Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Tsunami in Aceh 10 Years On

© UNICEF Indonesia / 2005 / Josh Estey

On 26 December 2014, it will be exactly ten years since the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami hit Indonesia, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and a number of other countries. At least 230,000 people were killed, hundreds of thousands lost their homes and all their belongings, and vast coastlines were completely wiped out.

In worst hit Aceh, Indonesia’s westernmost province, the giant waves killed 170,000 people and left 500,000 homeless. The disaster also caused immense social, economic, and environmental devastation to areas that were already poor, severely damaging existing institutions and washing away human resources, the basis of the province’s sustainable development.

Within 48 hours, UNICEF arrived in Aceh and began the largest emergency operation in its history aiming to ensure that no child would die in the aftermath of the catastrophe by organizing mass immunization campaigns and restoring water supply and sanitation.

© UNICEF Indonesia / 2005 / Josh Estey

The tsunami destroyed 91 per cent of the sanitation infrastructure and 85 per cent of the water piped networks, treatment plants and other facilities in Aceh and Sumatra. In the early days following the disaster, UNICEF provided technical expertise as well as coordination on the delivery of clean water to displaced people. At least 22 permanent water treatment purification plants were constructed across affected and non-affected areas.

To address urgent medical and health needs, UNICEF supported the temporary deployment of doctors and paramedics to remote areas such as Simeuleu Island, established emergency obstetric and neonatal care services and re-equipped local hospitals with standard kits and ambulances. UNICEF also organized trainings for new recruits on normal delivery, live-saving skills and emergency obstetric and neonatal care.

Posyandu Plus – a new approach to health services

Further to this, UNICEF supported the establishment of integrated community-based health services, known as the Posyandu Plus approach, which has since been applied and replicated throughout Indonesia. UNICEF’s emergency measles vaccination campaigns were also later expanded nationwide, leading to marked reduction in measles cases nationally. 

© UNICEF Indonesia / 2005 / Josh Estey

Of all the tsunami-affected countries, Indonesia had the largest number of children who were orphaned or separated from their parents, numbering about 3,000 children. UNICEF helped set up children’s centres for over 2,000 children, which organized family tracing and ultimately managed to reunite almost a fifth of these children with surviving family members. The children’s centres also provided psychological and social support, and also held recreational activities for young children and adolescents.

UNICEF also provided 1,000 makeshift tent classrooms and supported the recruitment of 1,110 temporary teachers. UNICEF also provided 230,000 textbooks, as well as nearly 7,000 ‘School-in-a-Box’ teaching aids and supply kits for more than half a million children. The Back-to-School campaign provided children with a sense of normalcy to help them recover from their traumatic experience. 

Building Back Better

After the initial humanitarian relief phase, UNICEF focused on recovery and reconstruction based on the principle of ‘building back better’ in order to reduce the risk of future disasters for children and their communities.

A major component of Building Back Better was the construction of 345 new, earthquake-resistant and child-friendly schools. Later UNICEF shifted its focus to improving the quality of education across the province. Further to this, UNICEF introduced an Early Childhood Development (ECD) training programme to expand ECD access in rural areas, which nearly doubled gross enrolment to pre-school education in Aceh. 

© UNICEF Indonesia / 2007 / Josh Estey

A number of UNICEF-led initiatives aimed at strengthening the legal and social protection for children in Aceh, a key intervention in the chaotic aftermath of the tsunami. As a result of UNICEF’s advocacy, the government prohibited taking separated or orphaned children out of Aceh. UNICEF also established Women and Children’s Desks at district police offices in tsunami-affected areas and organized legal and medical assistance to women and children victims of domestic violence.

These initiatives led to the establishment of a child-friendly Juvenile Court that was established in Banda Aceh, and the issuance of the Child Protection Qanun by the Aceh provincial parliament in 2008.

Building on lessons learned from the tsunami experience, Indonesia has become a leader in Asia in terms of Disaster Risk Reduction, with consistent commitment to developing systems and structures that encompass emergency preparedness, DRR and resilience building in the country and beyond.

Children affected by the 2004 tsunami are now ten years older. Thanks to UNICEF and other organizations’ responses, these children have a better chance in life now. They are more likely to be healthy, to go to school and to be protected from abuse and exploitation.

To read more about progresses and lessons learned from the 10 years of tsunami emergency responses, and rehabilitation and recovery efforts in Aceh, please click here.