Stretching for more than a hundred kilometers, the new road connecting Banda Aceh and Calang is unlike anything else in Indonesia. It is wide, flat, and superbly constructed. With amazing panorama of the serene Aceh’s western coast from the car window, it is a joyful ride driving down this road to the south from the province’s busy capital. However one can hardly avoid to frequently witness dead palm trees or random ruins just few hundred meters off-shore.
The dead palm trees and the ruins are the monuments of Aceh recent tragic past. On a clear Sunday morning of 26 December 2004, a massive tsunami triggered by an earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra devastated the Indian Ocean shores. It was so powerful that over 230,000 souls perished in 14 countries. By its wide geographic spread and number of victims, it was one of the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history.
The Indonesian province of Aceh was by far the worst affected by the disaster which scored nearly eighty percent of the entire recorded deaths. Here, the tsunami stormed the coast and destroyed 800 kilometers of the province’s coastline, damaging or destroying more than 127,000 houses and making over half a million of the province’s 4.5 million population refugees. Cities were devastated and many seaside villages were vanished completely. Coastal roads were washed away and over 120 bridges were destroyed. Land damage totaled 60,000 hectares, while 1200 schools were ruined. The disaster’s impact upon the affected communities in social, economic and human terms was so tremendous that the extend of the tasks of reconstruc- tion and rehabilitation were almost unimaginable. To add the problem, the conflict between the Indonesian central government and Freedom Aceh Movement was also still persisting in the region.
The broad geographic spread of the tsunami’s effects, along with such huge numbers of people desperate for humanitarian support, moved the whole international community to assist. Over US$7 billion in aid was pledged by a wide range of governments, aid agencies, organizations, and individuals. New road were laid downs, thousands of new housings were built, and so with the new bridges and schools.
Surprisingly, the post tsunami recovery in Aceh—and the disaster itself—has also brought along a lasting peace into the region. In less than a year after the tsunami, an agreement was signed in Helsinki on 15 August 2005 between the Indonesian central government and Aceh Freedom Movement, officially ending the 29 years of conflict rooted deeply in the region. Under the agreement, Aceh has received special autonomy and Indonesian military troops deployed for the conflict were withdrawn from the region in exchange for separatist disarmament.
Now, ten years after the disaster, it is easy to see that Aceh has fully recovered. Its cities is teeming back with life. The wide road strecthing from Banda Aceh to Calang and on to Meulaboh, built by the help of international community, is currently one of the best in the whole country. The tsunami relics are now becoming popular tourist destinations. Foreign visitors are free to roam in this once off-limit region of Indonesia. Lampuuk, one area where the tsunami was recorded exceptionally high, is now covered with trees and dotted with new settlements. And Acehnese, with their recent free encounter with the outside world, are getting more cosmopolitan than ever. While it is true there are few challenges such as the enforcement of the controversial sharia law, most people will agree that the post tsunami recovery in Aceh is a great success.