I vividly remember the collective gasp on the plane as we broke through the clouds near Banda Aceh and the coastline came into view for the first time; it was early January 2005 and below us was a scene of utter destruction that stretched as far as one could see. The tsunami had travelled far inland, flattening everything in its path. Driving from the airport into town in drizzling rain we passed a mass grave, one of many around Aceh. It’s a sight I will never forget.
The Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami devastated coastal communities around the Indian Ocean, killing hundreds of thousands of people; hundreds of thousands more lost their homes and all their belongings. The 10th anniversary provides us with an opportunity to remember the victims; and to reflect on the resilience of the survivors, as well as the unprecedented international response to this disaster. Paul Jeffrey recently traveled to Aceh and Nias to revisit some of the communities where ACT members, including CWS, have made a difference in the months and years following the tsunami.
The anniversary is also an opportunity to look at the present, and the future. Indonesia remains one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. This vast and diverse archipelago is routinely impacted by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, landslides and forest fires, which threaten lives and livelihoods. In the ten years since the tsunami thousands of people have died in disasters such as the Java earthquake of May 2006 which killed nearly 6,000 people and destroyed over 150,000 houses. There are also frequent smaller disasters, particularly landslide and floods. Just recently, on December 12, a landslide in Banjarnegara in Central Java buried 53 houses and left over 100 people dead or missing.
All in all there is an urgent need to continue investing in disaster risk management in Indonesia, particularly at the community level: to increase disaster preparedness capacity and strengthen community resilience to disaster shocks. That’s why CWS, with support from our partner Act for Peace, is implementing a safe schools and safe communities project in Tana Toraja District in South Sulawesi, targeting around 2,300 school children, their teachers and their communities. The project fosters a culture of safety among primary school-aged children (ages 6-12), promotes community-based disaster risk awareness and management, and initiates community action that will lead to safer communities.
So as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tsunami today we should remember all those who perished that day – and be mindful that much remains to be done to reduce the impact of future disasters. Together with local communities and the local government CWS colleagues continue to help ensure that communities in Indonesia are better prepared when the next disaster strikes.
Michael Koeniger is CWS’s Country Representative for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.