Tsunami in


Part of Waves of Devastation, a class website on the Indian Ocean Tsunami & Global Environmental Injustice, produced by students of Geography 378 (International Environmental Problems & Policy) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, Spring 2005.


Indonesia Overview


Banda Aceh (provincial capital of Aceh)

Indonesia Overview from Lonely Planet

Due to its proximity to the epicentre of the December 26th earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Indonesia suffered the most physical damage and loss of human life of all of its neighbours. Whole villages were wiped out, and deposits of debris impeded the relief effort from accessing isolated areas and delivering supplies of food and water. The March 28 earthquake has added to the region's misery.

Prior to the latest calamity (the March 28, 2005 earthquake on Nias Island), the number of dead and missing from the tsunami  was close to 219,000, with another 500,000 homeless. Unlike other affected countries, the UN says Indonesia is the only affected country where the aid response is still in the initial emergency and recovery phase. Some areas within the province and outlying islands are yet to be accessed due to the sheer build up of debris across access roads and aircraft landing areas. Damage includes: 1.3 million homes and buildings; 8 ports and 4 fuel depots; 85% of the water and 92% of the sanitation system; and 120 km of roads and 18 bridges. Aceh is closed to tourism and permits are needed for anyone entering the area.

The World Food Program estimated that it fed 500,000 displaced or affected people in Indonesia in February - up from the January figure of 330,000. Health risks are high, though plentiful measures are in place via local and international medical teams on the ground.

The Acehnese are reportedly quite wary of foreigners taking advantage of their plight. Over 50,000 Indonesian troops, plus 4,478 foreign troops from 11 countries are currently on the ground in Aceh, plus thousands more in ships off the coast. As for aid workers, 3,645 were recently registered at the UN compound, but the list is believed to be far from complete. There have been several reports of tensions regarding control and distribution of aid.

The fragility of the situation in Aceh has been compounded by ongoing military tension between the Indonesian government and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), or the Free Aceh Movement, who have been fighting for an independent homeland in Aceh since 1976. Optimism that the disaster might force a pause in the conflict has wavered on and off, with January peace talks in Helsinki reaching a stalemate; government claims of 200 rebel deaths since Boxing Day.

Aceh: In Aceh, over one million people in 14 of 21 districts were affected. Of those, 220,000 are dead or missing and 800,000 displaced. Over 21,000 houses have been destroyed. The situation in many temporary camps has been described as critical, with fresh water, nutritious food and prevention of disease the most immediate priorities. Construction of houses, provision of schooling and return of the population to employment and income generation are all being tackled by local and federal governments.

Meulaboh:  The western Sumatran town of Meulaboh, some 150km from the centre of the earthquake and capital of the Kabupaten district of Aceh Barat, lost an estimated 40,000 of 120,000 people, many of them made up of fishing villagers and palm-oil plantation workers. An airstrip has been cleared in Meulaboh and the Red Cross have set up their western Aceh base in the city
Nias: The island of Nias, a popular destination among surfers off North Sumatra has suffered severe damage, and remains off-limits.

Teunom and Calang: Very little is left of Teunom, an isolated fishing town in the Aceh Barat (west Aceh) district. Of 18000, it is estimated that 8000 have perished. Calang, the capital of the Aceh Jaya district and home to 12,000 people has, like Teunom, been almost entirely washed away by the tsunami. The damage has reached as far inland as two kilometers from Calang.

Simeulue: The quick thinking of local people on Simeulue Island, where many fled to the mountains, resulted in the loss of only six lives. Approximately 4,000 houses have been destroyed and 21,000 people on the island are currently living in refugee camps. Several fishing and surf resorts on Simeulue are claiming to be open to tourists and calling on tourists to return to help the island's economy. Flights to the island arrive from Medan, however the extent to which resorts are operational is likely to be on a seriously reduced level.

Relief efforts in Aceh remain in the acute phase, with fresh water and the containment of disease among the top priorities for health workers. The bulk of health centres (77 in total) were damaged or destroyed in the tsunami. One hospital in Banda Aceh and one in Meulaboh remain operational. The World Health Organisation, working with a variety of NGO's, has set up field hospitals across the province and safe water supply has been achieved in many areas. But with no water distribution system left intact and no large reservoirs available, water has to be distributed from centralised locations, requiring exhaustive transportation and physical expenditure.

Hundreds of thousands of people in refugee camps are at risk due to poor conditions. There continue to be reports of diarrhea, malaria, measles, pneumonia and skin infections, but no abnormal disease outbreaks. According to UN sources, the measles vaccination campaign following an outbreak in January reached a total 65,343 children (about 54.9 per cent of the targeted population) - primarily children located in camps.

Mental health has been underlined as a long term repercussion of the crisis, with health officials warning that a majority of survivors directly affected by the tsunami will experience symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

A preliminary damage assessment prepared by the Indonesian government, the World Bank, and other international donors, finds that Aceh and northern Sumatra will face significant challenges in recovering from the devastating effects of the tsunami. Though the report expects the economic damage for Indonesia to be slight, the estimated total damages and losses in Aceh amount to US$4.5 billion - almost equal to the entire GDP of that area.
The Tsunami Generation

 Tsunami Rebels (Newsweek)

Indonesia: Malnutrition and disease threaten Aceh's 'Tsunami Generation'
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (ReliefWeb) - One in eight children in tsunami-affected areas of Indonesia is suffering from acute malnutrition, according to a rapid nutrition assessment conducted by UNICEF.

Diarrhoea, fever and coughing are also widespread among children and women in emergency relief camps across Aceh province. Health workers say clean water and sanitation, immunization against diseases such as measles, and supplemental feeding are urgently needed.

The survey, conducted in mid-January, involved measuring weight and height of 614 children between six months and five years old in and around Banda Aceh, and checking for signs of malnutrition or disease. More than 300 women between 18 and 45 years old were also included in the population examined in the survey. The goal was to provide a clearer picture of the health situation of children and families in the region.

"If there are any diseases, any outbreak like measles, diarrhoea, or cholera, children will start losing weight immediately," said Ali Mokdad, the head of the Behavioural Surveillance Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who coordinated the assessment.

The rapid nutrition assessment found that acute malnutrition was prevalent in 12.7 per cent of children. In addition, 42.6 per cent had suffered from diarrhoea, 69.7 per cent from cough and 55.9 per cent from fever.

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians are still living in makeshift shelters, their homes and communities heavily damaged or destroyed by the tsunami. At Desa Lampaya relief camp, on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, a regular supply of food is available, but people living there say it's not always nourishing.

"Instant noodles and rice are not high in nutrition," said Yuniar, a young woman who is living in a tent with her husband and their five-year-old daughter, Siti Raudhatul Gina. "Many people here have fever and cough."

Yuniar worked as a midwife until the tsunami hit her coastal village, destroying it. Now she faces a daily struggle to find a good and nutritious meal for her family. "We need more vitamins, fruits, eggs and milk," said Yuniar. "The food is only minimally sufficient here."

"I'm concerned about the increase in the price of food here," said Mr. Mokdad. "I'm also concerned about the harvest this year. Many people lost their fields. If we have enough food, we should give more to the communities."

To fight disease, UNICEF and Indonesia's Ministry of Health are coordinating a campaign to immunize 1.3 million children against measles in 13 districts of Aceh province. Tens of thousands of children have already been vaccinated and also received vitamin A supplements, but health workers say many more remain at risk, particularly in hard-to-reach areas.
The War in Aceh (North Sumatra)

Interview with Allan Nairn
January 4, 2005
by Derrick O'Keefe, Seven Oaks

Allan Nairn is a top investigative journalist. He has been prominent in the effort to bring attention to the East Timor issue. In 1991, he and his colleague Amy Goodman were caught in a peaceful demonstration in East Timor that was brutally attacked by the Indonesian army. Their report on the massacre won the prestigious Du Pont Award for journalism.
1. Could you tell us the latest with respect to the devastation caused by last month’s earthquake and tsunami, specifically in Aceh?

Well, the coastal areas of Aceh have been crushed by the earthquake and the tsunami. Large parts of Banda Aceh are under water; they’ve become part of the sea. The west coast is hardest hit and whole villages are leveled. But this is not the first catastrophe to hit Aceh. Previously, it was devastated by unnecessary and preventable poverty. Aceh is rich in resources; it’s one of the world’s main natural gas producers. It supplies much of the natural gas for South Korea and Japan, and yet the revenues have gone to Exxon Mobil and the central government in Jakarta, with almost nothing left for the poor of Aceh. And as a result, we’ve seen malnutrition and undernourishment levels among the children of Aceh running as high as 40 percent.

2. A number of activist groups in the United States have concerns that the Indonesian government will hamper disaster relief efforts, and also that they will exploit the situation to further repress Acehnese political activists. Do you know of, or see evidence of this taking place in Aceh?

Well, the Indonesian military is doing that as we speak. They are continuing to attack villages, more than a dozen villages in East Aceh and North Aceh away from the coast, even though General Susilo, the president of Indonesia, announced that they would be lifting the state of siege. He hasn’t actually done it. And an Indonesian military spokesman came out and said, ‘we will keep attacking until the President tells us to stop.’

The military is also impeding the flow of aid. They’ve commandeered a hanger at the Banda Aceh airport, where they are taking control of internationally shipped in supplies. We just got a report this afternoon that the distribution of supplies is being done in some towns and villages only to people who hold the ‘red and white,’ which is a special ID card issued to Acehnese by the Indonesian police. You have to go to a police station to get one of these ID cards, and it is only issued to people who the police certify as not being opponents of the army, not being critics of the government. Of course many people are afraid to go and apply for such a card.

There’s been a tremendous outpouring from the public; all over the world people are giving donations. But most of these donations are being channeled through the UN agencies or through the big mainstream charities. There’s a major problem. Those agencies and charities all have contracts with the Indonesian government, contracts which oblige them to either channel funds through the government or work in concert with the government, which means that government officials and army officers can steal the aid, and there are already indications that this is happening. And even that aid which is not stolen may be used in a way to consolidate military control over the population.

3. What is the background to the political conflict in Aceh?

Really the second wave of devastation to hit Aceh was the Indonesian military. Aceh is one of the most repressive places in the world. They have been under de facto Martial Law for years. Now, international relief workers and foreign journalists are pouring in, but, until the tsunami, they were banned by the Indonesian military. The reason is that the Acehnese want a free vote; they want a referendum which would give them the option of choosing independence from the central government and Indonesia.

In 1999, there was a demonstration in front of the Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh which drew anywhere from 400 000 to a million people. That’s anywhere from 10 percent to a quarter of the entire Acehnese population of 4 million. In proportional terms, that makes it one of the largest political demonstrations in recent world history. The military responded to this demonstration by crushing the civilian political movement that was calling for referendum – assassinating, disappearing, raping activists, and continuing with the massacres that had already dotted Aceh with mass graves before the tsunami created new mass graves.

The Indonesian military actually encourages the armed conflict that is going on between them and the GAM (Aceh Freedom Movement), which is an armed rebel pro-independence group. The Indonesian military occasionally sells weapons to the GAM. The military likes this war because, one, they can’t be defeated militarily, and two, because it gives them a rationale for their political existence. The Indonesian military is one of the most repressive and corrupt in the world and, after the fall of Suharto, it became extremely unpopular in Indonesia – there was a strong popular movement against it. But by prolonging the war in Aceh, the Indonesian armed forces are able to say to the public, ‘see, we’re facing an armed rebellion, you need us to protect you.’ And then third, the war in Aceh is a rich source of corruption for the Indonesian military officers. They do systematic extortion of business, small business and the poor, so they want to stay there. And they crush the civilian movement to avoid a political contest that they might well lose, and they encourage a military fight which they can only win.

4. It sounds very much as if conditions for the people of Aceh are as bad today as they were under the Suharto dictatorship. When did the conflict between the independence movement of Aceh and the government of Jakarta begin, and what are its origins?

Well, Aceh as a nation predates Indonesia. It was actually an ancient kingdom that ruled the area that is now Aceh as well as a lot of what is now Malaysia. When Indonesia came into being after World War II, with the uprising against the Dutch colonialists, Aceh played a leading role in fighting off the Dutch. And the Acehnese made a bargain with the other islands that came to form Indonesia that they would join the new country of Indonesia in exchange for substantial internal autonomy, and freedom to go their own way. But very quickly the central government in Jakarta reneged on that deal, and the Acehnese became quite unhappy. And then when Suharto and his army seized power in the 1965-67 period, and staged massacres all across Indonesia to consolidate their power, it began a period of military repression of the pro-independence movement in Aceh. The Acehnese tried for years the political route, and it didn’t work. Then in the 1970s the GAM, the armed rebel movement, was formed. But even before they existed the Indonesian military and police were killing Acehnese civilians.

5. What are some of the connections between U.S. corporate interests and the Indonesian military repression in Aceh?

There’s one main connection, and that’s Exxon Mobil. Their natural gas facility dominates the Acehnese economy, by way of extraction. They also have Indonesian troops garrisoned on their property. The Exxon Mobil company pays protection money to the Indonesian military and the military buries bodies of its victims on Exxon Mobil lands. The revenues from Exxon Mobil are a mainstay of the Jakarta central government. Not much of it finds its way back to Aceh.

6. As someone who operates in the United States, what did you think of the spectacle over the past couple of days of U.S. military helicopters delivering aid, in sharp contrast to U.S. military operations over the past couple of years in Iraq, for instance?

It’s bitterly ironic. You don’t even have to go as far a field as Iraq to get an illustration of the role the U.S. has played. The Indonesian military is a long-time client of the U.S. The U.S. supported the military as they were bringing Suharto to power, as they were carrying out a massacre of anywhere from 400 000 to a million Indonesians during 1965-67. The U.S. gave the green light to the invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian military, which wiped out a third of the Timorese population, 200 000 people.

It’s only as a result of grassroots lobbying in the U.S. after the ’91 Dili massacre that the U.S. Congress stepped in and cut off much of the U.S. military aid to Indonesia. But this was done over the objection of the U.S. executive, over the objection of the first President Bush, and then President Clinton, and now the current President Bush. And there will be a major battle coming up in the U.S. Congress as Bush tries to restore the military aid now. But hopefully the public will bring enough pressure to bear on Congress that Congress will resist.

But the U.S. has deep complicity in the massacres over the years in Indonesia, in occupied Timor, currently in Papua and very recently and currently in Aceh. So it’s bitterly ironic to see U.S. helicopters coming ashore in the role of deliverers of relief.

7. You’ve mentioned some problems with the established NGOs working in Indonesia and Aceh. Is there a way that people can contribute to the relief effort, and to efforts to raise awareness about the situation in Aceh more generally?

Yes, fortunately there is a way around the problem of Indonesian military cooptation of the UN and big mainstream relief channels. And that is to give directly to the grassroots Acehnese groups, which have been working for years with people in the refugee camps and which – even though their people are at risk – can deliver aid directly to the public because they do not have these contractual relationships with the Indonesian government and military. One such group is the People’s Crisis Center (PCC) of Aceh, which for years has been going into the ‘re-education camps,’ which are set up by the Indonesian military – farmers are driven off their land, put into these camps to have their thoughts cleansed by military propagandists. And the children in these camps were often going hungry, not getting clean water, not getting schooling, and people from the PCC would come in and try to aid the children and give some education and some subsistence. And now they’re working on disaster relief. Over the years their organizers were often targeted by the military, but they’ve persisted, they’ve been very brave.

Now the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) of the United States is channeling aid to the PCC and similar on-the-ground Acehnese groups. So if people want to donate, they can go to the ETAN U.S. website, which is 

Indonesian army on patrol in Aceh

Tsunami Still Taking Toll: Indonesian Military Combines Relief with Executing Rebels....
UCLA professors say relief efforts hurt by prexisting conditions in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

by Angilee Shah, AsiaMedia

Professors Geoffrey Robinson and Nandini Gunewardena addressed a small audience at UCLA on Monday evening, February 7, about tsunami relief in the context of Indonesian and Sri Lankan history. The event, called "Before the Wave," was organized by the UCLA California Student Sustainability Coalition and UNICEF at UCLA and held in the Public Policy building.

Robinson, associate professor of history and director of the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, outlined the recent history of Indonesia and of Aceh province in particular. The death toll in Indonesia is over 200,000, by far the most deaths in any country. While the tsunami had a devastating effect, Robinson said, "much of what is going on is man-made."

The Indonesian Military (TNI), which has a long record of human rights abuses, is using the disaster as a cover for systematic executions and torture of individuals who are part of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), said Robinson. TNI has admitted to killing 100 and detaining several hundred GAM members in the weeks after the tsunami.

"Some say GAM is the essence of Aceh's problem -- the real problem is not the existence of an independence movement," said Robinson. Rather, he insisted, the problem is the violent counter-insurgency program TNI pursues. "Even after we saw the gradual democratization of Jakarta, in Aceh the war continued." In 1992, the Indonesian government declared a state of emergency in Aceh and increased its military presence in the region. "Under martial law, [Aceh] was explicitly sealed off to journalists, sealed off to human rights workers."

The continuation of this program presents many problems for relief efforts. "Why was it that after the tsunami hit, the media was telling us that the worst areas hit were Sri Lanka and Thailand?" Robinson asked. He said that the reason for the delay of news was that there were no journalists and no foreign tourists or international organizations in the province. This, Robinson said, presents the first problem for relief workers: a lack of infrastructure and information in the area.

Compounding these problems, TNI's history of abuse, including the 1999 massacre in East Timor, has made it difficult for them to distribute aid. Indonesia's military is the primary mechanism for relief, but Robinson said, "Many Acehnese, arguably most Acehnese, are mistrustful and fearful of soldiers. That experience of 30 years of brutality unquestionably hinders relief."
TNI also intimidates aid workers, said Robinson. As an example, he said that two weeks earlier a human rights worker was detained and beaten by the military; he was accused of stealing supplies. While the Indonesia government opened Aceh to foreigners in the first few weeks after the disaster, they now require military escorts for foreigners who want to travel into the countryside where most of the damage occurred.

Robinson said this policy was made in the name of protecting humanitarian workers from GAM militants. GAM, however, wants foreigners in the area to witness TNI's counterinsurgency violence. The policy, Robinson said, is actually in place to hide TNI's human rights abuses.

"It provides a very dangerous opportunity for the Indonesian military to attack its enemies under the cover of humanitarian need," said Robinson.
Robinson also warned that the United States might use this humanitarian crisis as reason to restore military ties with Indonesia. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz both expressed interest in renewing ties, a move that Robinson said would overlook the human rights violations TNI has been committing for many years.