Inter-Agency Rapid Health Assessment
West Aceh, Indonesia
Earthquake and Tsunami Response
End of Mission Report
January 13-19, 2005
From the Offshore Platform - USS Abraham Lincoln
1. Following the December 26 disaster, damaged roads, a devastated physical and human infrastructure and limited air assets posed huge challenges to early aid efforts. A systematic, detailed overview of the impact of the disaster on people’s well-being had not been possible. Recently, under the overall guidance of the UN Co-ordinator for Sumatra, an inter-agency rapid health assessment team was formed. The team’s objective was to acquire a first-hand picture of events on the ground and advance the collective understanding of the situation. The GoI and its partners can use this assessment to better define targets for relief and implement further lifesaving and life sustaining assistance while laying the foundations for recovery. To overcome logistical constraints and security concerns, the team based itself on a mobile offshore platform, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The team did not carry out assessments in the Banda Aceh area, given the number of agencies in that region. Instead, the focus was on the hard-hit area south of Banda Aceh along the coast to Alue Bilie. The inter-agency team comprised 34 people with diverse but complimentary skills and experience. The team was drawn from the following agencies: Government of Indonesia (TNI), Ministry of Health, US Military, USAID, OFDA/DART, AusAID, CDC Atlanta, WHO, OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, SCF UK and IRC.
2. This summary report and its associated recommendations should be viewed as a work in progress. The team has based its findings on 25 field missions and ongoing detailed discussions with the Government of Indonesia, MOH, UN, NGOs, combined military forces and local people. As best we can, we have tried to shape our recommendations in a manner that is relevant to the response plans of the GoI, the international community (civilian and military) and local actors. The recommendations aim to improve service provision by steering the international response towards appropriate programming without undermining recovery activities.
Key findings and situation update
3. Nearly four weeks after one of the largest earthquakes in recent history, which destroyed virtually every village and town on a coastal zone lying below 10m elevation, extending 3-5km inland, the West Coast of Aceh continues to receive aid and assistance in a chaotic manner. The exact number of dead is still unknown. TNI estimates (which are broadly in line with our crude estimations) indicate that 34,000 people, or 3.5% of an original population of 961,000, have perished. Towns lying near the coastal zone have been decimated and the internally displaced population within the district is estimated at 125,000. The IDP population continues to be mobile, moving out of family homes to community shelters or away to other areas in Aceh, depending on their level of trauma or access to resources. This makes it difficult for the authorities or agencies to accurately count and target the population.
4. Despite the continued absence of a systematic response to the multiple needs of this population, there is some good news. Instances of malaria, measles, and watery diarrhea are significantly lower then expected. Food stocks, though limited in protein and calorie density, are reaching most large population groups via civil authorities and the Indonesian military. Schools are ready to re-open in a few areas and local foods have begun to re-appear in local markets.
5. To protect these fragile gains, many issues must be addressed. Despite their best intentions, local and international NGOs, largely operating on an ad hoc basis, need to better coordinate so that their efforts bolster the primary health care system and other essential sectors.
6. The timely rehabilitation of community health centers is crucial, as is a demand-based logistics system to place drugs and medical equipment within those centers. Equally important is the mobilization or training of new staff to replace the many health workers who died. Temporary health clinics, which are being staffed by international and local volunteers at intermittent hours, need to cede this role to others: either large NGOs that can provide services on a longer-term basis - consistent with the expressed needs of the population; or a gradual transfer of these responsibilities back to local health authorities. In particular, while most general health needs are being addressed, there remains a significant dearth of providers who can give maternal and child health care. Throughout the assessment area, women who had delivered babies within two weeks after the tsunami had to depend on either untrained family members or traditional birth attendants. This is an unacceptable increased risk to the reproductive health of women.
7. Sanitation is also a significant concern, particularly because the rainy season will continue for two months and virtually no viable waste disposal systems exist throughout the region. This has become one of the most pressing health concerns. Clean water is available, but not at the quantities needed by the population. However, since there are multiple water systems being used, such as wells, rivers, bottle water and tanks, there exists the possibility of increasing water supplies to within acceptable limits in a short period of time. More troubling (and less suitable to a ‘quick fix’) is the devastated road network. In particular, the reconstruction of bridges, which will require both considerable time and manpower, remains urgent. These roads are necessary alternatives to the current aid airlifts and crucial to an unobstructed flow of goods to the devastated areas.
8. No master list currently exists that details the overall medical supplies and drugs being provided to interim health posts. This has resulted in shortages of materials like wound dressing kits, stethoscopes, delivery kits for safe birth and other common supplies. Oralit, amoxicillan and paracetamol are available in large quantities. One common complaint we received was that NGO groups brought in only enough supplies to treat clients but did not leave behind any supplies or medical tools when they left, rendering the community health care centers unable to treat patients. Other than medical equipment, non-food items such as hygiene products for women, laundry detergent and body soap have similarly not been delivered in sufficient quantity.
9. A key intervention that helped these devastated populations escape a secondary disaster was the timely deployment of military assets. These assets were made available to the Indonesian government and international aid agencies early on in the crisis. They airlifted water, rice and other food stocks to isolated populations, provided medical care and casualty evacuation, initiated aerial reconnaissance of roads and facilitated operational agencies in getting to remote sites. These assets were vital in conveying to the international aid community information on prevailing conditions, and in bringing supplies to those who needed them most desperately. More sustainable civilian logistics and transport systems need to be established as soon as possible.
10. The team did not come across any isolated settlements that had not received any kind of assistance as had been previously indicated. In addition, IDP populations were noted to be drifting towards larger population centers such as Meulaboh and Calang. Nonetheless, in the highly unlikely scenario that isolated small pockets of IDPs are identified; we must have the capability to respond immediately with the appropriate level of assistance.
11. The crisis has exacerbated the risks of transmission of communicable disease that are endemic in the region. Overall, cases of measles, malaria, and diarrhea remain within acceptable thresholds. A standardized health reporting system for communicable disease outbreaks has been established, but this is not yet being used across all agencies.
12. In response to the acute nature of the disaster, many nations deployed teams with tertiary health skills to address the severe wounds of the injured. This has resulted in an oversupply of temporary tertiary care facilities and medical staff (including, at one point in time, twenty surgeons in Meulaboh). These temporary field hospitals have noted a significant decrease in patient load between Week 1 post-tsunami, from 120 patients a day to a current daily caseload of 30-45 patients. Acute-care hospital bed capacity in western Aceh Province appears to be adequate for the immediate referrals.
13. The temporary field hospitals have met many of the acute needs of the population but will not suffice in the medium- or long-term. Most medical needs of the affected population relate to the restoration of primary health care and preventive services. The community health center (puskesmas) - the backbone of the public health system - was severely impacted by the tsunami; the Government estimates that 41 of the province’s health centers were destroyed. At least half of these were on the West Coast. In addition, many sub-health centres (pustu) were destroyed. Exact numbers are not known at this time.
14. The roles and responsibilities of the health agencies on the ground need to be clearly defined by the sector coordination groups. In some areas, as many as 22 NGOs are working in the health sector along with military and MoH health activities. Coordination is also needed between agencies that work on issues that closely impact on population health in order to optimize the health impact. These issues include the need to ensure better food distribution, proper resettlement of IDPs, access to suitable shelter, the restoration of livelihoods, and ensuring access to non-food items.
Food and Nutrition
15. Due to the timely, significant response by the militaries of a number of countries (both on and off shore), basic food staples, particularly rice and noodles, have been delivered by helicopter to most locations along Aceh’s West Coast. In most locations, however, food supplies did not include protein, oil, sugar or vegetables. Micronutrient supplements are also lacking. For obvious reasons, no nutritional assessment of the affected population has been conducted. No serious targeting of food relief has occurred, nor any special effort to get food to the most vulnerable populations (primarily children under 5, elderly, and pregnant or lactating women). No acute cases of malnutrition were observed. Nevertheless, the nutritional status of IDPs cannot be sustained on the rations that are currently being distributed. Distribution of food is largely coordinated by the TNI, or in collaboration with civil administrators where they survived. Quantities received by IDPs varied according to available stocks, and the agency responsible for distribution. Survival of the fittest.
16. The tsunami caused massive and widespread destruction of fishing villages and rice farmland. Farmers and fishermen who survived the tsunami now lack resources to maintain their livelihood and to contribute to the food security of the region. Some local markets have opened but people often do not have cash to purchase goods. Prices of basic food commodities have doubled in some areas. Survivors from the towns do not have jobs and have lost all assets by which to make their livelihood.
17. Displaced persons are being housed in various types of shelters. Significant portions of the IDPs are living with host families in communities that were not affected by the tsunami. Others are living in community shelters such as schools, mosques and other public buildings. Another significant portion are living in makeshift shelter fashioned out of scavenged materials. A much smaller number are living in tents. Conditions are crowded in many of the shelters, with some school compounds hosting over 2000 persons.
18. Several representatives from the government of Indonesia (GoI) have indicated a national plan to consolidate IDPs into large centralized settlements within low-lying tsunami hazard zones. Local populations have expressed an unwillingness to move to these settlements citing a fear of tsunami as well as disease due to what is expected to be poor living conditions comparable with the conditions of their current surroundings. Many people want to return to their villages, or slightly inland, to re-establish themselves. Any planning for reconstruction or return to affected areas should factor in the potential risks for future disasters involving flooding, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis.
19. Sanitary conditions are extremely poor in many of the IDP sites especially those with high population numbers. Some of the public buildings have sanitary facilities but the large numbers of persons living there overwhelms these. Most of the sites have no latrines at all. As a result, most IDPs are defecating in fields, open areas or canals near to their shelters. Some of these are close to rivers or ponds that are used for bathing and washing. Few organizations appear to be active in this sector.
20. Nearly all of the persons interviewed complained of a lack of soap for both hand washing and washing of clothes. In order to improve hygienic conditions and reduce the spread of hygiene related diseases distribution of soap or hygiene kits is urgently needed.
21. Sources of drinking water include hand-dug wells, spring-fed gravity flow systems, bottled water, trucked water and water collected from canals and rivers. Quantities of drinking water available to IDPs varied by location but were generally considered adequate at the current time. However much of the drinking water being collected from wells and other sources is contaminated and does not meet generally accepted standards for drinking water quality. Very little of this water is disinfected although most people reportedly boil their drinking water prior to consumption, which may help explain the lack of diarrheal disease outbreaks. In order to guarantee a safe supply of drinking water to IDPs and affected populations a greater emphasis must be placed on disinfecting drinking water supplies as well as the safe storage of drinking water in the home. This must be tied to a health promotion program as many people are not used to drinking chlorinated water. Finally as most families lack adequate water storage containers these should be distributed as soon as possible.
General Recommendations - Health Response
22. While the following recommendations summarize the assessment’s main findings, detailed, sector-specific recommendations are included in the six daily situation reports issued from the offshore platform, during the assessment.
Improve Coordination and Leadership Within the Health Sector
23. Immediate improvements are necessary in regional health coordination within the affected regions of Aceh to ensure the most productive use of resources and to ensure that the health needs of the population are being adequately addressed. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), military units, and other local organizations provide health services throughout the area covered Coordination has not been strong, and information has not been flowing from NGOs to the UN or Ministry of Health (MOH) officials. UN agencies need to play a stronger role and ensure a more robust “on the ground” presence at major concentrations of affected people.
24. Multiple assessments of varying quality are taking place in all sectors. To this end, a detailed review of sector wide needs (field and desk studies pulling together the numerous assessments reports) should be completed within one month, analyzing gaps and looking at longer term recovery plans.
Address Logistical Needs
25. The response thus far has faced significant obstacle related to the effects of the tsunami. This is due to the great distances that need to be covered in the disaster area; the extended lines of supply; broken lines of communication and the severe destruction of roads, bridges, and telecommunications. UNJLC are well advance with the addressing this issue. Agencies should look to support their efforts.
26. We need to increase the role of local civilian authorities and Aceh Provincial Ministry of Health officials in planning and implementing the health aspects of this relief and recovery effort. Long-term strategies to rebuild public health, clinical, and preventive services should be initiated.
27. There should be an effort to re-establish efficient provincial, district and sub-district organization structures to administer and support primary health care. Acehnese staff should man this process along with additional staff others seconded from other provinces/districts. Upgrading and development of capacity (skills and management) at all levels in the health sector should be implemented using a dual mode method. Firstly, on-the-job training should be provided by ‘accredited’ international NGOs in the workplace. The NGOs may be involved in service delivery and management, but should also provide on-the-job training for Indonesian counterparts in each position. Secondly, short-term training for multi-skilled village midwives, health center staff and district public health staff is needed.
Key Challenges to Proper Recovery
Health Information Systems
- A regular epidemiological report and operational report including interpretation of the data and general situation should be published and shared with all relevant agencies, decision-makers on a regular basis.
- Health agencies should bring appropriate information technology, personnel, and training to the field to support these activities.
Proper Targeting of Health Delivery Programs
- Expanded clinical services, including trauma care, initially given higher priority during the first month after the tsunami, should now given way to an emphasis on primary care, maternal-child health and preventive services, (i.e. immunization, health promotion). It will be more effective to provide resources to community health centers, (i.e. puskesmas), so they can start working again or cope with the extra load rather than deploy advanced temporary field hospitals.
- Services should be made available to IDP settlements, people who remained at home in damaged communities, as well as to host communities. It will also be necessary to initially operate mobile clinics to meet the needs of isolated communities that have limited access to care.
- A strategy and policy for the health sector development needs to be accomplished. It is critical that health agencies responding to the disaster rebuild and strengthen local health systems in a coordinated and complementary way. There are opportunities now to revitalize and improve organization structures and management system to deliver services to standards better than before the tsunami.
- There is good capacity within Indonesia, and neighboring countries to support such capacity building within the health sector through technical inputs and for scholarship-funded training.
Sector Specific Assessments and WHO Action Plan for Health
- All health related sectors should have a focused assessment to further characterize the needs of their service populations. This information and all data from previous assessments by agencies should be evaluated and incorporated into a health “Action Plan for Health” within the next 7 days.
The interagency rapid health assessment team would like to thank colleagues from the Ministry of Health and Officials from TNI for their valuable inputs and guidance on this mission. We are also grateful for the support of organizations that released staff for the mission at very short notice. The team would like to thank Rear Admiral Crowder, Captain Card and the Ships Company of the USS Abraham Lincoln for facilitating, supporting and participating in this mission. In particular we acknowledge the efforts of Commander Baca, Commander Roberts and Lt Col Wilcox (USMC) for enduring endless requests for information and demonstrating great understanding and flexibly, particularly when a last-minute change of plans was necessary, and of course for keeping us on schedule.
Table One: Population of IDPs and Names of NGOs/PVOs by Location
District – Sub-district Location ~ IDP Population ~ NGOs/PVOs
Aceh Jaya - Teunom Tuwi Kareng ~ 8,041 ~ German Red Cross, IFRC, ACF, IORF, TNI doctors
Teunom Anau ~ 713 ~ International Service Partners
Aceh Jaya - Setiabakti Fajar/Suak Bukha ~ 397 ~ -
Gunung Meunasah ~ 291 ~ -
Padang ~ 175 ~ TNI doctors
Aceh Barat - Samatiga ~ 1,052 ~ Mercy Corp, ACF, MSF, IFRC, Yakkeum, Obor Berkat, Japanese Red Cross, Peace Wings
Aceh Barat – Johan Pahlawan Meulaboh ~ 180 ~ Many
Aceh Barat – Kreung Saba Calang ~ 4,237 ~ Indonesian Red Cross, German Red Cross, IOM, Goal
Aceh Barat – Aragon Lombalek Driem Rampak ~ 4,000 ~ Canadian Relief Team, Horizons Holland
Aceh Besar - Lhoong Kreung Kala ~ 747 ~ Global Sheiks, Friends without borders
Cot Jumpa ~ 456 ~ Global Sheiks, Friends without borders
Paro ~ 185 ~ Global Sheiks, Friends without borders
Sara ~ 327 ~ -
Lamjuhan ~ 530 ~ Obor Foundation, Red Crescent foundation, Care, Swiss AID, Food for the Hungry
Keutapang ~ 232 ~ As above
Pasar Lhoong ~ 1,411 ~ As above
Mon Mata ~ 227 ~ As above
Lamsujen ~ 387 ~ As above
Aceh Jaya - Lamno ~ 11,087 ~ MSF, Northwest Medical, Humanity First, IFRC, Pakistan Miliary Hospital, ACF
Aceh Jaya – Sampoiniet Lam Teungoh ~ 700 ~ ?
Table Two: List of Acronyms
AUSAID: Australia Agency for International Development
CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
DART: Disaster Assistance Response Team
GOI: Government of Indonesia
IDP: Internally Displaced Population
IRC: International Rescue Committee
MOH: (Indonesia) Ministry of Health
NGO: Non-Governmental Organization
NMRU (US): Naval Medical Research Unit
OCHA: Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance
OFDA: Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance
PVO: Private Volunteer Organization
SCF: Save the Children
TNI: Tentara Nasional Indonesia (Indonesia Military)
UN: United Nations
UNICEF: United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund
UNHCR: United Nations High Committee for Refugees
USAID: US Agency for International Development
WFP: World Food Program
WHO: World Health Organization
Source: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Date: 15 Feb 2005
Inappropriate tsunami aid risks creating chronic dependency
This article was published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, 26 January 2005.
Special Sida communication to the Government today: Long-term reconstruction - A Swedish priority. Prolonged humanitarian aid can have devastating consequences for poor people hit by the tsunami in south-east Asia. Swedish assistance can contribute to making their need chronic by continuing to send emergency aid. Sida has issued this warning in a special communication to the Government today, in which the Agency also stresses the importance of Swedish assistance being instead aimed at reconstruction, being long-term and well planned. Coordinating assistance, fighting corruption, helping the poor to support themselves and creating sustainable societies should be some of Sweden's priorities.
[15 Feb 2005]
The tsunami disaster in south-east Asia has provided us with a dramatic reminder of just how vulnerable our world is. Solidarity with poor people has suddenly and very tangibly regained its genuine and original sense of reciprocity. This is reflected by the record amounts of money donated to help the millions of victims.
But misdirected assistance and prolonged humanitarian efforts can have devastating consequences.
Several generations risk being wiped out and becoming dependent on foreign aid. Their acute need risks becoming chronic. Better planned and more long-term reconstruction efforts must therefore be set in motion with minimum delay. Reconstruction efforts must not only look at lost infrastructure. The affected population need to get support enabling them to also earn their own living early in the reconstruction process.
Sida has today submitted a special communication to the Government, proposing a number of priorities that should form the framework of Swedish assistance for reconstruction.
As a starting-point, the Government has set aside SEK 500 million (EUR 55 million) to help the affected areas. Sida then decides how to distribute this money among organisations etc., who can take rapid action on the ground. So far, Sida has approved payments of over SEK 200 million (EUR 22 million).
Entire communities have been washed away in the worst affected areas in Indonesia. Although on a smaller scale, the situation on Sri Lanka is just as bad. In addition to the enormous loss of human life, another serious effect is that over a million people can no longer support themselves.
The humanitarian needs are enormous. Sida and other donors are ready to decide on new aid, but we feel that sufficient resources have now been mobilised to deal with the most acute phase of the disaster.
We must now ensure that all the humanitarian aid reaches its destination and that reconstruction work starts as soon as possible. The needs extend over all sectors of society. While the destruction of infrastructure and natural resources provides the most palpable evidence, the disaster has also devastated social sectors and institutional structures. In some areas, the very basis of poor people's ability to support themselves in the long term, particularly in the fishing industry and agriculture, has been snatched away from them.
Reconstruction work must therefore be long-term and multifaceted. Sweden must be prepared to support measures over several years in these ravaged areas.
The psychological effects of what has happened give the reconstruction work a special dimension, not least as it is a question of building up economies and recreating the conditions in which poor people can support themselves.
To contribute to this and to make the assistance as effective and secure as possible, our own work must keep to certain priorities: Harmonisation, fighting corruption, disaster prevention, the poor people's perspective, a long-term approach, environmental concern and conflict prevention management. Such gigantic aid efforts also entail considerable risks.
- Harmonisation. Coordination and strong leadership of the countries themselves are crucial if the money is to be used both efficiently and effectively. This issue should receive the highest priority for Sweden. If the assistance is poorly coordinated, if the different actors work in isolation, we risk chaos, wastefulness and prolonged human suffering.
- Combating corruption. Another palpable risk is for the assistance to fall victim to corruption, partly as a result of the sheer scope of the action to be taken, and partly due to the sheer numbers of actors involved and the fact that they are working to a very pressing timetable in difficult environments.
The desperate situation of those hit by the disaster demands efficient use of the available resources. During the reconstruction phase, the greatest possible efforts must be made to combat such phenomena.
In its communication to the Government, Sida proposes the combating of corruption as one of Sweden's priorities in reconstruction programmes, both in the planning stage as well as during reconstruction work itself.
- Disaster prevention. It is also important for us to disseminate what we have learnt to others. We need to build up warning systems and take other disaster-prevention measures. The devastating effects of the tsunami can at least in part be put down to the fact that it hit already vulnerable communities. Sweden must therefore take vigorous steps to ensure the reconstruction work is designed so that the people and communities in the affected areas are much less exposed when, and not if, disaster strikes again.
The emerging image of devastation clearly indicates that it is the poor who have been the worst affected. This is always what happens when disasters occur. It is a direct consequence of a lack of preventive actions and of the vulnerability of the poor.
- The poor people's perspective. Three-quarters of the fishing fleet in Sri Lanka, which in essence consisted of small family-owned boats, has been wiped out. The entire local economy in Aceh on Northern Sumatra is in tatters. The vital tourist industry in southern Thailand also lies in ruins.
Not being able to support themselves, those affected are forced to sell off the few assets they have and put themselves into debt simply to obtain food. The fact that they were already finding things difficult beforehand may mean they are now forced to take their children out of school because they need the extra manpower just to be able to afford food for the day.
Millions of people in the worst-hit areas have lost their homes, possessions and ability to support themselves. They have suddenly fallen into even deeper poverty. In contrast to us, they have no insurance to claim on and no economic and social safety net to fall into. Social security systems in the affected countries are often very weak.
Instead they tend to rely on informal local networks in keeping with tradition. Relatives, friends, neighbours and sometimes entire villages stand by those in acute need. These networks only work, however, when individuals or single households are affected. When entire communities are wiped out, as is the case here, these networks are also destroyed and there is no longer anything to prevent those affected from falling into extreme poverty. Our help and solidarity then become an absolute necessity for them and their communities to regain their feet.
The acute, though still temporary, need they are currently experiencing risks becoming chronic and being passed on to future generations.
- A long-term approach. The donated funds represent a unique opportunity to combat this nightmare scenario. If assistance efforts are managed correctly, that which has been almost totally destroyed can paradoxically provide a window of opportunity for creating communities with better and more equitable development potential, including a more sustainable system of self-support.
To realise this, however, donors, agencies and governments must immediately adopt "the poor people's perspective". Both in its own efforts and in dialogue with the governments of the worst-hit countries and other donors, Sweden should work strenuously to ensure that support for long-term sustainable social change is integrated into the reconstruction work.
A considerable part of Swedish aid should be aimed directly at helping poor groups to improve their situation for the long term.
- Conflict prevention. An acute problem just now is how to reach all those affected in practical terms. The conflict-ridden regions of Indonesia and Sri Lanka are the most difficult to reach. In these areas, it is crucial that reconstruction efforts take into account ongoing armed conflicts, whilst we must also ensure that resources are not used to further the combatants own interests.
One key question we must ask ourselves is whether the disaster might help to solve ongoing, long-term conflicts in Aceh and on Sri Lanka or whether these will just make effective reconstruction impossible.
- Environmental concern. The ensuing environmental problems represent another threat to the region's development which we must consider. Large parts of the affected areas were already having to contend with serious environmental damage.
Unsustainable use of land and water, overfishing, destruction of the coral reef and coastal vegetation, along with poor sanitation and insufficient water supply are just some examples. In many respects, the situation has taken a turn for the worse.
Swedish involvement in reconstruction must therefore also aim to create more ecologically sustainable societies and economies. This will benefit both the ecosystems and the people who live in and visit the areas.
Johan Brisman, Sida's coordinator of post-tsunami reconstruction efforts and Johan Bjerninger, Director of Department for Asia at Sida.
The Oakland Institute Media Alert
Aceh Abandoned: The Second Tsunami
Indonesian Government's Real Agenda Exposed in Post Tsunami Aceh While the Bush Administration Renews Ties With the Indonesian Military
Contact: Anuradha Mittal (510) 469-5228; Andre Vltchek: email@example.com
(Oakland, CA): A new report from the Oakland Institute, Aceh Abandoned: The Second Tsunami, exposes not only the failure of the Indonesian government to respond adequately to the tsunami disaster, but how it is using the chaos of post-tsunami to further its political agenda to crush the independence movement in Aceh, an oil rich region in the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.
"Devastated by the military conflict and tsunami, present day Aceh may be one of the most desperate places on earth. One of the greatest fears of the local people is that after the departure of foreign relief agencies and journalists, it will be hermetically sealed again, left to the mercy of the Indonesian military and government officials in Jakarta. There is an acute need for permanent international presence which could monitor human rights abuses and reconstruction efforts," said Andre Vltchek, a senior fellow at the Oakland Institute and the author of the report. "Behind the facade of pristine beauty of Aceh, there are military and police check-points in every village. And behind the walls of houses - misery and often hunger," continued Vltchek.
Andre Vltchek travelled to Banda, Desa Siron and villages including Lamteungoh and Keureung Krung in Aceh, and spent time with the local communities worst affected by Tsunami, met with the Aceh Freedom Fighters, and interviewed executives of multinational oil corporations.
Aceh is rich in natural resources. Suharto, a right-wing dictator who was supported by rich countries including the U.S. and Australia, signed several deals with the multi-national companies including Exxon. For him, these deals brought substantial bribes, but people of Aceh gained nothing. If the Acehnese vote for independence, contracts would have to be re-negotiated. This may be one of the main reasons why so far no major foreign power has expressed support for a referendum on sovereignty.
Since 9/11, the Bush Administration has gradually renewed ties by providing aid through new anti-terrorism accounts, resuming joint military exercises, and inviting Indonesian officers to participate in regional military conferences. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently suggested strengthening the American training of Indonesian officers despite continuing reports of human rights abuses committed by the army in Aceh. Late January, the U.S. supplied Indonesia with $1 million worth of spare parts for its aging fleet of C-130 planes, that the U.S. sold to Indonesia over 20 years ago. Some in the administration say that it is possible that the ban on the sale of weapons to Indonesia might be removed as well.
"The U.S. government is forgetting the genocide of East Timor that led Congress to curb ties with the Indonesian military in 1992 and then cut links in September 1999," said Anuradha Mittal, director of the Oakland Institute. "After a 13 year break, the U.S. is now eager to normalize military ties with Indonesia as a potentially crucial player in the "War on Terrorism. Renewed military aid, as in the past, might be used to suppress independence movements in Papua, Aceh and other hot spots all over the archipelago, and to crush internal opposition and dissent."
What is certain is that Aceh is injured. It is bleeding, destroyed, confused and tormented by tremendous losses, by uncertainty, and by fear. The report argues that it is essential that the international human rights community intervenes now to stop the ongoing abuses and ensure reconstruction and rehabilitation projects that will rebuild lives of the affected communities.
About the Author: Andre Vltchek, a Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute, has covered armed conflicts in Peru, Mexico, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, East Timor, Indonesia, Turkey and the Middle East, for Der Spiegel, Asahi Shimbun, ABC News, Lidove Noviny, and many others. A political analyst, journalist, and a filmmaker, Andre, has written several politically charged books (both fiction and non-fiction), such as Western Terror: From Potosi to Baghdad (2004), Exile (2004, with Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Rossie Indira) and Point of No Return (2005). He recently produced a 90-minute documentary film, Terlena - Breaking of a Nation, on the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Suharto. He is currently working with Noam Chomsky on a book about the U.S. involvement in the 1965 military coup in Indonesia. Andre lives in Indonesia and the South Pacific and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Oakland Institute: The Oakland Institute is a non-partisan think tank utilizing research, analysis and advocacy to promote and ensure public participation and fair debate on critical economic and social policy issues that affect peoples' lives.
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