Overview from Lonely
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 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
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
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 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
"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
War in Aceh (North Sumatra)
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
1. Could you tell us the latest with respect to the devastation
caused by last months earthquake and tsunami, specifically
Well, the coastal areas of Aceh have been crushed by the earthquake
and the tsunami. Large parts of Banda Aceh are under water; theyve
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; its one of the worlds
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, weve 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 hasnt 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. Theyve 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.
Theres 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. Theres 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.
Thats 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 cant 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, were 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 didnt 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?
Theres one main connection, and thats 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?
Its bitterly ironic. You dont 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.
Its 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 its bitterly ironic to see U.S.
helicopters coming ashore in the role of deliverers of relief.
7. Youve 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 Peoples 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 theyre
working on disaster relief. Over the years their organizers were
often targeted by the military, but theyve persisted, theyve
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 http://www.etan.org
army on patrol in Aceh
Tsunami Still Taking Toll: Indonesian Military Combines
Relief with Executing Rebels....
professors say relief efforts hurt by prexisting conditions in Indonesia
and Sri Lanka.
by Angilee Shah, AsiaMedia
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
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,"
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.