10 years after the wave

On 26 December 2004, almost 250,000 people were killed when an earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami wave that wiped out whole communities across south Asia. It was a disaster on an unprecedented scale.

Christian Aid partners in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka were there at the beginning, delivering immediate relief. They stayed for the following five years, helping to rebuild shattered lives.

Tim Hetherington: Crosses in the sky
Tim Hetherington: Fisherman
Tim Hetherington: Women on the beach

Every time I see the sea

Photographer Tim Hetherington (1970-2011) visited India and Sri Lanka with Christian Aid. His work featured in our one-year anniversary exhibition ‘Every time I see the sea’. Tim’s thoughtful and emotional images captured the mood of a coastal community learning to trust again.

'I was interested in the relationship that people have with the sea. They lived by it; they needed it and used it. When the tsunami came, it challenged this relationship.' Tim Hetherington

  • Swept away

    'I thought I was going to die, but I wanted to get away so I could see my children again.’ Kajendhri stands in front of her partly destroyed house in Palhayar, India. She was swept from her home and found unconscious several kilometres away.

  • Had they known

    Without a warning system or knowledge of what to do in emergencies, almost 250,000 people died. For most people, safety was just a kilometre away.

  • Trapped in the waves

    This packed train became trapped in the waves near Peraliya, Sri Lanka. Nearly 2,000 people drowned as they tried to escape its crumpled carriages. The train became a shrine for grieving relatives.

  • All that remained

    More than a million people lost their homes in a matter of minutes. With the buildings went everything else: clothes, books, photos, cooking pots and school bags – the remains of which could be seen strewn on the beaches.

  • A good house

    Dayananda Lankageeganage sits inside his new home – one of more than 24,000 houses built by our partners. ‘We had no possessions, no money to our name after the tsunami. How would we have been able to build a house ourselves?’

  • Back to the sea

    ‘If I don’t fish, how will I survive?’ Gyanjanthiran Jasarathinam, Sri Lanka. Many fishermen lost their fishing boats and were afraid to go back to sea. With support from Christian Aid, more than 50,000 returned to work.

  • A helping hand

    Female fish sellers are the backbone of the fishing industry in India and Sri Lanka, but they were not officially recognised as workers and did not receive government compensation. Our partners provided equipment so they could get back to work.

  • Learning to play again

    Our partners told us of the enormous importance of helping children come to terms with their grief and anger. With their support, children were encouraged to express their loss through art and drama.

  • Masking the pain

    ‘Everything we had was lost in the sea.’ Sasikala, 10, like many children, was deeply traumatised. She wears face paint as part of art and drama therapy.

  • Facing the fear

    The beach is where people in coastal communities in South Asia go to relax and where their children go to fly kites and play cricket. It took many months for people to overcome their fear of the sea and go back to the beach.

Time to heal

One of our Sri Lankan partners, Active Theatre Movement, played a vital role helping children suffering from trauma to express their feelings and come to terms with what had happened. Tim Hetherington photographed children who were using art and drama to express their grief.

'I can see how deeply traumatised people don’t necessarily show it. The mask is a way of people giving you one face when really there is another face behind it.’
Tim Hetherington

Help remember those affected by the tsunami

How you helped

Thanks to your generous donations
we were able to spend

£45 million

rebuilding lives in India,
Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

24000 homes built


homes built

144,500 children returned to school


children back to school

88,450 people given trauma counselling including art and drama therapy


people given trauma counselling

263,000 people returned to work


people returned to work

Lessons learned

How the tsunami changed the way we work

Listen to Nick Guttmann, our Head of Humanitarian, describe how the Indian Ocean tsunami changed emergency work around the world.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was a disaster unlike any in recent history. The race to deliver aid and rebuild communities involved coordination between governments and aid agencies on an unparalleled scale. Lessons learned have since been applied in emergencies, such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

Find out more about our emergency work


How your church can help

We have a network of partners around the world who work tirelessly with local communities to help them prepare for and reduce the risks of disasters. When disasters do strike they are ready to respond.

Your church can be part of this response by joining our
Emergency Church scheme
– helping to raise funds quickly when disaster happens.