I finally have a few hours to write after a frantic last 10 days. I am flying from Bangkok to Jakarta and we are presently over the Gulf of Thailand, and in the distance, I can see the city of Hat Yai. This time a month ago, I was travelling from Bangkok to Penang in Malaysia by train and passed through Hat Yai. It looks so different from the air.
Ten days ago I flew to Aceh which was the scene of enormous destruction during the Indian Ocean tsunami, with over 250,000 people killed or missing.
A hospital on Pulau Wei built by the German Red Cross. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I visited the Island of Pulau Wei, saw the houses, a wonderful hospital and a busy school constructed by the German Red Cross, and a nursing college build by the Norwegian Red Cross.
The nursing college runs a three year course and produces top quality nurses, something there is a shortage of in Indonesia. Later I visited houses constructed by the Netherlands Red Cross.
Johannes Richert, Director of Operations, German Red Cross, speaks to the owner of the the house and her child on Pulau Wei. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The Ferry from Banda Aceh to Pulau Wei. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Then on the following day,I accompanied my German Red Cross colleagues to the opening of a large secondary school in Banda Aceh, which caters for 700 plus pupils. here we spent time with the pupils and saw a high standard of education be given by dedicated teachers. We also saw an innovative German Red Cross programme which uses smashed furniture and other pieces of debris washed up by the Tsunami, to make furnture for the school and other public buildings. Nothing is wasted in Aceh.
The next day, Sunday 19 October, I travelled down the spectacular coastline from Banda Aceh, to Lamno, Calang and Teunom with Martin Hahn, from the German Red Cross HQ in Berlin. We stopped for a break near Lamno and I bought a coke. As I was drinking it a large Gibbon swung through the jungle, sat on the table, swiped my Coke, and gulped it down.
The Gibbon stealing our drinks. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Next, he picked up Martin’s drink and downed that too. He didn’t appear aggressive so I engaged in a conversation with him but he didn’t reply to my questions, but looked quizzically at me.
We passed many of the 20,000 sturdy transitional shelters built by the Red Cross to tide people over until permanent shelters were built. We have completed 16,000 of the 20,000 permanent houses houses now and the transitional shelters are attached to the rear of the new house and either become an sxtra bedroom, kitchen, or houses someone from the extended family. En route I saw houses built by the Indonesian, Chinese, Canadian, British and German Red Cross, with many of them with top class water and sanitation facilities.
Along the road side we saw 1800 houses built by the Canadian Red Cross some pictured above. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Most of the water and sanitation has been done by the American Red Cross including a massive municipal water supply in the city of Calang. My role as Head of Delegation of the International Federation is to coordinate the programmes done by our members Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and to represent them at senior level with government, provincial governors, the UN and other agencies. I also have a role in monitoring and evaluation. Field trips are an essential part of my work.
Last Sunday as we drove to Calang, it started raining heavily. By nightfall we had torrential rain and we had to evacuate 28 of our Canadian Red Cross colleagues from their flooded compound to ours. While this wsa going on, my fears were for the people living in the houses we had built and I went to bed thinking, "will they be dry, safe and sound tonight?" The next day we had wide spread flooding in Calang and Teunom, the worst in years, and even the main road which is many metres above the surrounding land, was flooded. I need not have worried about the houses the Red Cross built. Not are the earthquake resistent, they are flood proof too.
Highly resilient houses built by the German Red Cross in Teunom. Photo Bob McKerrow
More houses built by the British Red Cross high above the flood level. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I was so proud of the housing designs of the Canadian, British and German Red Cross, as the houses were well above the rising flood waters. I spoke to a women in one house and she said she felt so safe in her Red Cross house. It is hard workers Heike Kemper, an architect and leader of the German Red Cross team in Teunom, who has worked tirelessly for years ensuring that the houses were built to the most stringent standards.
After inspecting a few houses I joined Martin Hahn and the German Red Cross team for a handover ceremony for 690 houses midst flood waters and pouring rain.
From l to r. Martin Hahn, Bob McKerrow, Dirk Schuemeister, and Heike Kemper at the handover ceremony for 690 houses.
Few people understand the enormity the work the Red Cross has done in Indonesia. We have spent over a billion US dollars and have built 40,000 houses, hundreds of schools, medical facilities, water and sanitation systems, markets, community centres, nursing colleges, mental institutions, bridges, dykes and mangrove plantations to protect land against rising sea levels, ice plants for fisher people to export their fish and lobsters to the more lucrative markets, plus many other livelihood programmes. We also conduct long term community programmes such as disaster preparedness, community based first aid, psycho social counselling and other risk reduction programmes. Most of our work is done in support of the Indonesian Red Cross to build the capcity of this outstanding society that has almost a million volunteers nation-wide.
At the housing handover ceremonies, the village people celebrated this important event by putting on traditional dances, which varies from district to district. Photo: Bob Mckerrow
Since the Tsunami operation, began in late 2004, the economy of the province has improved dramatically. Small airlines like Susi Air provide transport from remote areas like Simeulue and Nias. Islands and Calang to Medan. Air transport enables lobster fishermen to get doluble the price of the catch now.
The scenery along the coast of Aceh is spectacular. Two photos above taken near Lamno. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Last Wednesday I flew to Bangkok for a Tsunami Lessons learned Project Meeting of Country Programme Leaders and Champions. Representatives came from the Governments and UN system in India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Jerry Talbot and I represented the Red Cross Movement. With so much money having been so generously given by ordinary people from around the world, transparency. quality and accountability are essential elements and this is where Governments have put strong anti-corruption mechanism in place to ensure that all funding is correctly spent. We support this through approaches such as TRIAMS—the tsunami recovery impact assessment and monitoring system. The purpose of the TRIAMS initiative is to assist governments, aid agencies and affected populations in assessing and monitoring the rate and direction of the post-tsunami recovery throughout its duration. In the process, the system helps governments, aid agencies and donors to be accountable for the end results of their efforts. Is the recovery effort achieving the desired results? Are the results distributed equitably? Where are the priority gaps? These are some of the questions TRIAMS seeks to answer. My colleague Robert Ondrusek who is based in Bangkok, is running the TRIAMS programme and was also at the meeting.
So the meeting in Bangkok was the first of its kind to capture the lessons learned to share with all organisations and donors to record what went well, what needs to be improved, and mistakes we should never repeat. We also plan to come up with a practitioners’ manual for future mega-disasters so that operations managers and administrators from all around the world can have the best information at their fingertips when disasters strike. It was a moving experience to hear presentations from each country and to note the selfless service given by so many dedicated volunteers and professionals, some of whom I wrote about in my second to last posting, such as the 73 year old Indonesian grandmother who is a volunteer for the Indonesian Red Cross. The regional Tsunami meeting also discussed the proposed one hour Discovery Channel documentary which is underway. This documentary is designed to show the world how their money was spent and to hear the stories of the Tsunami affected people.
Two of the best Tsunami Champions: Kuntoro Mangkasubroto,(right) Minister for Tsunami, Indonesia. Dr. Kuntoro led the world's best relief and recovery process ever, by setting up an unparalled coordination mechanism through a one-stop-shop approach where international players working in Indonesia engaged with one government agency which included Immigration, Customs, Foreign Affairs, Finance and all other Govt. departments, to ensure international aid reached the people quickly. And,right,Jerry Talbot, Special rep. to the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Jerry worked three years in the Maldives before taking on his current position.
Some of the leaders in the Tsunami:Janet Wong, UNIFEM, Bangkok, Ms. Sirisupa Kulthanan, Thailand, Jerry Talbot. Head of Tsunami Unit, IFRC, Kuntoro Mangkasubroto, Minister for Tsunami, Indonesia. Satya Tripathi, UN Recovery Coordinator, Aceh. Photo: Bob McKrrow
I was delighted my boss from Geneva, Jerry Talbot from Onga Onga in the Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, was at the meeting. Jerry and I first worked together in Bangladesh after the war between Pakistan and India when Bangladesh gained its independence. We also worked in Vietnam, Afghanistan and in Maldives in the early days of the Tsunami. Jerry has been my boss thrice and I his, once. Such is the swing of the managenment pendulum in our organisation. Thank God we have fairly flat structure in the Red Cross where we have a team approach to our work, and where situational leadership is encouraged.
I am rambling on. My batteries in my computer are almost exhausted and also my own batteries, as we begin the descent to Jakarta. Its late Saturday morning so I look forward to a relaxing weekend with my family, Naila, and boys Ablai and Mahdi.
Bob. Saturday 26 October 2008.