Thursday, January 27, 2005


TSUNAMI DISASTER IN ACEH-A report from Dr Andrew Choo

The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami on 26th december2004, not only destroyed cities, resorts and villages resulting in more than 200,000 deaths (the exact number may not be known) but also stimulated a global rescue and relief response that the world is witnessing for perhaps the first time.

The Catholic Doctors Association of Malaysia responded in its own way by sending the President, Dr Andrew Choo on a surveillance trip. He accompanied Fr Paul Dass and left for Medan on 5th January 2005 with a load of 370 Kg of medicine and other medical essentials for which they would like to thank the St Vincent de Paul Society of Malaysia.

Here is an account of Dr Andrew Choo’s report:
“ Arriving at Medan the same morning, we were delayed for 2 days due to air traffic congestion and were unable to proceed to Aceh by air. However, we decide to rent a car with a local driver and traveled overland in a journey which took 12 hours. We left Medan at 10am and arrived at the (Jesuit Refugee Service)JRS centre in Aceh at midnight on 7th January 2005.

We were able to tour the devastated areas with a guide the next day. There was total destruction as far inland as 2 kms in certain areas. Most of the destroyed areas were still inaccessible. Only the roads had been cleared for traffic and rescue workers were still recovering bodies from the muddy areas and were bringing them to dug out areas for mass burial.

At that time (14th day after the tsunami) we were told that about 5000 people were still unaccounted for.

The power of the giant waves were so great that it destroyed everything in its path. One solid concrete building with 2 big rooms, kitchen, toilets and hall was pushed 60metres from its original foundation to rest on half of the road. The extent of destruction had to be seen to be believed.

With more than 400,000 people displaced, needing shelter, food and water in a situation where the local government and services had collapsed, it was chaotic to say the least.

These people were put in schools, mosques and whatever shelters available.

In such a chaotic situation, it was fortunate that the TNI(military) , the only organization on hand in the area that has personnel, equipment, skill and capability was able to provide immediate assistance to the victims of the disaster. Looting was quickly brought under control. It seemed some people removing jewellery from the dead bodies were shot.

Aceh was in a desolate state. The streets were deserted at night. People were seen clearing their premises of mud and debris brought in by the giant waves.This is a slow process since heavy machinery is not readily available except those from the military. The restoration of Aceh back to normal in the business centre will take a month or two.

The rehabilitation of the refugees to the state where they can be on their own will take anything up to 2 years.

In the meantime, the global NGOs are playing a vital role to treat the injured, provide food and shelter, bury the corpses, build facilities for drinking water and sanitation to prevemt outbreak of infectious diseases.

From what we have seen, food, medicine and clothing are ample in Aceh. What is more important immediately is cash. The refugees need cash to put themselves free from total dependence on camp provisions. The sooner this can be done the sooner they can be on the road to stand on their own.

The road to recovery will be slow as Aceh is facing civil emergency rule and the role of the Indonesian military is very strong. Thousands of Acehnese have died in the conflict between the army and the Gerakan Aceh Movement (GAM) This political conflict will continue to impede not only recovery but also long term progress for Aceh. There is as yet no sign of any reconciliatory move.

As we have said earlier rebuilding will take a long time. The Catholic Doctors will continue to monitor the situation there. We will respond should there be a need for our presence. We are happy that we have established networking with the JRS and also Perdhaki (the Catholic Doctors in Indonesia).

We would like to express our thanks to JRS both in Medan and Aceh for making our trip comfortable.