20071226 tsunami aid 18
A Sri Lankan survivor of the December 2004 tsunami walks his bike through a newly built housing development in the southern coastal town of Gingthota. - 


AMY SCOTT: In Indonesia today, rescue workers are racing to find survivors after some deadly mudslides in the western part of the country. The disaster came on the third anniversary of the Southeast Asian tsunami. That catastrophe killed more than 230,000 people across the region. The tsunami also spurred an outpouring of support, $13 billion in aid from around the globe.

Jeremy Hobson takes a look now at where all that money went.

JEREMY HOBSON: When the wave crashed ashore . . . no place was devastated more than Aceh province in Indonesia. Today, one agency responsible for relief there says 100,000 homes have been rebuilt and that relief work is 80 percent complete.

Gerald Anderson, who directs tsunami recovery for the American Red Cross, says the billions of dollars in donations are getting where they need to go.

GERALD ANDERSON: Livelihoods are returning, people are back to work, the markets are filled. It's just night and day.

Anderson acknowledges problems relief agencies faced early on with coordination and speed. But he says with time, those have been resolved. And he says in terms of corruption...

ANDERSON: You're going to always have that when these kinds of sums of money are involved. But I think the aid community at large is doing a pretty good job of tracking that.

Professor Leslie Lenkowsky teaches philanthropic studies at Indiana University. He says life may be back to normal, but the real test of whether aid agencies used their money wisely won't be known for some time.

LESLIE LENKOWSKY: Was the rebuilding effort successful enough, so that when some disaster, whether it's a tsunami or something else, strikes that region in the future as it is almost certain to do, the damage and death will not be as great.

One other factor in the quick rebuild: Beaches are magnets for tourist dollars. Now, I was in the hard-hit Thai resort of Phuket a week before the tsunami -- and again two years later. Any sign of destruction had been replaced by shiny new storefronts along the beach. The economy depended on it.

I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson