Concern Worldwide: Asia Disaster Response


On December 26, 2004, in Tamil Nadu, India, Thrigyanam was spending a calm Sunday afternoon helping her neighbors sort the day's catch of fish. Then, in a matter of moments, her world changed forever.  "I suddenly realized that waves were approaching the village and everyone started running all over the place," said the 37-year-old mother of five. "Since my children were in our house, I first ran to rescue them."

Map of India - Represents District of Tamil Nadu

On December 26, 2004, in Tamil Nadu, India, Thrigyanam was spending a calm Sunday afternoon helping her neighbors sort the day's catch of fish. Then, in a matter of moments, her world changed forever.  "I suddenly realized that waves were approaching the village and everyone started running all over the place," said the 37-year-old mother of five. "Since my children were in our house, I first ran to rescue them."

Thrigyanam arrived to see her children being battered by the rushing water and lost consciousness before she could save them. When she awoke, she set out to find her family, including her husband, a fisherman out at sea when the tsunami hit. "I was happy when I saw my son running towards me and we searched for my daughters together," Thrigyanam told a Concern Worldwide staff member in her community. "After searching for a long time, I saw the dead bodies of my other two sons and my niece. There were rumors that my husband was dead but I continued to pray and in the evening he came back."

Thrigyanam and her family are now surviving on food donated by local merchants and neighboring villages. But her village, Thazankuda, was one of the hardest hit in the region and urgently needs increased assistance. "I know we will receive some assistance, but sometimes I think it might be better to die," she said.



Ms. Thrigyanam


Fully understanding the plight of victims like Thrigyanam, Concern Worldwide immediately dispatched an experienced disaster-response team on December 27th from our headquarters in Orissa, India to Tamil Nadu located in the southwest.  A few days later, the government announced that Tamil Nadu was inundated by 412 relief camps and that the tsunami’s destruction there would cost an estimated $1billion to repair. 





Concern’s team has been working in India since the Orissa Super Cyclone of 1999, so we were knowledgeable about the country’s infrastructure and its emergency response capabilities, and we were familiar with a great network of local organizations.  Soon after arriving in Tamil Nadu, Concern visited traumatized communities, listened to people’s stories, and talked with other agencies about the coordination of response efforts.  In order to maximize the outreach to affected communities, one of the first priorities was to identify local organizations with good systems in place that could help us carry out assessments to identify the most critical needs.


Soon after completing assessments in Tamil Nadu, Concern paired with two local colleagues, Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Prepare.  Both organizations are well known throughout the country; each has significant experience in emergency relief and development work, and each is familiar with the particular populations targeted by Concern’s programs in Tamil Nadu.  Concern, CASA and Prepare set up community kitchens and began distributing 16,000 locally-sourced emergency kits with life-saving materials such as pots, rice, fire wood, baby food, blankets, and water buckets.  CASA was the first to start distributing materials to the districts of Pondicherry and Cuddalore, and in one week they gave out 1,173 kits.  Concern and Prepare initiated a cash-for-work project in eight villages in the Karaikal district that engaged 998 people in just two days!  Cash-for-work has been designed to provide ten days of work to one family member per household in families that have been identified as being “in greatest need.”  Each person hired is paid 50 INR or ($1.15) per day to move debris from village streets and housing sites.  Together, cash-for-work and our emergency distribution sites are benefiting 85,000 people, and that number is expected to grow significantly in the next 12-24 months. 





Now that Concern has local partners, and now that CASA and Prepare’s emergency response projects are well underway, we have started to move into “Phase 2” planning: rehabilitation.  Through participatory planning, Concern, CASA and Prepare will continue to provide critical life saving materials such as food, shelter, and clean water sources.  Additionally, we have committed to the clearing of debris from 32 villages, the rehabilitation of 200 water points, and the provision of nets for local fishermen.  While efforts have gone smoothly to date, we do expect that there may be a significant number of challenges during the rehabilitation phase.  For instance, the Indian government has said that all new houses must be built a minimum of 500 meters from the coast.  While many victims do want to move inland, in order to manage their understandable fears, a shift in physical location of an entire costal community may cause significant land rights and safety issues (elevation vs. distance from ocean, housing construction materials, etc.).   





Concern is committed to ensuring that local populations are informed about and engaged in these discussions through its participation in groups like the Citizen’s Initiative, which is led by ActionAid.  The Citizen’s Initiative plans to foster discussion about policy and coordination issues – what people in Tamil Nadu need and want to see in their community aid programs – an important step to ensuring that current victims become empowered to embrace their civil and human rights. 






In addition to our work in India, Concern is also undertaking tsunami-related relief efforts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.  In all three countries we are focusing on recovery, rehabilitation and the rebuilding of lives after devastation.  Our current programs are benefiting close to 200,000 people, a number which will grow as Concern’s tsunami-related efforts continue and expand.  Concern expects that our response will require a minimum commitment of $10 million over the next two years.  We are dedicated to the long-term development of these communities.  With nearly four decades of disaster-response experience, over three decades of working in Asia, and a cadre of seasoned personnel, Concern has the requisite background for this challenge. 


To learn about our projects in Indonesia or Sri Lanka, or to receive general news and updates, you can call us at 212-557-8000 or visit our website at, where we will be revising our postings on each country regularly. 


Concern works in 29 countries around the world to support the poorest of the poor in achieving significant and sustainable lifestyle changes.  Concern Worldwide US Inc. is 4-star rated organization by Charity Navigator.  100% of all funds raised through the US Asia Disaster Appeal will be given directly to our responding teams so that they can acquire necessary resources to respond to community needs quickly and effectively.


Photo Credit: Adrian Fisk/Concern Worldwide





  • Founded 1968 as a disaster-response agency.  Three decades in Asia.
  • 3,500 personnel in 29 countries around the world.
  • Programs also in Health, education, HIV/AIDS, and livelihood security.
  • 4-star rated by Charity Navigator.





  • Responded Dec. 27, 2004.
  • 16,000 emergency kits distributed.
  • 1,000 people enrolled in cash-for-work.
  • 32 villages to be cleared of debris.
  • 200 water sources to be cleaned and fixed.


 Contact information:

 Concern Worldwide US Inc.

 104 East 40th Street, Suite 903

 New York, NY 10016



       This article in under review by Horizon. Because of the importance   of sharing knowledge of what is being done in order that others might 
 benefit from the example, we are posting the article as it was 
 received from Concern

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