Monday, January 10, 2005

A message from Fr Dass(JRS) in Aceh

Fr Dass from the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) is presently in Aceh with the Medical team led by Dr Andrew Choo from the Catholic Doctors Association of Malaysia. He has this to say regarding the Tsunami Disaster in Aceh:
“I have been in Banda Aceh for a day now and 2 days in Medan. I spent today moving around and looking at the devastated areas and the camps of the displaced people. The extent of the devastation is true to news reports; the tsunami had reached, in some places, to 8 miles inland, reducing everything to rubble. Local volunteers are still looking for more bodies for mass burial and corpses in body bags lie along road sides awaiting collection. At the same time, Banda Aceh is overflowing with aid workers and stockpiles of food and medicine are bottlenecked at airports and ports in Banda Aceh, Medan, Jakarta and even Bangkok & Kuala Lumpur.
The problem is not with material aid but with logistics and distribution.
Over the last 5 years there has been an overt military conflict going on in Aceh. A year ago all international and most national NGO’s were asked by the military to leave Aceh. JRS was one of the very few groups that remained and maintained a presence. This is because JRS is both international and national. As national, it is local as well, because a good number of its staff are themselves Acehnese. Moreover, and more importantly, JRS has over the years established trust with the local community. It has successfully maintained a apolitical position. When the tsunami struck and huge international agencies took over the action, small local NGOs and civil society groups could not find a place to figure in that larger scheme of things. They were too under sourced and under funded to be able to do very much but it is they who are the locals and the ones who know the geography of the land, the reach of the disaster, the people now and later. Anyhow they have decided to band together and form a group of local NGOs and have approached the JRS to act as a bridge between them and others, especially the international NGOS. Since then the JRS office has been their base and they have been working with the JRS, particularly in accessing the more remote areas around the west Coast of Aceh that has been neglected by the media and aid agencies.
I feel that we,from the outside, should help to build the local groups up. They in turn can later help their own. We help them so that they can contribute to, and even take the lead in building up their society with a sense of ownership and dignity. We do this through our trust in their connection with the JRS.
I would suggest 3 phase of help to them: the immediate, the intermediate and the long term.
In the immediate term, all material aid-food, clothing and medicine- that is being channeled to Aceh through JRS be placed in the hands of these local NGOs fro action and distribution. JRS has to depend on them to distribute the supplies because JRS itself is overstretched in its work of connection and coordination. We also enable them to function more effectively on their own. This would mean helping them, to set up their own coordination and support facilities. The long term commitment would be established after a mutual evaluation of needs and aims among ourselves JRS and the local NGOs.This could take place 6 months from now.
In conclusion the crux of my suggestion is that we help the local Acehnese NGOs to build themselves up. This is a real need on the ground, both in the immediate crisis and beyond. This will allow our aid to have a greater meaning as this people struggle to get up once again and rebuild themselves and their society”