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Earthquake and Tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia

Excerpts from an eyewitness' diary written up by Ailsa Zainu'ddin, a member of an alliance of Muslim NGOs. Dated 12 January 2005. Submitted by Fr. John Prior, svd - Puslit Candraditya – Maumere, Indonesia.

"In other countries affected by the tsunami, the villages inland of the affected areas have played a leading role in providing support to the victims. Aceh has suffered a civil war for the last 25 years, during which time over ten thousand people have been killed by TNI (the Indonesian military) and GAM (the Aceh Liberation Movement). The population is thoroughly terrorised. Villagers in Aceh not affected by the tsunami are too scared to leave their village to offer support to neighbouring religions for fear of later being targeted by TNI or GAM. Although GAM and TNI declared a cease-fire following the tsunami, in most places troops are unwilling to leave their existing zones of operation in case they are taken over by the enemy.

"For many Acehnese this has been one of the first times they have worked together with other Indonesians and their first contact with foreigners. Their outpouring of appreciation has brought tears to the eyes of all volunteers providing relief in Aceh. The disaster of the tsunami has cracked open the military stranglehold on Aceh. Here's praying that this openness is maintained in the months and years ahead.

"Our relief centre is providing community-based health and trauma counselling, especially for women and children. Most of the volunteers are from Aceh and northern Sumatra, and every effort is being made to involve the victims in providing relief, clearing up the mess, counselling, cooking etc. The second round of volunteers from Jakarta will be sent to Aceh at the end of this week, to replace those who are exhausted from one or two weeks in the disaster zone. A team of volunteer film makers will travel to Aceh (this) week to document the lessons learned from community-based disaster management and response. I'll stay only a week. It is exhausting and dangerous being in the disaster area.

"The five billion dollars promised in donations for the tsunami victims sounds like a lot, but it has to help five million people around the shores of the Indian Ocean who lost loved ones, houses, livelihoods, many with serious injuries etc. That's only a thousand dollars each.

"Our housemate, Titi, got back yesterday after a week in Aceh, sick as a dog. She crawled to the doctors to find out that she's got Dengue and Typhoid and was sent straight to hospital. She's recovering OK, but they'll keep her there a week and then she'll have to take it easy for a couple more."

Two good Indonesian NGO websites:

  • http://walhi.or.id Our Maumere-based Candraditya Research Centre for the Study of Religion and Culture has worked with Walhi on human rights cases.
  • www.poskokita.org/ the alliance of NGOs that sent on the above comments.

John Prior,
Puslit Candraditya,
Jln. Lerowulan 1,
Wairklau-Maumere 86 112,
Flores-NTT, Indonesia.