The 2004 tsunami is remembered by everyone, it’s the worst natural disaster to ever hit our world and Aceh, the most northern province of Indonesia, was hit worst of all. Ten years ago, more than 200,000 people lost their lives in Aceh on 26th December 2004.
Millions survived but faced the grief of losing loved ones, the devastation of their provinces and the disruption of their livelihoods. The pictures on our television screens moved the world. A visit to those regions at the time was a heart-rending and life-changing experience.
Within days of the tragedy, we began to see the best of Indonesia as its people and government swung into action. Local communities demonstrated extraordinary resilience and unwavering determination – neighbours took survivors into their own homes, Indonesians from far afield with skills that could be useful spontaneously travelled to Aceh to offer their help, the army and government officials all put their shoulders to the wheel in helping in the first days of recovery. We saw the same imagination, determination and drive brought to the reconstruction phase in the months and years that followed.
The scale of the 2004 tsunami was unique in every respect. Responding to the needs demanded speed, not just from Indonesia but also from the international community. And we responded. Funds were committed within hours – Humanitarian assistance from across the globe reached Aceh within days, and with Indonesian services in the lead we saw not just classical emergency help such as tents and medicine, but also help on forensics to cope with the human devastation left by the tragedies.
The level of funding the disaster triggered was also unique. For Aceh and Nias alone, charitable donations from individuals and companies ran into the billions and the total spent was some $7 billion, split equally between national and foreign sources. Indonesia quickly realised that turning such huge sums from home and abroad into practical improvements on the ground – into new homes, reconstructed infrastructure and livelihoods – would be an enormous challenge. But Indonesia stepped –up and strong coordination was exercised at national, provincial and district levels that oversaw all reconstruction activities, ensuring all agencies pulled in the same direction.
A multi-donor fund (MDF) for Aceh and Nias was the finishing touch to this new approach in disaster response – it was a vehicle that in practice allowed the more courageous actors like the World Bank and EU to pool their resources with the national government to support reconstruction in a truly common joint effort. Led by government, managed by the World Bank and co-funded by donors like the EU – united in our desire for one vision, one vehicle and one procedure, more than EUR 520 million were channelled to the People of Aceh and Nias from the EU and its Member States of this sum, more than EUR 200 million from the EU budget.
And results were delivered. In Aceh and Nias, nearly 20,000 homes were built. 670 schools were reconstructed or rehabilitated. MDF-funded projects allowed for the reconstruction of five critical ports, over 650 km of national roads, nearly 1,600 km of irrigation and drainage channels and some 8,000 wells across the Aceh Province and Nias island.
Anywhere else in the world a natural disaster such as the tsunami would worsen a civil conflict – in Indonesia, it brought people together in a common desire to ensure peace would grow out of tragedy. 30 years of civil unrest in Aceh was concluded in the period following the 2004 tsunami. The tireless efforts of the Government of Indonesia, the Aceh people and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) were increased following the tragedy and a memorandum of understanding between the conflicting parties was signed in 2005. Reaching and sustaining peace in Indonesia met the great challenge George Bernard Shaw outlined when he said: “Peace is not only better than war, but it is infinitely more arduous to achieve.” His astute words are a reminder that, once the guns of conflict fall silent, the hard and long work of building and consolidating peace begins.
The commitment of the European Union to Peace and Prosperity is strong across the globe, but there are few places where the EU can claim to have marshalled its political and financial resources so effectively as in Aceh through the peace mediation efforts of President Ahtisaari back from 2003, the EU’s involvement alongside ASEAN in the Aceh Monitoring Mission and our support for the sustained peace process in Aceh which only came to an end in 2012.
The year 2005 witnessed the historic achievement of the signature on 15 August in Helsinki of the Accord between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). With this agreement, which put an end to 30 years of conflict in Aceh, the parties committed themselves to a common vision for a new and peaceful future for Aceh based on the principle of decentralized governance within the unitary state of Indonesia.
In Aceh, the European Union actively supported these negotiations and the Government of Indonesia invited the EU and five countries from the Association of South East Asian Nations to set up the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM). With the work of 15 months, the AMM successfully concluded its civilian crisis management mission in December 2006. In parallel, the EC developed a programme to support the implementation of key provisions in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) through the “Aceh Peace Process Support programme” (EUR 30 million). The APPS consisted of inter-related projects providing technical assistance and capacity building for elections, police and justice reform, local governance reform and support to the reintegration of ex-combatants.
The winding down of the work with the MDF and the Peace Portfolio is not the end of the story. The EU remains a committed friend of Aceh and continues to support the province in areas of common interest and concern, such as the environment and climate change.