Red Cross to implement a three year project in Indonesia aimed at building the capacity of national and local authorities as well as fishers and fish farmers, to sustainable manage the resources on which they depend.