On 26 December 2004, an undersea earthquake with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, triggered a devastating tsunami, inundating coastal communities with huge waves killing hundreds of thousands people. The regional province of Nangroe Aceh Darusalam (NAD) in Indonesia ended up at the heart of the tragedy.
From the day of the tsunami onwards, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided the Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia - PMI) with equipment and relief items. Because it was one of the few international organizations already active in Aceh (with means of communication, logistics and stock of relief supplies), together with the PMI, the ICRC was able to respond immediately after the disaster struck. On 28 December, ICRC delegates and PMI volunteers distributed 1,000 tarpaulins for shelters, family kits for 9,000 displaced, with clothing, hygiene and food supplies. In addition, 20 PMI branches and local hospitals received first aid kits and medical equipment to treat the wounded. Distributions then continued to take place on a daily basis (see box Assistance provided).
Meanwhile, ICRC/PMI engineers continued trucking clean water and installing water tanks and sanitation facilities, where they were most urgently needed. The joint teams cleaned thousands of wells, drilled boreholes, built latrines and communal washrooms and donated tons of chemicals to ensure safe drinking water provision. These activities took place in the northeast sector of NAD, as well as in Banda Aceh and its surroundings. Gradually, thanks to increased access to conflict-affected areas, 75 humanitarian assessments were carried out. They revealed an acute need to rehabilitate community infrastructure, improve water and sanitation conditions and boost local food production capacities.
ICRC/PMI teams provided medical and surgical supplies to hospitals still functioning in Banda Aceh and to ad-hoc health facilities in places where displaced people had gathered. Upon request from the authorities, the teams also distributed important quantities of analgesics, antibiotics, disinfectant, other medicines and medical equipment to health structures ("Puskesmas") in Banda Aceh and along the north coast.
An ICRC/PMI medical team erected a 100-bed field hospital provided by the Norwegian Red Cross (Norcross) to treat patients. After the closure of the hospital in May 2005, ICRC/PMI and Norcross donated it to the Ministry of Health (MoH) and they organized a training course for MoH staff and PMI health personnel on how to redeploy the facility if need be. PMI/ICRC teams also erected a temporary camp, in the Lhong Raya stadium, next to the field hospital, to shelter 400 displaced patients in need of simple medical care and the relatives accompanying them.
ICRC/PMI quickly reacted to the immediate concern of the proper and dignified disposal of the mortal remains of tsunami victims and assisted the authorities in taking immediate action to reduce the sanitary risks related to the presence of a large number of human bodies strewn throughout the affected areas. ICRC specialists supported the PMI, whose volunteers undertook a remarkable effort under acute psychological strain, by organizing on-the-spot training and by providing body bags, material for handling, and by helping to bury human remains.
Since the main lines of communication had been disrupted by the tsunami, tens of thousands of people were anxiously searching for their relatives. They turned to the Red Cross for assistance.
From day one of the disaster, on 26 December 2004, ICRC/PMI Tracing teams, using the full array of technical solutions they had been trained with, put strong emphasis on restoring family links (RFL). They offered various services to the public, in order to facilitate the re-establishment of family links between the survivors isolated by the disaster and their families. However, most of the visitors who contacted the ICRC and the PMI Tracing offices were looking for their children, with whom they had lost contact.
From the outset of the disaster, the ICRC also created a special section on its Geneva-based website to give the possibility to persons abroad or in Indonesia who had lost contact with their relatives to register online, to provide the identity and all useful details concerning the relative unaccounted for or to register themselves as survivors. In total 44,300 persons registered. The final publication of all these names in lists displayed in public places and, finally, in a three-volume book distributed in early July 2005, concluded this phase of the emergency ICRC/PMI Tracing effort.
In the framework of their forensic research, ICRC/PMI Tracing teams carried out surveys of 63 unmarked mass graves of tsunami victims in NAD in 2006 and they assessed 300 other graves in 2007, where 97,000 tsunami victims had been buried. The ICRC/PMI Tsunami Mass-Grave Project completed its task at the beginning of 2008. Together with their colleagues on the Tracing teams, in all, ICRC/PMI teams surveyed 343 gravesites in seven districts, where 108,720 victims of the tsunami were buried, which means that less than 50% of the total number of people reportedly killed by the tsunami have been properly buried. ICRC/PMI drafted a 2,300-page report and handed it over to Social Services (DINAS) and to the Governorate of Aceh to help them address the needs of the relatives of people reported missing.
Assistance provided in NAD, Banda Aceh and surroundings
Relief assistance In all, 265,000 victims of the tsunami received essential items (hygiene products, clothing and underwear, cooking utensils, tents, tarpaulins, mats, blankets and baby parcels); 36,000 received food rations; 2,400 families were housed in ICRC tents and 120,000 people benefited from clean-up operations and received reconstruction kits (composed essentially of tools and essential items for the maintenance of adequate standards of hygiene) Water and Sanitation ICRC/PMI teams cleaned 3,620 wells, drilled 5 boreholes, built 667 latrines and 42 communal washrooms and donated 154 tonnes of chemicals to ensure the provision of safe drinking water. These activities took place in the northeast sector of NAD, as well as in Banda Aceh and its surroundings Medical Assistance Surgical gloves sufficient to perform 100 major operations or 200 minor interventions, suture material sufficient for 100 to 120 operations, dressing material for 1,600 dressings, plaster casting material sufficient to treat 80 fractures of bones, 18 kits of basic medicines for dispensary, 10 sets of basic equipment for dispensary Forensic / Management of dead bodies ICRC/PMI teams provided 10,500 body bags, 500 large rolls of plastic, 2,500 rubber boots, 500 helmets with torches, 3,000 pairs of protective gloves, 3,000 facemasks, 400 shovels and 500 sets of protective clothing to PMI volunteers, Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) troops and Police teams mobilized to rapidly dispose of the dead bodies. Together, the PMI, the Police, TNI,and Search and Rescue teams (SAR) collected over 105,000 corpses in the town of Banda Aceh alone. Re-establishment of family links (RFL) As of 26 December 2004, for about 6 weeks, mostly on the west coast of Aceh, over 2,500 persons used ICRC-provided satellite phones to call their relatives abroad or in Indonesia free of charge. Meanwhile, ICRC/PMI Tracing teams printed and widely distributed specially designed "I am alive" registration forms to the public throughout NAD. They collected 18,500 of them and later, in April, when all other tracing means had been exhausted, they published 10,000 names of people seeking news from their families in local newspapers. In June, they published the names of 7,500 other persons in the same situation. The third ICRC/PMI Tracing activity undertaken was the "Persons Sought" registration, developed in January 2005 to respond to an obvious need of the population. While people were filling in "I am alive" forms, they also insisted on writing down the names of missing family members. The "Persons Sought" form was necessary to fill tracing requests in an appropriate way and to transfer, into a comprehensive format, lists of names of missing family members. From January to mid-April 2005, joint ICRC/PMI teams collected about 25,000 such forms throughout NAD. Children (under 18), without a doubt the most vulnerable group when the tsunami hit, made up to 40% of the ICRC/PMI "Persons Sought" list. In addition, through their intensive fieldwork, ICRC/PMI Tracing teams directly solved more than 3,800 cases where family links had been broken. Twenty-two children (out of 48 registered as unaccompanied) were reunited under ICRC auspices.