Rome, Italy, 15-19 March 2005




1. The earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that swept across the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004 will be remembered as one of the worst human tragedies in history. These natural disasters took more than 200,000 lives and shattered the livelihoods of some five million people in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Parts of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles, Somalia, Sri Lanka, United Republic of Tanzania, Thailand and Yemen were affected.

2. The international community has responded with an unprecedented outpouring of public and private donations for disaster relief. The United Nations estimates that a total of US$6.3 billion has been pledged, committed or contributed, of which nearly US$1 billion is in response to the Flash Appeal launched by the United Nations on 6 January 2005. The Flash Appeal reflects the efforts of some 40 United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to plan and implement a strategic, efficient and coordinated emergency relief response for the initial six month period. The sectors covered by the appeal include coordination, food, health, water and sanitation, shelter, education, economic recovery and infrastructure, agriculture, environment, and protection and human rights, among others.

FAO’s overall response to date

3. Within a week of the disaster, FAO committed US$ 1.5 million of its own funds for needs assessments and recovery support in Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. As part of the UN Flash Appeal, it called for an additional US$26.5 million to support recovery efforts in the most severely affected countries -- Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles, Somalia and Sri Lanka, and US$2.5 million for regional activities in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

4. The majority of people affected by the disaster had agriculture- and fisheries-based livelihoods or were employed in associated enterprises. Using its own and donor committed funds, FAO rapidly fielded expertise to assess the damage and losses to agriculture and fisheries and to assist the governments in the planning and coordination of early recovery in these sectors. More recently, FAO has fielded staff and consultants for similar assistance in the forest sector. In all, the Organization has deployed several staff members and over 70 international and regional experts in various areas of expertise to assist affected countries. It has recruited emergency coordinators for Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka and a regional coordinator to provide necessary coordination within FAO and with the country and key players. FAO is also providing direct assistance to farmers and fishers in the form of boat repair kits and engine parts for fishing boats, fishing nets and other gear, seeds and farming tools, and repair of irrigation and drainage infrastructure, among other things. FAO’s role in delivery of inputs is particularly important in the case of specialized equipment and in affected areas not adequately served by others.

5. It has become apparent that FAO’s main comparative advantage and most essential role in rehabilitation efforts, as perceived by many affected countries, partners and donors, is in providing technical guidance, technical specifications and coordination in the areas of fisheries, agriculture and forestry and its related cross-cutting programmes (nutrition, land tenure, etc.). Coordination among actors within countries is crucial, as the unprecedented level of donations and number of actors poses a serious risk of oversupply and inappropriate and fragmented assistance for recovery. FAO is also working to enhance cooperation, coordination and communication at regional level. In early March, FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific organized two workshops on regional coordination in the tsunami response in the fisheries and forest sectors (see below). At the international level, FAO supports a coordinated approach through participation in the UN Flash Appeal. FAO has also held two briefings at Headquarters for Permanent Representatives to FAO of affected and donor countries.

6. FAO is also playing a role in information collection and dissemination. It maintains a website that provides continually updated information on FAO’s analysis of the evolving situation and response ( Linked to this, are FAO’s three technical tsunami websites – for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, which provide more detailed information.

7. FAO has also prepared a Tsunami Atlas, which includes satellite images, topographic and thematic maps and statistics ( The FAO Tsunami Atlas is well advanced for Indonesia and Sri Lanka and work is under way for the other affected countries.

8. In order to ensure that its tsunami response is internally well coordinated, FAO has set up two task forces, at technical and management level, consisting of all relevant departments of the Organization. These meet on a regular basis. Weekly conference calls are held between Headquarters and FAO Representations in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka and with the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok. In addition, an interdepartmental technical group has been formed to facilitate a coordinated approach to integrated coastal area management.

Forest sector needs and response

Role of the forest sector in the recovery and reconstruction

9. The role of the forest sector in recovery and rehabilitation is multifaceted. It includes the following: increasing coastal protection through forest rehabilitation and afforestation; meeting the huge demand in wood products for reconstruction of infrastructure and to replace destroyed wooden boats; contributing to local livelihoods and well-being through replanting trees in home gardens, agroforestry systems and community/urban areas and through providing short-term employment; and protecting against pest outbreaks.

10. Preliminary indications of changes in land cover estimate that 56,000 hectares (ha) of mixed agriculture and village land, 11,000 hectares (ha) of forest and woodland, 9,000 ha of urban land and 4,400 ha of beach were severely damaged by the tsunamis.1 More recent information sources, including UNEP’s rapid environmental assessment for seven countries2, indicates that, at least in the case of the forest resources, this estimate is likely to be low. Furthermore, mangroves could experience further die off caused by the silting up of trees’ aerial roots and altered water circulation and drainage patterns. Additional studies and use of remote sensing imagery are needed for a more exact assessment of the damage to forest resources from the tsunami.

11. The affected forest and woody vegetation consists primarily of palm trees, broadleaf evergreen species and mangroves. In addition, community and urban tree plantings, home gardens and other agroforestry systems, fruit and amenity trees and shelterbelts were damaged by the tsunami.

12. These losses directly and indirectly impact local people. Forests and trees contribute directly to local livelihoods by providing wood and non-wood forest products, including construction lumber, wood products and thatch, poles, fuelwood, food and medicines, and indirectly by providing shelter and shade. Additionally, mangroves provide spawning grounds and nutrients for fish and shellfish, and coastal forests provide a haven for a wide diversity of flora and fauna and play an important role in coastal protection. Trees and forests also play a significant role in affected countries that are highly dependent on tourism.

13. Reflecting widely held perceptions of the value of mangroves and other coastal vegetation, several governments have announced plans to rehabilitate large tracts of mangroves and to undertake reforestation efforts for coastal protection. Donor countries, NGOs and regional and international organizations have indicated their willingness to provide support. It is important that efforts are well coordinated among all the actors. Careful planning and implementation, with sound scientific input, suitable technologies and, above all, adequate local input are needed. Furthermore, it is essential that such efforts be undertaken within a larger framework of integrated coastal area management, well coordinated with developments in fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture, tourism, road and infrastructure reconstruction, and related works. Planning of coastal green belts – in fact, any intervention in the affected areas – will need to take into account existing settlement patterns, land uses, livelihood needs and structures, and environmental sustainability issues. Conflicts over competing interests for use of the land will have to be reconciled.

14. Many affected areas sustained massive damage to houses and other buildings, port facilities and civil infrastructure. Thousands of boats, including many of wood, were also destroyed. The reconstruction of infrastructure and repair or rebuilding of wooden boats will require large quantities of timber and other wood products. Providing for the localized demand in wood products, without triggering overexploitation of forest resources and in a way consistent with their forestry and environmental policies and regulations, is a critical issue for some countries. For countries with limited forest resources, some or all of the the need will have to be met through imported wood products. Salvaging of wood in the affected areas offers potential to meet some of the construction needs.

15. Until their livelihoods are reestablished, people in the affected areas need income and jobs. Establishment of forest nurseries and work in rehabilitating forests and tree planting are being considered in some places as opportunities for cash-for-work programmes. The restoration of home gardens and other agroforestry systems and planting of trees for various purposes is likely to be a significant component of medium-term rehabilitation efforts.

16. One issue that may arise in the short term is the heightened risk of forest pest outbreaks due to the large quantities of woody debris. Salvaging wood and clearing the debris will help minimize this risk, yet if there are signs of an outbreak, action will be needed to bring it under control.

FAO’s activities to date in the forest sector

17. FAO has embarked on various forest-related activities to date, including providing technical support in the field, developing a programme for FAO’s support to affected countries, encouraging cooperation and coordination among countries and organizations involved in the tsunami response, and collecting and disseminating relevant information.

18. As appropriate to the immediate needs of the tsunami-affected people, FAO’s response in the field to date has been predominantly in the fisheries and agriculture sectors, focused on helping to quickly re-establish the livelihoods of fishers and farmers. (It is worth noting that some of the proposed rehabilitation work in these sectors involves forest activities, for example mangrove rehabilitation and forest nursery establishment and tending as complementary employment generating activities.) In response to immediate needs for technical assistance in the forest sector, FAO recently fielded two consultants to Indonesia, has deployed a regional forestry officer for a mission to Sri Lanka, and supported the development of a project proposal in the Seychelles. It expects that requests for further assistance will emerge as relief operations phase out and rehabilitation efforts commence.

19. Although many of the needed interventions in the sector will begin later, as part of the rehabilitation phase, FAO has begun to identify elements of its assistance programme. It has developed a broad framework for its support to the tsunami response in the forest sector based on information provided by staff in the FAO Representations and field teams in the affected countries and from various other sources. This will be further refined when more information is available, national plans for reconstruction emerge, and after technical expertise for programming can be fielded. A main objective of the mission currently under way in Sri Lanka is to develop the outlines of FAO’s programme for rehabilitation assistance in the sector.

20. FAO is in contact with many regional and international organizations concerning tsunami needs assessments and response, with a view to encouraging collaborative activities and a coordinated response. With regard to this, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific convened a regional coordination workshop in Bangkok on 7 and 8 March, which brought together parties involved in post-tsunami forestry assessment and rehabilitation work. About 40 representatives from affected countries, regional and international organizations, NGOs, and donor countries attended. Participants exchanged information on the impacts on forest ecosystems and forest resources in tsunami-affected areas, shared plans for forest-related actions in rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts; and discussed mechanisms for collaboration and joint activities in forest-related rehabilitation efforts within the region. The report of the meeting will be made available on the FAO website (

21. The Forestry Department has launched a website on the tsunami (see It provides information on the forest-related issues, country information on needs assessments and response, news releases and news clippings, and links to useful technical information.


22. FAO, using its own funds and funds raised through the UN Flash Appeal, is actively supporting relief and rehabilitation efforts in the tsunami-affected countries.

23. FAO’s immediate response to the tsunami was to address immediate relief needs to re-establish fisheries- and agriculture-based livelihoods, provide technical support and coordination to affected countries, and collect and disseminate information.

24. As yet, information on the impact on forest resources and on other forest-related issues is limited and patchy. Detailed needs assessments related to forest issues in the affected countries are not yet available. It is important that such assessments be carried out as soon as appropriate and practicable so that forest-related interventions can be well integrated into national reconstruction plans and donor/technical assistance programmes. The assessments will require close coordination between countries, various UN agencies and others.

25. FAO has responded to requests for technical assistance in the field to address immediate needs in the forest sector. It is ready to provide further technical support to countries for rehabilitation planning and project development, and for coordination among the actors in the tsunami response.

26. FAO is fulfilling an important information role through press releases, its tsunami websites, the FAO Tsunami Atlas, and other means.

27. Significant effort has gone into ensuring that FAO’s response (at international/Headquarters, regional and national levels and across the various FAO departments) is well coordinated. It is also working actively to facilitate a coordinated response at international, national level and regional levels by international and regional organizations, NGOs and donor agencies.


1 European Commission Joint Research Centre. “Mapping severe damage to S.E. Asia’s land cover following the Tsunami.” 1 February 2005.

2 UNEP. “After the tsunami: rapid environmental assessment”. 24 February 2005