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Banda Aceh Revisited [Voices from the Archive]
December 26, 2007
By Peter Biro
|Photo: The IRC|
|Earlier this year, Peter Biro returned to Aceh, Indonesia, where he was part of the IRC's emergency response after the devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004. (19 March 2007) It has been over two years since I first visited the Indonesian province of Aceh, days after the devastating tsunami struck and claimed an estimated 170,000 lives in the country. Back then, in January 2005, the provincial capital Banda Aceh was a city in utter chaos. Debris and human corpses littered the streets and shell-shocked survivors were desperately searching for relatives, friends and belongings amid collapsed buildings and twisted car wrecks. From its hub in a traditional Acehnese one-story house, IRC staff fanned out across the devastated coastal areas of Sumatra to provide assistance. Now the changes are dramatic. At the Pante Birak bridge, which two years ago was partially blocked by fishing boats heaved ashore by the devastating force of the waves, traffic flows with relative ease. Street vendors line the pavement and large illuminated billboards advertise mobile phones and cigarettes. As I pass the nearby shopping center that was flattened by the earthquake, I recall the swarms of people who, in January 2005, were lining up in its parking lot, then a distribution point for noodles and cooking oil. The building is now restored, with customers and traders going about their daily work. The city’s impressive Baiturrahman mosque is restored to its former glory and has just received a brand new coat of white paint. And the IRC has also shifted its focus, from the emergency aid of the first year following the disaster, to long-term development assistance. My colleague, Ridwan, who has lived all his life in Banda Aceh, told me that life has changed dramatically for people here since the tsunami hit. Although people still mourn their dead, life has also returned, he told me over a cup of strong Acehnese coffee. Many people, Ridwan said, are remarried and have children again. A lot of buildings and roads have been rebuilt and people are making money again. “Even more than before the tsunami, because of all the money coming in from abroad,” Ridwan says. And as a result of the suffering in the aftermath of the tsunami, the protracted conflict between the Indonesian army and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) was brought to an end with a peace agreement in August 2005. After a historic vote, Irwandi Yusuf, a former GAM rebel who was jailed for treason but escaped when the tsunami struck his prison, was recently sworn in as the first directly elected governor of Aceh province. “People are optimistic about the future for the first time in many years,” Ridwan said. “It is fantastic.” Next: On the Road to Calang|
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