Dr. Hany El Banna, president
of Islamic Relief, travelled to Indonesia
and Sri Lanka with Islamic Relief's emergency
response team and saw first-hand the damage
caused by the tsunami of December 26, 2004.
What did you
expect to see in the disaster zone?
I had seen some footage on television, but
this paled in front of what I saw in Banda
Aceh. We visited an area 15km in from the
shoreline; it was completely destroyed. It
was as if the water, in unimaginable rage,
had washed away the lives of the people, and
with them, their memories and their history.
sea washed away houses; it carried sea vessels
from the ocean and deposited them on top of
buildings and bridges; it carried tractors,
coaches, all types of vehicles, into the middle
of rice fields; it carried dead bodies everywhere.
Massive concrete structures and multi-storey
buildings were reduced to rubble. Every few
hundred yards there were lines of corpses
in body bags.
I have seen the effects of war in Bosnia,
Kosovo Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan,
but this is far worse. Destruction by weapons
of war, however devastating, is not as complete
as the destruction caused by the tsunami.
When the water came, it came at once across
the entire coastline and took everything with
it. Except for the mosques that still stand
proud as though they refused to kneel to the
tsunami, nothing remains.
What is the risk
of disease among survivors?
after the disaster, there are still thousands
of unburied corpses. We visited a village
20km from Banda Aceh, where volunteers were
retrieving bodies from the wreckage. One side
of the village was completely destroyed, we
were walking on the roofs of houses and we
could smell death beneath our feet. The air
was still, everything was still, as if time
Some distance away, four or five volunteers
were retrieving the corpse of a woman. It
had become green from gangrene and I could
smell the stench from where we were, how would
it be for the volunteers who were retrieving
On the other side of the village, a group
of people who had been digging a grave stopped
and began pointing up a tree. There, the body
of a young boy was hanging upside down. His
hair was stiffened by congealed fluids; his
face, arms, and neck had turned black.
There is a real risk of infectious
diseases spreading among the survivors. In
this small area, there may be hundreds of
unburied bodies. The nightmare is, when children
recover and begin playing around the wreckage,
they will be exposed to infectious diseases
if they discover rotting corpses.
How is the aid community
Many organisations have begun work and the
airports are full of relief goods from different
countries. My advice is not to send goods,
but cash instead. Aid goods can be bought
cheaply in the affected countries, and money
spent locally benefits the local economy.
Islamic Relief has distributed locally procured
food and other items to the survivors, and
has begun water and sanitation projects in
IR has received
more donations from non-Muslims than ever
before, what do you think this says about
It says two things. Firstly, that the calamity
is of such magnitude that it is beyond the
capability of one organisation. Only by cooperating
together can the international community help
the survivors effectively.
Secondly, people of different faiths trust
Islamic Relief. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians,
businesses, organisations and churches see
Islamic Relief as an effective international
Why is IR
working with other organisations such as church
We have partnerships with many organisations
worldwide, be they mainstream or faith-based.
We agree at the outset to work for common
goals and to preserve the identity of the
With this disaster, the catastrophe is far
beyond the capacities of the international
bodies, including UN and the EU. The affected
countries need billions of dollars, not billions
of pledges; and they need this money spent
on aid, not consultancy fees.
What is your Message
to IR supporters?
I think what you have done is incredible
and it shows that you are capable of more
than you thought possible. The amount of money
raised so far is tremendous, but if you had
seen what I saw in Indonesia and Sri Lanka,
you would be compelled to say, "We have
not done enough".