Aid groups highlight tsunami victims' rights abuses

The huge global relief effort after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami has trampled on the human rights of many of the survivors even as it tried to rebuild their lives, three aid groups have charged.

While the aid campaign, the largest ever undertaken, has had many successes, it has failed to ensure the rights of many of those affected to food, clean water and a secure home and livelihood, the groups said in a new report.

More than a year after the December 26, 2004, catastrophe that killed around 230,000 people, the situation of many tsunami survivors, particularly women, children and other vulnerable populations, "is unbelievably grim," said the report by ActionAid International, the Habitat International Coalition and the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning.

"We know that there has been some excellent work by governments and non governmental organisations in the wake of the tsunami -- the speed and scale of the response meant that lives were saved and many predicted outbreaks of epidemics were contained -- but it is not enough," UN human rights investigator Miloon Kothari wrote in a forward to the report.

Nearly $18.5 billion has been pledged by donors around the world to rebuild the vast areas devastated by the disaster, which drove 2 million people from their homes, deprived 1.5 million of their livelihoods and destroyed some 400,000 houses in 13 countries in Asia and Africa.

But hundreds of thousands of survivors are still living in substandard shelters and deprived of adequate health care and other basic services, said the groups' 68-page report, based on visits to more than 50,000 people in 95 villages and urban areas in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India in November 2005.

"Thousands of children have not been able to go back to school, women do not feel secure, people's livelihoods have not been restored, and people are still distressingly uncertain about their future," it said.

Discrimination in the distribution of aid, forced relocations, government-assisted land grabs, arbitrary arrests and sexual and gender-based violence are also abusing survivors' rights, the report said.

"It is only through national and international cooperation based on human rights standards that people uprooted and at risk as a result of devastating natural disasters can be effectively protected," it said.

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