Aceh after the tsunami: As the Indonesian province rebuilds, the challenges of physical and spiritual recovery

Originally published


Few tragic events in history have so immediately captured the world's attention and generated so deep an empathetic response as the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami of December 2004. Striking with terrifying swiftness and force on the morning of December 26 in the Indian Ocean off the northwest coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the losses were enormous. Some 200,000 lives were extinguished, over one million people lost their homes and livelihoods, and provincial economies from the western tip of Indonesia, to southern Thailand, coastal Sri Lanka, the Maldives Islands and southeastern India suffered heavy damage.

Many of the world's 6.5 billion people witnessed this devastation on television through video and still images captured on digital cameras and cell phones by those fleeing the tsunami, transmitted by reporters quick to the scene. People touched by these scenes, including school children, religious groups, governments, donor agencies and tens of thousands of volunteers contributed to perhaps the single greatest philanthropic outpouring in history. A large portion of this attention was focused on the area that suffered 65 percent of the casualties and the most widespread destruction, the special autonomous region of Aceh. Over the course of the rescue period, donations to Aceh reached $7,100 per person affected by the tsunami.