Indonesia + 2 more

Eight Years After the South Asia Tsunami

When a massive 8.6 earthquake hit this year off the shores of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia on April 11, 2012, the communities in Banda Aceh where CRWRC had been working during the tsunami, knew exactly what to do. As they sounded a tsunami alert and evacuated everyone from their villages along specially designed roads, they were fearfully reminded of another earthquake and tsunami that had occurred eight years earlier with devastating results.

On December 26, 2004 the 9.2 earthquake that struck off the coast of the Sumatra island of Indonesia caused a tsunami that took the lives of more than 300,000 people. During that disaster, tsunami alert systems were faulty and ineffective. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people remained in harm’s way as the three deadly tsunami waves crashed down on their homes, washing away their loved ones, and destroying everything in its path.

“Visuals of the disaster flooded newspapers and television screens around the world,” said Grace Wiebe, Senior Project Manager for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). “Many Christians responded with love, prayers, and financial gifts. CRWRC was blessed to very quickly receive nearly $6.5 million from individuals, churches, and businesses. $3 million of this was matched by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

CRWRC’s response began within 24 hours of the disaster in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. By using its existing CRWRC staff and relationships with partner organizations in the affected countries, CRWRC was able to quickly assess needs and respond with immediate emergency supplies of food, health and hygiene products, kitchen utensils and stoves, mats and bedding, chairs and children’s education supplies for more than 49,000 people across all 3 countries. Close to 1,500 families in India also received temporary shelter made of blocks that they could later use to expand into permanent homes.

“CRWRC also set up offices to respond in Sri Lanka and Indonesia to be closer to the communities in need. Because of our direct approach and partnerships with some local organizations in the affected countries and because of CRWRC’s approach of walking with the communities through various stages of disaster response, we were awarded significant grants in addition to our CRC church donations,” said Wiebe “enabling CRWRC to provide nearly $16 million in programming over the course of five years.”

This enabled CRWRC to continue with rehabilitation and reconstruction phases, and build 2,004 permanent earthquake resistant homes, dig 244 wells to provide access to potable drinking water as old ones were salinated, and provide temporary electricity with generators to 18 villages in addition to its short-term aid. It also enabled CRWRC to restore livelihoods for 3493 households in Indonesia, 657 in India, and 950 in Sri Lanka. Farmers could once again plant crops of rice, banana, soybean, peanuts, watermelon, chili peppers, eggplant, rambutan and mango, corn, lime, cloves, ginger, etc., fishing families were provided new boats and fishnets. Goats, chickens and ducks lost in the tsunami were also replaced and small businesses were recapitalized. “I don’t know any other work than selling fish,” said Gracy, one woman who benefitted from CRWRC programs in India. “In the tsunami, I lost my husband and all my things. I was unable to earn my daily means. I was provided with fishing supplies. Now I am earning Rs 100 to 150 per day as usual.”

CRWRC’s long-term tsunami response concentrated a lot of effort in a few communities rather than spreading its resources too thinly across a wide number. In this way, CRWRC could really make a lasting impact. While sometimes the process was slowed down to get the necessary paperwork in order, listen to community concerns and incorporate local traditions as much as possible, the programs ultimately paved the way for long-term improvements.

Rice farming is a great example.

“Rice is at our heart. It is our daily bread,” said Mona Saroinsong, Program Manager for CRWRC in Indonesia and a native Indonesian. “There are many ceremonies that are part of the rice planting. It is more than just growing food, it is a big part of the culture.”

That’s why communities were so thrilled to finally be able to plant rice seed two years after the tsunami. Community members first cleared debris silt deposited by the tsunami from their fields. CRWRC then provided them with rice seed, but also helped to organize farmers and village groups to provide greater accountability and on-going governance and support for the villages. This also helped to ensure that all members of the community were served. When the first rice crop was harvested, the whole village came together to celebrate. Everyone ate a meal together and as tradition dictated, was sure to provide funds or a tithe from the revenue of the harvest to the orphans in their midst.(to their caregivers or orphanage). “CRWRC helped every single individual,” said one community farmer. “And they used the rice planting system we had for ages - since our ancestors. So we don’t feel forced to do it a new way, but we feel like it’s our own.”

CRWRC’s tsunami response program also incorporated a strong disaster risk reduction component. As CRWRC worked with communities to rebuild homes and livelihoods, it also trained community leaders to identify risks in their community, engage in hazard mapping exercises, and develop disaster plans for how to respond to crisis situations in the future. Part of this included building evacuation roads that were elevated above the tsunami flood line so that people would have a safe way to flee their homes in case of a future tsunami. These were the very roads that communities used to safely evacuate their communities after the April 2012 earthquake.

CRWRC wrapped up its tsunami response in 2009 after five years of programming. Today, the legacy of these programs continues.

“The 6 Blang Mee villages in Lhoong district of Sumatra, Indonesia where CRWRC worked intensely are now living normally, like any other community,” said Saroinsong who visited the area in the Spring of 2012. “You couldn’t tell that they were severely affected by the December 2004 tsunami. The houses built by CRWRC are still standing, and many have been improved upon. Livelihoods are also growing. The most obvious one is the rice fields. Every planting season, the whole community works together to clear fields, plant seeds, keep birds away, and harvest the crop.”

“Although we are from different religions we learned how to live and work together in peace,” added Pak Abbas, a Muslim community leader.

CRWRC-Indonesia staff member, Nick Armstrong, agrees. “We have much to praise God for,” he said.

This includes celebrating how Muslim communities were so impressed by CRWRC’s work that they welcomed former CRWRC tsunami response staff members to stay on in their villages to carry out work as a new non-profit organization called YPM-GA, which stands for Organization for community empowerment and concern.

“These former CRWRC staff are practicing the same participatory methods that CRWRC used after the tsunami,” said Saroinsong. “The community leaders and villagers are so thankful to CRWRC. They say that if CRWRC would have given up assisting them in the past, they would still be struggling to survive in the present. Now, they only have to concern themselves with providing a good education for their children since they have good, strong houses and livelihoods to support their daily needs. They also say that they will keep and develop what they learned from CRWRC.”

“I don’t know any other work than selling fish,” said Gracy, one woman who benefitted from CRWRC programs in India. “In the tsunami, I lost my husband and all my things. I was unable to earn my daily means. I was provided with fishing supplies. Now I am earning Rs 100 to 150 per day as usual.”

In Sri Lanka, a Youth Program was implemented to assist the displaced children of the Angulana camp by way of an after school program to regain, assist the children who lost academic ground due to the disruption caused by the tsunami. Some students who did not regularly attend school because they were below grade level in achievement received remedial assistance and by the end of the program performed at or above grade level and began to attend school on a more regular basis. Children began to believe in themselves and enjoy education.

The Government Agent responsible for the municipals government of the Batticaloa region of Sri Lanka left us with these parting words: “I sincerely thank CRWRC in behalf of my people for keeping their promises, for helping our most poor families, for your honesty and for your high quality work. Please come back to our country to work with us again.”

~ by Kristen deRoo Vanderberg, CRWRC Communications