Banda Aceh, and Aceh Besar

Excerpts from FCF Programs officer Grant Montgomery, written while checking on tsunami rebuilding projects that Family Care Foundation (FCF) is involved with.

Day 1 - I fly to Jakarta, and then on to Banda Aceh, which is a 3-hour plus flight north of Jakarta. As you may know, Banda Aceh is the capital city of Aceh province, epicenter of the Tsunami earthquake and destruction. (See pointer indicating location of Banda Aceh on map below, as well as the basin that received the full impact of the tsunami wave.)

Until 2 years ago, the city of Banda Aceh and the immediate area had a population of 400,000. Today the population is more like 300,000, with almost 100,000 casualties in this city alone when the wave intruded 3 miles inland on this coastal city, completely covering half the city in water. And today the actual shoreline is totally different than it was less than 2 years ago, prior to that fateful December 26th morning. Much of the landscape sank below sea level. Dead bodies, boats, and vehicles were everywhere, followed by debris and 3 - 15 feet of mud covering everything when it receded. Additionally, locals estimate that another 300,000 were killed along the coast in the province, for a total of 400,000 deaths.

The amazing thing is this city is now clean as a whistle (that is by Asian standards), the buildings largely restored, and the people have moved on, despite the fact that nearly everyone you meet has lost some loved one. A monumental clean-up task, though still so much to be done.

This is the most Muslim part of the most populous Muslim country in the world. Aceh province has been closed to foreigners and the outside world for 30 years until this disaster.

Nowadays, these very sweet and broken people are very open to and thankful to the States and Canada and other western countries, which have been helping them rebuild. What a great way to address the so-called War on Terrorism, use aid to create friends.

Below (left) it is a photo of a monument to the Tsunami, illustrating what the wave did to this particular vehicle (with mosque in the background).

Also saw a 2000-ton barge (above right) that still rests on top of part of a neighborhood 2 miles inland!

Tomorrow I begin touring the coastal area where replacement fishing boats that FCF built have given back a livelihood to many, as well as revived the local economy through boat building etc.

Actually these Family Care boats won the distinction of being “the first fishing boats back in the water after the tsunami” and were also selected to appear in the documentary “Aceh And Its Success Stories One Year On” produced by the Indonesian coordination body for Aceh reconstruction.

Additionally, the UN-FAO chose a supervisor from the boat-making operation that Family Care utilized to be trained as the quality control officer for manufacturing for the whole province.

Day 2 - How can you describe a landmass where the coastline is now anywhere from 100 yards to 2 miles less, the ocean having bitten off and swallowed a strip of land --and all the people and houses formerly situated there-- all away around?

This is not just in one isolated area but a full 500-mile strip of Aceh province, the distance from San Diego to San Francisco, where the whole coastline just “dropped off” the face of the earth?!

The only way to compare the former with the present day landscape is with aerial photographs taken before and after. The clean-up alone in the first months after the tsunami has been massive, as well as impressive, in that the remaining piles of bricks and concrete are now quite far and few between.

Everywhere, construction is underway, new highways and roads, new buildings and houses. But this is a massive undertaking, with another 100,000 housing units still needed, plus everything that goes with it!

Now almost two years after the event, everywhere I’ve gone today I have seen new permanent housing in varying stages of construction. There are few structures more than two years old, almost everything we see today is only in existence thanks to massive grants from dozens of government agencies from around the world, not to speak of the hundreds of NGOs, each reconstructing their portion of a giant puzzle of new buildings and amenities.

Traffic was blocked today as a motorcade containing former President Clinton sped by enroute to a dedication, while encounters with UN vehicles and personnel from around the world are commonplace.

I’ve seen unforgettable imagery today, including two still barely intact bridges, the inner portion of which was smashed 5 or 6 feet out of formation from the main structure by the wave, and yes, still being used today, simply because it still stands and links two sections of highway being constructed on each side of it!

I visited a small village where FCF donated fishing boats after the tsunami, where 1200 people once lived –and where only 12 original members of the village survived. One was a child washed 2 miles further into town, somehow surviving the largest “ride” of all time! The beachfront reveals concrete pilings, where once a highway stood. Today the highway we drove there on has been rebuilt two miles inland from where it originally was.

I met the fisherman whose huge fishing boat, which takes some 25 men to sea at a time, was hauled back to the sea from where it had been found 2 miles inland the day after the tsunami. This move, requiring huge caterpillar tractor and earthmoving equipment, was facilitated almost 2 years back by our Family Care Project Manager here in Indonesia.

Before the tsunami, there were 21 of these large fishing boats in the harbor. Today there are only 6, the one we saved among them. And I might add, moored in a new, still-being-constructed harbor.

Day 3 - Today we drove down the west coast of Aceh, the part that had gotten battered the most the day of the tsunami, an area covering 28 villages. --24 of which were hit extremely hard, some literally wiped off the face of the earth.

We drove the main coastal road, which consisted of paved sections interspersed with sections of new grid road, the latter jutting off on tangent detours where the original paved road was totally wiped out. (And where if it were now standing, it would be underwater).

We crossed one old twisted metal bridge, which we remarked was barely standing. (See photo following) By the time we made it back to the bridge at the end of the day, and more trucks had gone over it, the bridge had caved in even further. In a few days it may well be unusable.

To add to the chaos, the government built the new sections of road on private property and now as a protest, the locals have laid trees and rocks on sections of the new road, and posted signs protesting the government having built these roads without paying them for their land. If and when this gets sorted out, USAID stands ready to pave the whole road the entire length of the coast.

Stopped for a drink at a roadside place and a monkey swung in the open window from a nearby tree, grabbed a half full bottle of Gatorade and knocked it back!

Day 4 - Attended a free medical camp that Family Care Foundation hosted in Lhoong village, accompanying our Family Care ambulance, and a team of doctors and nurses.

In addition to surveying how this medical program is working, we discussed logistics for the next phase FCF is establishing, the first 9-1-1-ambulance service.

Day 5 – Business meetings to discuss how this medical program can best be expanded, logistics of the next phase FCF is establishing, a 9-1-1-ambulance service for this whole rural area, which will operate 24/7.

We also visited the location of a permanent medical clinic that we will be building and stocking, which will become the basis of operation for a mobile medical ministry.

Additionally, we had discussions about another Family Care Foundation development project in the same area of Lhoong, setting up a grassroots fish farm for the locals, along with a restaurant (where the fish will be served), as means of providing livelihood and jobs for the village.

For more on the subject:
Building peace in Aceh amid building pains
Aceh Tsunami Insights, from Family Care Foundation
Waste involved with Tsunami Rebuilding
More on Waste involved with Tsunami Rebuilding
Family Care Foundation Tsunami Rebuilding in Aceh Province
The Need to Communicate with Local Beneficiaries

For early Relief Efforts Jan 2005 through Sept 2005