Sunday, December 27, 2009

Five Years Ago Yesterday . . .

From Asia News IT
12/26/09 Asian nations remember those who died in the tsunami five years ago
by Mathias Hariyadi
Muslims hold ceremonies in Aceh. Buddhists pray in Thailand. Sri Lanka holds two minutes of silence to commemorate one of the worst disasters in history. Meanwhile, corruption continues to hamper reconstruction.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Ceremonies were held around the Indian Ocean to commemorate those who died in the 2004 tsunami. Five years ago, some 220,000 people were killed by a killer wave; millions more saw their lives changed forever as their homes, fields and boats were swept away in just a few minutes.
Across Indonesia's Aceh province, where more than 160,000 people lost their lives, solemn group prayers were offered, but the atmosphere was also festive.
In Ulee Lheue, in Banda Ache’s Meuraxa District, Vice President Boediono and a number of cabinet ministers attended a commemoration ceremony along with at least 5,000 people.
In the great mosque of Kami Lhoong, in Aceh Besar District, hundreds of Muslims came together last night for a nighttime prayer vigil. Another prayer ceremony was held in Bandung (West Java).
Hundreds of survivors took part in various ceremonies, mourning the loss of their loved ones and the terrible transformation brought to their lives and their province.
On the western coast of Thailand, thousands of Buddhist monks gathered in various locations to pay tribute to the dead.
In this part of the world, some 5,000 people died on that fateful day, including more than 2,000 foreigners from 37 different countries. From the beaches, votive candles were set adrift in the sea.
In Sri Lanka, where at least 30,000 people died, the nation observed two minutes of silence.
After the tsunami of 26 December 2004, the various Asian nations on the Indian Ocean set up an early warning system to avoid tragedies of such magnitude. Although it appears to be working, there are still some hitches to work out.
The greatest difficulty of all is reconstruction. The international community responded to the tragedy with great generosity but the problem of corruption has emerged, especially in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India.

and from Time Magazine: Memories of Aceh: Indonesia Five Years After the Tsunami
By Andrew Marshall

“The destination you have dialed does not exist."
It is Jan. 9, 2005. I have spent two weeks in Thailand reporting on a tsunami that has transformed its famous beach resorts into corpse-strewn ruins. One night, exhausted, my clothes reeking of death, I try calling a colleague in the hard-hit Indonesian province of Aceh. I simply misdial, but the recorded message gives me chills: "The destination you have dialed..."
Aceh did exist, of course, but with 166,000 dead or missing it had borne the brunt of the Indian Ocean tsunami, triggered by a 9.15-magnitude earthquake off the Indonesian coast on Dec. 26, 2004. It was a truly international catastrophe: the tsunami struck 13 countries, killing 226,000 people of 40 nationalities. Five years later, a first-time visitor to the worst-affected countries — Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand — might find the wave's terrible path hard to detect, thanks to a multinational, multi-billion-dollar reconstruction effort. Across Aceh, thousands of houses were built with foreign aid in what were once wastelands. In Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, new homes surround a 2,600-ton ship pushed a mile inland by the Tsunami. It is now a tourist attraction. (See TIME's photo-essay "The Asian Tsuanmi: Five Years Later.")
When I traveled to Aceh in 2005, three weeks after the wave struck, some 3,000 bodies were still being pulled from the rubble every day. Most aid-workers and journalists saw more dead in their first few days than in a lifetime of conflicts and emergencies, yet it was the living who haunted us. I will never forget a gaunt, dignified Acehnese woman called Lisdiana, who was combing the debris for any trace of her four-year-old nephew Azeel. She had dreamed he was still alive. "He's a very handsome boy," she told me, "with skin as white as yours." Did she find Azeel? Probably not. The missing stayed missing, the dead stayed dead.
A return to Aceh today is a heartening experience. Billions of dollars in reconstruction funds have poured into the province, and it shows. Banda Aceh, where the tsunami killed 60,000 people — a fifth of the population — is now bustling and prosperous. There is a new hospital and airport, and tourist shops selling I-love-Aceh T-shirts. (See where the next five big earthquakes will be.)
There is also peace. The tsunami helped extinguish a decades-old conflict between Indonesian government troops and separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (known as GAM by its initials in Bahasa Indonesian), who laid down their weapons in 2005. Despite sporadic political violence, Aceh's war is over. One enterprising local travel agent even offers "guerrilla tours" to GAM's former jungle strongholds.
That's not to say Acenese have truly healed, or that they ever will. Syamsiah, 47, runs a food stall in Calang, a tsunami-annihilated town about 90 miles from Banda Aceh that was rebuilt by the Red Cross. She seemed unfazed by the prospect of another tsunami ("That's God's business. Why should I be afraid?") but is tormented by the loss of many of her relatives, including her parents, when the wave swept over their coastal village. Syamsiah had found only their bones. "It broke my heart," she sobbed.
While most Tsunami-hit areas have been rebuilt, "there's still more work to be done," says Patrick Fuller of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Top of the list: preparing for the next disaster. A regional tsunami early-warning system has been up and running since 2006. But getting timely and accurate information to imperiled communities is problematic. Time is of the essence: Aceh, for example, sits on the northern tip of the seismologically hyperactive island of Sumatra, where an earthquake in the western city of Padang killed more than 1,000 people in September.
This month, thousands of bereaved worldwide will observe the tsunami's fifth anniversary as solemnly as its first or its 50th. The rest of us can take some solace in the fact that while the tragedy of the tsunami touched every continent, so too did the relief effort that followed. More than 100 countries took part in the tsunami response. Some $13.5 billion was pledged in aid, with an unprecedented $5.5 billion donated by the general public. Not since the Live Aid famine-relief concerts of 1985 had the world's compassion been so galvanized. At one point, Britons were donating nearly $14,000 a minute to the main tsunami relief fund. The wave slammed into Asian and east African shores, but the whole world seemed to absorb some of its impact, some of its grief. Today we can reflect upon what our overwhelming response five years ago means as we face other global emergencies: that out of nature's darkest hour can come one of humanity's finest.

Read more:,8599,1950026,00.html#ixzz0ar6RKmEk

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Holidays to all my friends, family and colleagues

It’s been a couple of months since I last checked in, and I wanted to publicly wish my friends and colleagues and Aceh a peaceful and joyous holiday season. This month in Indonesia we celebrate both Hari Natal (the birth of Jesus) and the first day of the Muharram, the new Islamic Year, on December 18th. December will also see even more celebrating in Aceh if we manage to get one of the two large grants we’ve applied for from either UNIFEM or the Multi Donor Fund, so let’s keep fingers crossed. Also, we’re starting to think about replicating some of the sustainable livelihoods initiatives we’ve implemented in Aceh and trying them out in our own back yard: the farming communities of upstate New York, where an increasing number of families and migrant workers are living below the poverty level and losing their agricultural livelihoods at a rate alarming to both the region and the state of the food supply in the US. I’ll write more on this in the new year, which promises to be very, very busy.

In the meantime, on behalf of everyone at Building Bridges to the Future and Jembatan Masa Depan, I send my very best wishes for your happiness, safety and prosperity this holiday season and in the coming year.