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Banda Aceh diary by Mona Laczo

Mona Laczo writes about the logistics of the emergency aid programme in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Mona Laczo, Oxfam Regional Media and Advocacy Coordinator for East Asia

Arrived in Banda Aceh Saturday January 1st 2005

“Our plane full of water equipment arrived from the UK on Saturday in Medan, but it’s been stuck there in a kind of plane traffic jam. Now it looks like we might have to transport this equipment by road to Banda Aceh as the plane option is taking so long. Banda Aceh airport can only handle seven planes in one go and they don’t even have a fork lift truck so all the off-loading has to be done by hand.

“It’s hugely frustrating for everyone here. We have around 20 tonnes of gear sitting in Medan that we’re desperate to get there. It feels so near but so far. As soon as that equipment arrives here we can set up water systems to provide 60,000 people in the Banda Aceh area with safe drinking water.

“When it comes to reaching people further out, down the east and west coasts of Aceh, the team are working round the clock to see if we can get hold of helicopters to get to more remote places like Meulaboh.

“Yesterday I went out around the area for the first time. When you travel around you realise that the displaced people are scattered in clusters. It’s easy to find the people who are close to the roads, but accessing people further from the roads is harder. In the next few days the aim is to get these people into fewer larger camps. This will make it much easier to meet their needs effectively.

“We visited a place on the western fringes of Banda Aceh where around 3000 homeless people were sheltering in a religious school. They started arriving there about three days ago. They have very rough shelters, poor quality plastic sheeting that isn’t standing up to the heavy rains that are starting to fall.

“There are no facilities, no toilets so people are just going in the bush. Some of them have diarrhoea and they don’t make it that far. Their water tank is empty; they have no jerry cans and very few cooking utensils. If people here don’t get clean drinking water fast then more of them will start getting sick, especially the children.

“Most of the people at this shelter have come from Pulo island which is off the northernmost tip of Aceh. The government sent motor-boats to rescue them, 500 people at a time. They are very traumatised; most of them have lost family members. As we were leaving we saw two more trucks full of people standing, old people, adults, children, crammed in. You could tell they’d lost everything; they had nothing at all. Local people here have been giving them clothes and food.

“Last night when we were back at the house there were several tremors. This is making people here very anxious. Our Indonesian staff insist on sleeping downstairs on the floor, they are so nervous. We all did an earthquake drill.”

3rd January 2005

“It was a very emotional day. A guy from Aceh who used to work for Oxfam as a driver walked into our office and started hugging local staff who he knew. People were crying it was very moving. His two young children and brother are missing and he’s not been able to locate them. He wants to help others in need. This person has been affected so much by the disaster but he’s still willing to give so much.

“I have to stop writing now…there’s a tremor I’ll grab my flashlight, water and go outside.
I’m back inside now, it’s really scary when we have these aftershocks. I don’t sleep so well at night.

“I went along the coast today and saw some of the devastation around the coast near Banda Aceh. I was blown away by the destruction. The pictures on TV screens and in newspapers don’t fully describe the horror. Whole parts of the town and the coast are simply gone. In some places you can only tell where a house once stood because you can see the concrete floor but there’s nothing else. No walls, no floors, nothing. I’ve seen a lot of people going back to what’s left of their homes to look for family and see if they can salvage anything. In other places there is so much debris and things where they shouldn’t be like cars in tree tops. And there is the smell of death everywhere. But you can’t get too emotional. We must carry on with the job. So many people are in desperate need.

“But tomorrow [Tuesday morning, Sri Lanka time] promises to be a very positive day. We’re expecting the arrival of five trucks from Medan carrying water sanitation equipment. Oxfam engineers will be working as quickly as possible to set up the equipment and within 48 we can be provide drinking water for 60,000 people. We’re really looking forward to scaling-up operations.

“A major problem for the delivery of aid is the large areas where displaced people are sheltering. There are more than 100 camps of displaced people housing between anywhere 30 and 3000 people. I went out to some of these settlements today and the conditions are really bad. There’s no water or toilets – it’s terrible. We are hoping these settlements will be merged into fewer camps with more people so aid can be more effectively distributed.

“It’s now 1am now and I’ve have to do two more media interviews then I’m going to bed.”

9th January 2005

  • Truck arrived with equipment
  • Flight delayed due to closure of Medan airport to cargo planes for a day. Flight due to go tomorrow (Mon) from East Midlands airport.
  • New Zealand film crew in Mulabbu, & Belgian TV crew. Working with CAA and Oxfam Quebec media too.

I have been visiting the camps where Oxfam is providing clean water and sanitation. In Enak Bansar camp, where there are 3400 people, we have fitted the latrines and built a water tank so the people have clean water to drink. One problem though, is the rains. It has been raining and camps are flooded, including the latrines. It looks like we may have to move to another location, just after we have got things up and running.

There are still aftershocks as well. Especially at night. We keep having to get up and run outside – into the rain, which has been coming down pretty steadily for a while. Everyone is very tired – we’re not getting much sleep.

We’ve also distributed tools to some people who came to us and said they wanted to go back to their homes and start rebuilding them. We hired a truck and lent them shovels and spades. They’ve gone now – to their homes on the West coast. We expect to hear back from them in a few days.

Tomorrow or the next day we are expecting a helicopter to arrive which will enable us to get water and equipment to places which are currently inaccessible.”