Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I haven't talked much about the Tsunami and its devastating impact on Banda Aceh yet so here is what I've learned in the few weeks I've been here. Forgive me if some of the details are vague but I am still learning about the history of the place.

Nearly everyone in Banda Aceh lost family members in this horrific disaster. 40% of the population was killed.

People divide history into two categories: Before Tsunami and After Tsunami.

Before tsunami, Banda Aceh was in the midst of a long-running civil war. The province wanted independence from the central government of Indonesia. Aceh province was a very dangerous area, with battles going on everywhere, including Banda Aceh city. The few people I've talked to about it said that it was very risky to even leave their homes most of the time.

A peace agreement between GAM and the government was signed a few weeks after the Tsunami. This agreement still holds, but there are pockets of GAM strongholds in more rural areas that still want independence. There is a national election next year and it is anticipated that GAM representatives will win throughout Aceh province.

So the population of the province was already traumatized when the tsunami hit. The 9-meter (30 foot) wall of water wiped out a large portion of the city almost instantly. The portions that were not flooded were without water, electricity, and food for a long time before aid arrived. People searched desperately for loved ones. Livelihoods, homes, businesses, and possessions were destroyed in a few minutes.

People talk about what happened quite frankly, and the topic pops up frequently in coversations. I'm a bit reluctant to ask people about it because I know everyone lost loved ones.

Here are some pictures from the first few days after the tsunami from MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres), who were one of the first groups on the ground. I have not posted the most horrific ones as they are far too disturbing.

Its almost as if a giant scrub brush came along and scraped the beach areas completely clean and dumped everything inland. You can see the strength of the water in the below pictures showing massive boats that were carried several kilometers inland. What is remarkable is the fact that you would hardly know that the tsunami ever happened now. The ruins have been cleared away and most of the city rebuilt. The only giveaway is the row upon row of identical freshly constructed homes lining the flats near the beach. The hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money that poured into Banda Aceh helped to reconstruct many of the homes that were demolished.

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