Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami: Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Operations

On December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, unleashed a tsunami that affected more than 12 countries throughout south and southeast Asia and stretched as far as the northeastern African coast. Current official estimates indicate that more than 250,000 people are dead or missing and millions of others are affected, including those injured or displaced, making this the deadliest tsunami on record. Sections of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand have suffered the worst devastation. In response, the United Nations, the United States, and other donor nations have organized what some have called the world's largest relief and recovery operation to date. President Bush pledged $350 million in aid early on and mobilized the U.S. military to provide logistical and other assistance. The Administration has increased this amount by seeking $600 million in its request for $950 million for tsunami relief in the FY2005 emergency supplemental. Of this total, $346 million would replenish USAID emergency aid accounts that had been drawn down in support of the U.S. government response and reimburse Defense Department accounts that were used in the relief effort. On March 16, the House passed H.R. 1268 , funding all items proposed under the Tsunami Recovery and Reconstruction Fund, except for the $45 million proposed for debt reduction. The large-scale U.S. response to the tsunami is unlikely to reverse the decline in the U.S. image abroad since the September 11 attacks, because this decline primarily is due to American policies in the Middle East. However, the scale and scope of U.S. assistance could provide a positive example of U.S. leadership and military capabilities. Additionally, the disaster relief cooperation between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries is likely to be mentioned during the annual congressional deliberations over renewing restrictions on U.S.-Indonesian military-to-military relations, which the Bush Administration has sought to restore since the September 11, 2001 attacks. This report summarizes the extent of the disaster and relief effort and includes descriptions of the U.S. and international assistance efforts. It also examines protection mechanisms for children and separated orphans. A section is devoted to the situation in each of the affected countries followed by an analysis of selected issues for Congress. The report will be updated further as events warrant.