By Devi Asmarani
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 26 December 2014 - Thousands of people gathered in Aceh today in a solemn and moving ceremony to remember the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated much of Indonesia’s westernmost province 10 years ago today.
Many survivors as well as local and foreign dignitaries attending the ceremony at the Blang Padang public park in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh burst into tears as they listened to poems and songs that were performed accompanied by photos and videos of the disaster.
Acehnese singer Rafly led the audience to sing along with him to a haunting folk song in the local dialect, and prominent poet Taufik Ismail read a poem that recalled the giant waves that swept about 170,000 people to their death.
"Thousands of corpses were sprawled in this field,” said Vice President Jusuf Kalla at the ceremony. “There were feelings of confusion, shock, sorrow, fear and suffering. We prayed.”
But he said the massive help received for Aceh immediately after the tsunami, which left nearly half a million people displaced, helped revive the spirit of the survivors.
Mr Kalla, who was deputy to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the time, stressed the importance of swift international relief efforts, including rapid delivery of aid, victims search and logistics distribution.
“It was impossible for the government to rehabilitate the impacted areas without international help. Within 10 days, we held a UN summit in Jakarta, and within hours of the summit, all had pledged US$5 billion to finance the rehabilitation and reconstruction process in Aceh,” he said. The money was used to rebuild roads, hospitals, houses and mosques, he added.
In the aftermath of the tsunami, UNICEF played an important role in saving children from death and diseases, helping them overcome their traumatic experience, bringing them back to school and uniting them with their surviving parents or other caregivers.
Thanks to unprecedented support and unprecedented donations of US$336 million for Aceh alone, the organization was able to roll out a large-scale emergency response, followed by strategic investment in the province’s long-term development based on the principle of “Building Back Better”.
Among UNICEF’s key contributions was the support provided to nearly 3,000 children who were orphaned or separated from their parents. UNICEF and partners managed to reunite around 110 of them with surviving parents, while the remaining children were placed with their extended families or in institutional care. UNICEF also successfully advocated for their protection from trafficking.
UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson commended the people of Indonesia’s western-most province Aceh for their resilience and their achievements in rising from devastation.
“The tremendous effort by the Acehnese people, supported by the international community, to re-build even better what the waves took away, definitely paid off. In fact, the reconstruction based on the principle of Building Back Better has translated into better opportunities for children to grow up healthy and develop their potential,” said Ms. Olsson.
The ceremony also reflected on the valuable lessons learned from the devastation, which is particularly important for Indonesia given its frequent natural disasters.
“There can’t be any bigger lesson than the loss of more than 100,000 people,” said Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah, adding the tsunami had brought attention to the importance of disaster mitigations.
“It has laid the ground for the Aceh’s government’s programme on disaster risk reduction which is now included in our medium-term development plan,” he added.
Also at the ceremony, Shuya Takahashi, Chief of Reconstruction Policy Section and Environmental Future City Promotion Office for the city of Higashi Matsushima, Japan, shared his city’s experience following the 2011 tsunami that killed 1,109 people and affected 23,000 households. The two cities have recently agreed to share information and experience in their bids to mitigate disasters.
“Indonesia and Japan have lost a lot. Let’s not let this happen again,” he said.