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Prime Minister's Speech at NZSSM (Asian Tsunami) presentation 30 March 2006

30 March 2006

Presentation of Asian Tsunami NZ Special Service Medals, Parliament

On Boxing Day 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake, centred to the west of Sumatra, caused a gigantic tsunami to rise out of the Indian Ocean.

This rapidly moving wall of water swept over the islands and coastal settlements of a dozen nations from South East Asia to Africa. Among the areas worst affected were Aceh in northern Sumatra, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, Thailand and Malaysia.

It soon became clear that this was a disaster on an unprecedented scale in modern times. The earthquake and tsunami carried away individuals and families, and erased entire communities and economies.

The human scale of the disaster is still being calculated. The death toll was in excess of 216,000, with millions of people left homeless. The ongoing reconstruction of villages, livelihoods and futures continues to bring hope to the survivors who are, even now, still recovering from the devastation.

New Zealanders responded to the disaster rapidly, professionally and with great compassion. Amongst the first New Zealand officials on the scene of the devastation in Thailand were staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. New Zealand Defence Force personnel were deployed to Aceh as an immediate New Zealand Government response to assist with humanitarian operations, while New Zealand police and civilians were despatched to Phuket to assist with the identification of victims.

Other New Zealanders worked with Non-Government Organisations such as United Nations Agencies, the Red Cross, Oxfam and World Vision New Zealand, providing humanitarian relief in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and reconstruction and rehabilitation assistance during the long months which followed.

Accredited members of New Zealand media organisations reported from the devastated areas on the work of New Zealand Government and civilian personnel.

The work of all these dedicated New Zealanders was performed in some of the most difficult and hazardous conditions imaginable. The risk of aftershocks, the danger of disease and infection, the extensive – and in some instances complete – devastation, and the trauma of treating the injured, of recovering bodies, or of identifying victims presented harrowing physical and psychological challenges.

It is in recognition of this special service rendered to victims of the Asian Tsunami that the government has decided to award the New Zealand Special Service Medal (Asian Tsunami).

The medal is awarded to New Zealanders who provided humanitarian, rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance, in extreme and hazardous circumstances, between 26 December 2004 and 26 December 2005.

Twenty-eight of these remarkable New Zealanders are with us here today. It is now my privilege to ask them to please come forward and receive their Special Service Medals.

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