Thursday 27 November 2014

Singapore continues to support Meulaboh: Boxing Day Tsunami 2004

Years after tsunami, Aceh town taps on Republic's development expertise
By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent In Meulaboh (Aceh), The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2014

AFTER extending considerable assistance to reconstructing Meulaboh following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, Singapore will look at what else it can do to help develop the Indonesian coastal town, the centre of its relief efforts 10 years ago.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday the Republic will study proposals by local government officials, who hope to tap the Republic's goodwill in carrying on its work to restore Meulaboh's status as one of the main sea ports of West Sumatra.

Singapore may be able to offer help in training and education, said Mr Tan. As a small island state with few resources, Singapore concentrated its efforts on building capacity in its people, and still does.

"I think that is something we are quite happy to support," he said. Mr Tan was speaking to reporters yesterday after he toured Meulaboh, which is about 240km south of the capital city, Banda Aceh. The town was closest to the epicentre of the Dec 26 earthquake, which, together with the ensuing tsunami, killed 170,000 in Aceh.

Mr Tan, then an army colonel, led the relief efforts in Meulaboh.

Besides sending in 1,700 men and women from the Singapore Armed Forces in its biggest overseas deployment of humanitarian aid, Singapore also raised about $56 million from Government funds and private donations for reconstruction projects by non-governmental groups such as the Red Cross and Mercy Relief in the years afterwards.

The projects included a new jetty, which became the local residents' lifeline as it served as an entry point for essential supplies to be delivered.

Mr Tan also met West Aceh's regent, Mr Alaidinsyah, who said he hoped to tap Singapore's expertise in areas such as information technology, port management and medical care in order to further develop Meulaboh's port, hospital and schools. Mr Alaidinsyah said: "We have been trying to fix things for the last 10 years... Now, we need to grow quickly and need to know how to do so. Singapore can teach us those skills."

Mr Ahmad Dadek, who heads West Aceh's Development Planning Board, showed Mr Tan and officials from Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry around some of the areas that have been rebuilt, including the landing point, now a scenic embankment, where Singapore troops began their mission after the tsunami had hammered the coastline.

Mr Tan said: "I could not recognise the place at first because, back then, everything was flattened and there was no sign of life. Today, it's a place where people can hang out and enjoy the scenery."

Mr Tan, whose four-day visit to Aceh and Jakarta ends tomorrow, will visit an orphanage that Singapore helped build in Banda Aceh before flying to the Indonesian capital today.

Leaving a lasting imprint on lives in Aceh
Hundreds of tsunami victims grew up in orphanage built by Singapore
By Jermyn Chow In Banda Aceh, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2014

TWO years after watching her father get shot dead by separatists during an outbreak of civil unrest in Banda Aceh, eight-year-old Nazirah lost her mother to the Dec 26 tsunami in 2004.

With nowhere else to go, Nazirah and her three siblings could seek refuge only in the Fajar Hidayah orphanage cum boarding school in Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh province, and figure out what to do next.

Her siblings left after a few years to live with relatives and friends but Nazirah stayed on.

Today, Nazirah is 18 and waiting to take up a diploma course in horticulture at the local polytechnic. She is among hundreds of children who have grown up in the orphanage cum school funded and built by Singapore, after losing their parents in the tsunami.

While Nazirah has been to Singapore only once in 2008 to meet her Singaporean foster parents who paid for her education, she said she will never forget the 10 days she spent in the city.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without the support from the teachers and my foster parents," she said in Bahasa Indonesia.

These are the "permanent imprints" Singaporeans have made on the lives of many Acehnese affected by the 9.2 magnitude quake and the giant waves that followed back in 2004, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday during a visit to Fajar Hidayah. "The legacy of their work can be seen... we should be proud that even as a small country, we are able to make that small difference to the lives of others around us," he added.

Singapore was one of the first countries to help after the 2004 tsunami, sending 1,700 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, in its biggest ever humanitarian and disaster relief operation.

The Republic also raised more than $56 million over the last decade for projects such as the Fajar Hidayah boarding school, built by the Singapore International Foundation and its Indonesian partner Yayasan Fajar Hidayah, for those aged between 11/2 and 18 years.

Yesterday marked the first visit to the school by a Singapore Cabinet minister since former foreign minister George Yeo opened it in 2007. During his visit, Mr Tan presented the school with 100 English books donated by Singapore's National Library Board.

Mr Tan, who led the post-tsunami mission to stabilise Meulaboh in 2004 as an army colonel, said Singapore's efforts were recognised by the Acehnese he met in the past week. "We brought a lot of heart in the things we did (here) and I think the extent of the warmth and the welcome we received is really testimony to that."

Mr Tan said Singapore will look at how else to help rebuild Aceh. This could include study trips to Singapore and training sessions for the Acehnese in areas they are keen on developing.

Mr Tan, who ends his four-day visit to Aceh and Jakarta today, said the post-tsunami efforts show that even as small nation, Singapore "has a place in the world".

"We do also have a sense of neighbourliness... by being big- hearted and looking outwards (to) make a big difference not just for others but also creating an environment that is conducive for Singapore because we have friends around us."

Tsunami safety awareness still lacking in Indonesia
Challenges highlighted by experts at conference to review warning system
By Zubaidah Nazeer Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

TEN years after the deadliest tsunami in recent history that killed 220,000 hit this region, research has accelerated, and signs for evacuation routes and shelters are up in risk areas. Still, while the authorities have gathered scientific data and know what needs to be done, such knowledge has not always translated into action on the ground.

"When an 8.5-strong earthquake hit Aceh in 2012, people did not run to the top of the evacuation buildings, but they ran farther inland," said Dr Harkunti Rahayu, who chairs one of the intergovernmental working groups of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System.

"They were afraid the buildings would collapse and it shows they still did not trust the quality of the buildings. But this also meant they probably would not be able to outrun waves if a major tsunami hit," said the researcher from the Institute of Technology Bandung.

Mr Wisnu Widjaya, Deputy for Prevention and Preparedness, National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB), recounted how electricity failures during the same quake meant evacuation alerts generated by a central monitoring station in Jakarta in the form of faxes and SMSes did not reach the key officials in Aceh in charge of initiating evacuation.

These were among the challenges and gaps highlighted yesterday, the first day of a two-day international conference held in Jakarta to review the capability of the Indian Ocean tsunami warning and mitigation system, a decade after the Boxing Day tsunami triggered by a 9.1 earthquake off Aceh province in Sumatra.

It was jointly organised by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of Unesco and the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology for Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG), and marked the official launch of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Centre, featuring audio-visual educational materials, to be placed later in the Aceh Tsunami Museum.

Officials agree that the human factor remains the weak link in efforts to reduce threats.

"In many coastal cities, the elderly are the ones who will have the time to participate in the drills but they are also the ones who are most resistant to take part," said Dr Harkunti.

The lack of resources is also a problem. "Doing drills can be costly, and so local governments' lack of resources means they may not conduct these frequently," said Mr Wisnu.

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, many of them remote, and the heavily decentralised political system and limited infrastructure make it difficult to ensure uniform standards of disaster preparation.

The country sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a seismic belt that makes it prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Scientists at the conference yesterday warned that there is energy building up beneath the earth's crust near where the massive 2004 quake occurred. But they say the good thing is that, after 2004, many people know what a tsunami is and how devastating it is, and that means awareness is there. People just need to be reminded through drills, which local governments must hold regularly.

Singapore minister revisits city he helped to rebuild
By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent In Banda Aceh, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

MR TAN Chuan-Jin was an army colonel when he first landed in Banda Aceh in January 2005, to help rebuild a city that had been devastated by a deadly earthquake and tsunami.

Yesterday, Mr Tan, now Singapore's Manpower Minister, set foot again in the Indonesian coastal city, this time to see how the city has picked itself up from that disaster, which flattened the land and killed about 170,000 Indonesians.

His four-day visit to Aceh and Jakarta comes ahead of the 10th anniversary of the so-called Boxing Day Tsunami next month.

Mr Tan visited a tsunami monument, built to remember those killed by the deadly wave.

With Foreign Affairs Ministry officials, he toured a barge and a fishing vessel, which were tossed onto the tops of houses at least 5km from the sea. They were left where they landed as a memorial.

He also toured Banda Aceh's landmark grand mosque, Masjid Baiturrahman, one of the few structures left standing after the tsunami.

When the disaster struck, Mr Tan was appointed commander of the Humanitarian Assistance Support Group in Meulaboh, one of the worst-hit coastal towns. The three week-stint was part of Singapore's largest-ever humanitarian and disaster relief operation. Code-named Operation Flying Eagle, it was the biggest deployment of men and machines to Indonesia and Thailand.

Mr Tan, who last visited Aceh in 2006 to witness the official opening of an orphanage with then Foreign Minister George Yeo, will visit Meulaboh today.

Reaching Out - Operation Flying Eagle

The work of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami has been chronicled in a book, 'Reaching Out - Operation Flying Eagle'.

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