I began my professional career as a sub-district and district level administrator in India-a position that makes one responsible for pretty much everything- from making sure the water comes out of the taps and the garbage is collected in the morning to helping pull accident victims out from horrific accidents and facing down stone-pelting mobs. This early experience of being thrown into the deep end of the pool gives me a somewhat pragmatic sense of perspective and equanimity. But I still recall the horror and overwhelming grief that I felt when the full impact of the 2004 Tsunami started becoming clear. In Indonesia alone approximately 220,000 people lost their lives.
Authored by Elizabeth Frankenberg, Duncan Thomas, and Jed Friedman
Ten years after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Aceh provides an example of remarkable resilience and recovery that reflects the combination of individual ingenuity, family and community engagement and the impact of domestic and international aid. The tsunami devastated thousands of communities in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. Destruction was greatest in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, where an estimated 170,000 people perished and the built and natural environment was damaged along hundreds of kilometers of coastline. In response, the Indonesian government, donors, NGOs and individuals contributed roughly $7 billion in aid and the government established a high-level bureau based in Aceh to organize recovery work.
To shed light on how individuals, communities, and families were affected by and responded to the disaster in the short and medium term, we established the Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recovery (STAR). Beginning in 2005, STAR has followed over 30,000 people who were first enumerated in 2004 (pre-tsunami) in 487 communities (community location depicted in the figure below), as part of a population-representative household survey conducted by Statistics Indonesia. Interviews were conducted annually for 5 years after the tsunami; the ten-year follow-up is currently in the field. We ascertained survival status for 98% of the original pre-tsunami respondents and have interviewed 96% of survivors. The study is designed to provide information on the short-term costs and longer-term recovery for people in very badly damaged communities and in comparison communities where the disaster had little direct impact.
The tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, didn’t only leave behind wreckage and corpses. It also left behind the PLTD Apung 1, a power-generating barge that was docked in Banda Aceh’s Ulee Lheue port when the disaster struck. It might have pumped out electricity for a few more decades, easing electricity shortages throughout Indonesia, before heading to the scrap heap.
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Instead, it was lifted by the tsunami and deposited several kilometers inland, smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. When I first arrived in Banda Aceh in 2006, people were living in houses right next to it. A makeshift road worked its way around the massive obstacle. A box sat on a chair nearby, with a hand-written sign asking for donations for tsunami victims. The question we all had was: What on earth are they going to do with it?
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My first trip to Aceh was in August 1998, four months after the resignation of former President Soeharto. It was the height of Indonesia's pro-democracy Reformasi movement, and many journalists thought that travel permits were still required, as it had been for decades. My friend and I were venturing as 'tourists'. In many villages, the legacy of repression remained: razed houses, shuttered schools, and households run by widows. Poverty was unavoidable; violence and economic growth are often incompatible.
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The number just kept getting bigger and bigger. At first it was a staggering 13,000. The next day, over 25,000. And then, 58,000. By the end of the week, on January 1st, 2005, the death toll of the Asian Tsunami had reached 122,000. Yet the number kept climbing, and nobody knew when it would stop.
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|Explaining the housing program admistered by the Multi-Donor Fund to a group of residents.|
(Geumala Yatim, who started working with communities in Aceh soon after the 2004 tsunami hit, is writing a book about her experiences there. This is adapted from one of its chapters).
At the time, I was at my friend Oscar’s house, getting ready to attend a Christmas party at another friend’s house. Oscar asked me to turn the TV on to CNN or BBC. “I heard there’s a big natural disaster somewhere on the tip of Sumatra. Aceh probably. Not sure,” he said. Up until we left the house, both channels were relaying non-stop reports on natural disasters in Thailand and Sri Lanka. No reports on what was happening on the tip of Sumatra thus far.
It surprised me a little bit when I was driving my family along the west coast of Aceh a couple of weeks ago. Not too far from Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh’s province, a 15 meters wide- fresh-paved asphalt road built by the US absolutely has framed Aceh into another window of opportunity. This strategic road will connect Banda Aceh and some other districts in the west coast, which was washed away by the tsunami. Before the disaster, it was narrow and poorly maintained.
|Pig farmers in Nias pull a 'waste disappearing act' by converting manure into useable energy.|
The clean pig pen I saw was in the village of Tetehosi, Idanagawo sub-district owned by a farm group with the name Ternak Harapan Maju which means, “Farm Hopes to Progress.” The pen is managed by priest Sabar Markus Lase, not only because he knows about pig farming, but also because the pig pen is in the backyard of the church.
For most of us, when a disaster happens in a far away place, we only get brief glimpses of the immediate aftermath and subsequent recovery efforts – often only through news media or occasionally close-by bloggers. During four years of reconstruction after the devastating tsunami that hit the Indonesian province of Aceh in 2004, few have seen the rebuilding process like those who are part of the recovery efforts.
The Multi-Donor Fund (MDF), which is managed by the World Bank with contributions and guidance from 15 other international donor partners, continues to work on the ground in Aceh and Nias. The reconstruction has been extremely successful, with more than 100,000 new houses constructed, more than 90,000 hectares of agricultural land restored and 2,500 kilometers of road built. In late 2008, the MDF held a photo competition for people involved with projects or agencies related to reconstruction. The resulting pictures are not professionally created, but they give a beautifully close and comprehensive view of the rebuilding of Aceh.
(Hover your mouse over "Notes" to see information about each photo)