Saturday, 27 December 2014

2004 tsunami showed importance of resilience in face of adversity: PM Lee

By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 26 Dec 2014

The Boxing Day tsunami off Sumatra that claimed nearly 230,000 lives in 2004 displayed the fragility and uncertainty of human life, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

It also showed "how resilient and united we must be in the face of adversity", he said in remarks on Facebook exactly a decade after the disaster.

"Natural calamities will happen again. We must be prepared for them, and work together to protect ourselves," Mr Lee added.

He recalled visiting Banda Aceh and Meulaboh in Indonesia - the closest areas to the epicentre of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami - days after the disaster, and being "overwhelmed by the extensive damage".

Singapore's armed forces were already on site to offer help, in their largest relief effort ever, Mr Lee said. Also assisting were the Republic's Home Team, non-governmental organisations and individual Singaporeans.

Mr Lee also remembered the strength of the Indonesians who had survived the tsunami. "Despite the trauma, grief and uncertainty, the survivors were determined to recover and not give up," he said.

"A decade later, many of the destroyed areas are again bustling with life. The survivors have also rebuilt their lives. But we also remember those who have perished."

Tears in Aceh, and a will to forge ahead
By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent In Banda Aceh, The Straits Times 27 Dec 2014

EVEN as Indonesia and much of the world paused yesterday to remember those who perished when a devastating tsunami swallowed chunks of the North Sumatran coastline on Boxing Day 10 years ago, its survivors and leaders are determined to use its lessons to build a better future.

Aceh was devastated by the 9.1-magnitude earthquake that began in the Indian Ocean early that Sunday morning, and yesterday, for about two hours, its bustling capital, Banda Aceh, paused to reflect on the 168,000 among the population of four million people who died.

Flags were flown at half-mast and a solemn memorial was held at the Blang Padang field, where tens of thousands of bodies were strewn in the aftermath.

Tears welled up in many eyes as a video presentation captured the plight of helpless victims amid their flattened homes.

But such "painful memories" were not the only legacy of the tsunami, said Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah. Building on the memorial's tagline, "Reflection, appreciation and awakening", he said people had been spurred by their great losses to reflect on how they could build a better Aceh in the future.

Speaking to some 7,000 participants, Dr Zaini said the outpouring of aid into Aceh from all corners of the world to rebuild it showed the importance of solidarity and Aceh's place in the world as a global citizen.

"We should use the momentum of this tsunami commemoration to strengthen the feeling of brotherhood among us," he said.

Noting that 1.4 trillion rupiah (S$154 million) in humanitarian and disaster relief and donations came from 53 countries, Dr Zaini said the Acehnese had always received guests from all over the world.

He said the tsunami also helped speed a resolution to the 30-year separatist conflict between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government, with both parties agreeing to a peace treaty the following year.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who was in office at the time, also paid tribute to those who pitched in to help.

Representatives from 35 countries, including Singapore Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing, each received a sash and letter of appreciation from the Aceh government.

Said Mr Chan, who noted the sense of optimism: "I think this speaks well for the Aceh and Indonesian people that they have moved on from the sad episode but they are also looking forward with confidence."

Ms Silfana Amalia Nasri, 23, told The Straits Times: "We were so isolated and never knew much about the outside world.

"But after everyone came in to help us, we are living better lives, getting better jobs, learning a lot more, making us want to become stronger people," said the social worker.

Unique bond between Indonesia, S'pore key to relief efforts
Republic was planning how it could help Aceh within 48 hours of disaster
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent In Banda Aceh, The Straits Times 27 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE and Indonesia share a unique and special relationship that reaches all levels - from the political leadership to military men on both sides.

That is why Singapore was able to respond so quickly after Aceh was wiped out by a killer tsunami on Boxing Day a decade ago, deploying 1,500 men and women to help stabilise the province, said Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing.

"We knew the commanders personally, and we were able to talk to them, friend to friend, to iron out operational issues. When you don't have that kind of personal relationship, it doesn't mean you won't get the job done - it just means you might take a bit more time, and time is of the essence in a crisis, a relief effort, like this."

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a memorial in Banda Aceh to mark the 10th anniversary of the disaster, which claimed some 168,000 lives in Indonesia, mostly in Aceh.

Mr Chan, a former army chief who served as a military attache in Jakarta between 2001 and 2003, said the two militaries "understand each other culturally, linguistically and operationally" - a trust built up over many years of joint training.

Less than 48 hours after the tsunami submerged Aceh, located in northern Sumatra, Singapore had begun planning how to lend a helping hand. By Dec 31, a team of 20 men had flown to Medan, to lay the groundwork for what would be its largest-ever humanitarian and disaster relief deployment of men and machines to Indonesia and Thailand.

Operation Flying Eagle involved 1,500 personnel, three supply ships, 12 helicopters and eight transport aircraft. Although the effort was modest compared with those by other militaries, Mr Chan said Singapore made a "qualitative difference".

The Republic provided the primary foreign military contingent in Meulaboh, one of the worst-hit coastal towns in West Aceh, and helped rebuild the town's hospital and pier. Singapore also flew in a makeshift air control tower that made it possible to deliver aid by air into Aceh.

The operations tested and validated the ability of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to respond to emergencies, as well as the commitment of its men and women, noted Mr Chan.

Lessons drawn from those massive disaster relief efforts have led the SAF and other militaries to step up training, to sharpen their response to natural disasters in the region.

In addition, Singapore has set up a new disaster relief centre that will enable militaries in the region to get quickly to where they are needed when disaster strikes. The facility, called the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre, can activate a response team to reach ground zero within 48 hours of a natural crisis.

Among the ambassadors and envoys invited from 35 countries who were present at yesterday's memorial, Mr Chan was the only Cabinet minister.

He said of his presence: "I think it also signals our intent to bring the relationship to a higher plane where we can. And we hope this is not just for disaster relief and so forth - beyond disasters and humanitarian assistance, there are many areas of cooperation. Indonesia has always been a very close and dear neighbour."


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