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2004 Tsunami Crisis - Impact on Indonesia

Indonesia was easily the nation most adversely affected by the recent tsunami.  The tsunami was triggered after a massive earthquake measuring over 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred just of the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the closest inhabited area to the earthquake’s epicenter.  The current death toll due to the tsunami have reached 165,000 people and is continually rising.  Of that, the tsunami have claimed approximately 106,000 Indonesian lives, with the overwhelming majority of those deaths occurring in Aceh Province, which occupies the northwestern portion of Sumatra.  Just as tragic, is the displacement of over 2 million people in the nation due to the disaster.     

All infrastructure has been wiped out in the worst-affected areas, leaving people without water, food or shelter.  Many local government officials are dead or missing.  Heavy rains after the tsunami in Aceh have increased the risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases. 

Although Indonesia was the hardest-hit area in terms of loss of life and physical damage, the country seems to have escaped the worst of the economic tsunami's economic disruption.  The main affected area, Aceh Province, is rich in resources but far from crucial to overall national economic output.  The country's central bank has also said that the tsunami has not altered its view of the Indonesian economy.  Nonetheless, the immediate cost of reconstruction is high. The government has estimated that Aceh will require 20 trillion rupiah ($2.2 Billion) over the next five years. It has asked for 30 trillion rupiah of debt repayments to be frozen until 2006 - almost half that money will come from Japan.

Here are some of the tsunami-related stories coming out of Indonesia:

- Relief efforts have been restricted by the Indonesian army in the more remote areas of Aceh Province.  The restriction has been imposed because the army cannot guarantee the safety of relief workers in the area, which is still mired with domestic disputes.  Aceh have been involved in a long-standing separatist battle between the Indonesia army and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement.  The Indonesian government, which has a long checkered history of corruption and human rights violations, have claimed that the rebels may exploit the aid efforts.  The rebels claim the same about the Indonesian government.  However, both sides have reached a “gentleman’s agreement” not to impede the much needed relief efforts.  In 2003, Indonesia's military launched an offensive against the rebels, who are estimated to have lost more than 2,000 men over the past two years.     

- The Indonesian government have confirmed that the tsunami have caused the deaths of over a thousand teachers, and have destroyed 420 schools in the Aceh Province.  Unicef, the UN children's agency, is sending mobile schools to the area.

- Problems in regards to child trafficking have been emerging from the Aceh Province, which has led to the government freezing any movement of children outside the affected areas.  The elderly and children were most susceptible to being swept out to sea by the tsunami’s retreat.  However, many children who have survived the ordeal now find themselves orphaned and becoming the targets of child trafficking, a problem that has afflicted the region for some time.  Efforts are now being made by international agencies such as Unicef to identify and register children, and to determine if they are indeed orphaned. 

- A survivor had been found in the open Indian Ocean waters two weeks after the disaster had occurred.  Ari Afrizal, 21, was pushed out to sea with the receding tsunami.  For the first 24 hours, he hung to a log before coming upon a damaged wooden boat.  He then managed to find himself a makeshift raft, where he was spotted by an Arab container ship.  Afrizal survived of eating the flesh of coconuts for his time at sea.  He is the third Indonesian rescued from the open water since the tsunami.  A pregnant woman survived five days at sea by clinging to a palm tree, and another man was found by a cargo ship after eight days aboard an uprooted tree.

- Almost immediately after the tsunami hit, Indonesia held an emergency conference in Jakarta to mobilize and coordinate international relief and recovery efforts.  The conference, which was attended by important diplomats from around the world, provided information on the scope of the horrific disaster, and led to donations pledged by many countries.