22 February 2010 30 year old Adli still remembers the day that changed his life. He was a food seller in Lambaro, in the district Aceh Besar when the tsunami struck the city on December 26th, 2004. Across Aceh more than 165,000 people were killed or remain missing. Adli only survived because his family lived in an area that was slightly elevated above sea-level. He recalls the hundreds of people in Lambaro who camped out in front of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) offices after the disaster.
“Many of them had bad injuries. They came from everywhere, desperate for help for themselves and their families. They were horrific days”.
While Adli gave what he could from his food stall to survivors, a month later his business collapsed. Five years on, the path to recovery hasn’t been easy for him but he now has a good job as a chef at Café Raya, near to the Tsunami Museum in Banda Aceh. Adli feels that his life, like hundred thousands survivors, is now much better, particularly after peace came to Aceh in 2005, ending an insurgency that had held back Aceh’s development for over two decades.
Building back better
For the Red Cross and Red Crescent the tsunami prompted the largest single relief and recovery operation in recent history. Over the course of five years 47 National Societies have stepped in to support the PMI and the IFRC to tackle the massive humanitarian needs in Aceh where almost 180,000 homes had been lost and economic losses exceeded CHF 4.5 billion.
One of the immediate tasks for the PMI volunteers who arrived in Aceh was to retrieve the dead. In those first weeks some 45,000 bodies were collected and buried. At the same time psychosocial support was provided to more than 60,000 survivors.
The paramount need for tsunami survivors was shelter. Getting people out of tents and temporary accomodation into a home of their own was a priority. The IFRC played a lead role in the transitional shelter programme in Aceh, building over 21,000 high quality, aluminium framed wooden shelters. These were gradually replaced by permanent housing settlements and by the end of 2009 Red Cross Red Crescent partners had built almost 22,000 new homes. Many of the shelters can still be seen today as home extensions or shopfronts.
Beyond housing, damage to infrastructure had been widespread and the Red Cross Red Crescent built or refurbished 105 schools along with 191 hospitals and health and community centres. “During the 6 hour drive along the coast from Banda Aceh to Calang, you can clearly see how entire communities have come back to life”, says Bob McKerrow, the IFRC’s head of delegation in Indonesia. “We don’t talk only about the numbers of new houses. These communities have been built in safer areas to a very high standard”.
Improving people’s access to water and good sanitation after the tsunami was also essential. In some towns such as Calang the Red Cross Red Crescent installed water systems to provide for entire urban populations and in rural areas of Nias, hundreds of villages have communal toilets and tapstands together with a greater awareness of good hygiene practises. Over 300,000 people in Indonesia now have access to an improved water source thanks to Red Cross Red Crescent interventions after the tsunami.
Building preparedness to face future disasters
Perhaps one of the most important contributions made by the Red Cross Red Crescent in Aceh has been the engagement with local communities to help them prepare better to face future hazards. Through an integrated community based risk reduction (ICBRR) programme, the PMI is working with 265 communities throughout Aceh to identify the various risks their villages face and help guide them towards developing contingency plans. This includes training community members in first aid skills that would be useful in emergency situations. So far, 35,560 people have been trained in carrying out vulnerability and capacity assessments or community based disaster management.
Emphasis has also been placed on establishing stocks of non-food relief items that can be quickly mobilised in the vent of a disaster. The PMI now has buffer stocks strategically situated in warehouses in their four branches in Aceh and at national level in Jakarta, Surabaya and West Sumatra along with another two logistic warehouses in PMI chapters in Banda Aceh and Padang.
PMI also recognised the need for a fast and effective communications system that can be used during disasters. The PMI has established an HF and VHF radio communication network across all its branches in Aceh and Nias. This network also links the National Society headquarters and its North Sumatra chapter. More than 60 radio operators have been trained. They support the PMI branches in the day to day operation of the radio system.
Measuring the successes of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s recovery efforts goes far beyond physical reconstruction projects. As a national organisation the PMI had a unique understanding of the local operating environment in Aceh which also helped to establish a positive working relationship between the IFRC and the BRR - the government agency responsible for tsunami reconstruction. The IFRC took on many challenges, focusing on areas of Aceh where needs were greatest, which often meant working in remote areas away from the ‘media spotlight’ where other organisations had a limited presence. This applied on the island of Simeleue and Calang, in Aceh Jaya, which was the worst affected town on the west coast where more than 80 per cent of the population perished.
As tsunami programmes in Aceh wrap-up, the process of transitioning out of tsunami programming into support for the PMI’s longer term development plans is well underway. Support for the PMIs community-based risk reduction programmes will continue until 2012 and beyond.