Thursday, 26 February 2009

40,000 houses built by the Red Cross in Aceh Indonesia

<We have water in our village now, we have a house and my Dad's out fishing.

It's been a busy week. I'm exhausted but it has been worthwhile. After four years and a bit working almost full time on the Tsunami relief and recovery in India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and now Indonesia, it is such a joy to see people's lives getting back to normal. Earlier in the week I was in Aceh province of Indonesia where the devastating tsunami claimed almost 300,000 lives. On Monday I was at a ceremony where the President of Indonesia inaugurated a Tsunami memorial museum, a Polytechnic, the new port and many other important facilities for Banda Aceh.

The cheapest way to get about quickly in Sumatra and Aceh, is to charter small Cessna planes. One of the pilots is a fellow Kiwi. Photo: Bob McKerrow

On Tuesday I flew to Calang with the Chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross, the Canadian Ambassador, the Secretary General of the Canadian Red Cross, to inugurate houses built by the Canadian Red Cross in partnership with the Indonesian Red Cross Society (PMI). This is part of the International Red Cross (IFRC) and PMI effort to build 40,000 homes: 20,000 permanent homes and another 20,000 sturdy transitional shelters which will last more than 25 years. It was such a wonderful occasion seeing villagers in their brand new homes and happy. Later I will tell you Mulinda's story about her new life, her new house and Ben's fishpond.

Let me first tell tell you about the village of Mata Ie which was completely devastated by the tsunami that descended upon the west coast of Sumatra December 26, 2004. Located in the Aceh Jaya sub-district of Sampoiniet (west of Jeumpheuk), its remains today lie underwater.

Much has been accomplished in the years following the tsunami. The Canadian Red Cross (CRC), in partnership with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and PMI, helped rebuild Mata Ie, bigger and stronger than it was before.
CRC is building over 5,500 houses in 49 villages in Aceh and Nias. Mata Ie is one of those relocated villages, its original location is now lying some four kilometres away from the shore of the Indian Ocean.

Getting relief supplies and housing materials out to remote areas was a logistical nightmare. Here we are taking M6 trucks supplied by Norway on landing crafts, plus bulldozers, to make roads so we can transport materials.

Their new land was generously donated by the village of Arongan Lambalek, to the west of Cot Langsat. 68 light green houses with the distinctive red roofs of the Canadian Red Cross now sit on these 26 hectares of land. More than half of them are already occupied. Despite the many lives claimed by the tsunami, the population of Mata Ie has actually grown in recent years. Residents opened their hearts and welcomed close to 100 of their closest neighbours, displaced themselves from their own homes in Jeumphuek, Cot Langsat and Babah Nipah. More than 220 people now call Mata Ie home.

I think the Red Cross built houses are great !

Residents may have lost their homes in the tsunami, but they did not lose their livelihoods. Many have returned to their lives as small business owners; as farmers and fishermen.There are no schools in this village. Children attend schools in nearby communities, taking their studies very seriously. A nurse at one health clinic in Mata Ie attends to the medical needs of residents as they arise. Once a month, a travelling health clinic visits.

Mata Ie is a community that gets along with its neighours, as well as local levels of government. It’s an inclusive village that encourages women to take a larger role in making decisions that affect the entire community. And it is very welcoming to the Canadian Red Cross and its staff.

The village of Mata Ie last Tuesday, looking spick and span. Photo: Bob McKerrow

CRC could not rebuild Mata Ie alone. It took commitment on the part of many partners, including the villagers themselves, CIDA, BRR (Government of Indonesia Housing Agency) which is constructing permanent infrastructure, and American Red Cross, which is supplying water and sanitation to all of the homes. The CRC commitment did not end there. Making a conscious decision to build communities, not just houses, CRC embarked on programs that would improve the health of Mata Ie villagers, through improved water and sanitation, and hygiene promotion. The CRC Livelihoods Program saw the successful construction of a volleyball court; volleyball is a favourite pastime of the Acehnese. Residents of Mata Ie admit to still being traumatized by the tsunami and living in fear of future natural disasters, including earthquakes.

Villagers admit to still being traumatized by the tsunami. In days that followed the Tsunami, Red Cross volunteers disposed of bodies under terrible conditions, but with the greatest possible dignity.

To help mitigate those fears, CRC introduced Disaster Risk Reduction programs to the area, so next time, not only will residents be better prepared for a natural disaster, they’ll also be better able to respond.

A British Red Cross house, showing its design features under the worst flooding since the Tsunami. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A German Red Cross house, showing the advantages of high design standards as the worst flood simce the Tsunami tests the builder's skills.. Photo: Bob McKerrow,

Mulinda’s story: “A new life in a new home” (photo of her home above)

When the 2004 tsunami swept away her family home on the island of Pulo Breuh, Mulinda was seven months pregnant. Her daughter was born on March 1, 2005, while they were living in a camp for the displaced called Mata’ie (“tears”) near Banda Aceh.

Now three years old, little Saidatul Rahmi deftly cuts and pops slices of apple into her mouth on the doorstep of their new two-bedroom house, built by the British Red Cross.

Unlike many other families in Ulee Paya village, which has 300 inhabitants, Mulinda’s relatives all survived the disaster. But there was nothing left of the home she had lived in with her parents. It was five months before they were able to return to the island, just off the northern tip of Indonesia’s Aceh province.


Mulinda, 30, moved into the yellow Red Cross house with her husband and daughter in 2007, and her parents live close by. Trees and pots of pink flowers grow in the front garden and there is a wood-frame carpentry workshop at one side, where Saidatul’s father makes furniture.

“This house is much better,” says Mulinda, sitting on the pink three-piece suite in her living room. “It’s quieter, and even though it’s smaller than our old house, it is of higher quality.”

After the tsunami, most people needed new furniture, so orders have been coming in from neighbouring villages too. The business has taken on another employee.


Mulinda’s family seem happy in their new concrete-brick home, which is one of 47 the Red Cross constructed in Ulee Paya. Hopefully they are also better protected against damage from future disasters.

All Red Cross houses in the tsunami-affected area of Indonesia are built to withstand earthquakes up to magnitude 6, and should protect people inside up to magnitude 7.

“We sometimes have earthquakes, but when they happen, the house just shakes. There aren’t any cracks,” says Mulinda.
From rice field to fishpond: Reclaiming damaged land

Before the tsunami, Ben Khari’s home village of Alue Riyeung, on the north Acehnese island of Pulo Nasi, looked out over rice fields, separated from the beach by a swamp filled with coconut palms and mangroves.

Every morning, Ben or one of his partners heads down to the pond to give the fish their daily ration of three kilos of semi-organic

But the huge waves that smashed into the island’s coastal villages flooded the area with seawater and ripped out the trees. The semi-circle of land is now abandoned, dotted with large pools of stagnant water and tree stumps.

“It’s no good for paddy anymore, because without trees, the wind will blow in and damage the rice,” explains Ben.


He and a group of five other resourceful villagers put their heads together and came up with a fresh way to make use of the ruined fields. With the aid of a group grant of 3,164 Swiss francs from the British Red Cross, they have constructed a large fishpond at one edge.

First, they fenced off a 30 square metre section of stagnant water using debris from coconut trees destroyed by the tsunami (this, Ben boasts, took them just a week). Then, in April, they stocked the pond with around 3,000 bandeng (milk) fish, which they bought in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

Because they’ve opted for a non-intensive method, the fish won’t be ready to sell until late August. Every morning, Ben or one of his partners heads down to the pond to give the fish their daily ration of three kilos of semi-organic food.


Ben is keen to stress the ecological benefits of their approach, as well as pointing out that it’s cheaper. High-nutrient food is expensive, and because they used a flooded patch of land and recycled timber, they didn’t have to hire a digger or purchase fencing materials.

The group members don’t have to rely on the fish project for their main source of income, so they are treating it as an experiment for rehabilitating the wide expanse of land damaged by the tsunami.

“We are aware that this activity takes a long time to produce benefits, but we see it as a good way of exploiting the potential of the natural resources here. It’s an investment,” explains Ben.

“We also come here and relax with the family, so we’re all doing this project merrily,” he smiles.
Thanks to Megan Rowling, British Red Cross abd Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross for ptoviding information.


pohanginapete said...

Bob, thanks so much to you and all the others working so hard and so effectively to help these people recover not just houses but homes; not just places to live, but ways to live, and not just relief, but hope. And not just hope for them; for people like me. My pessimism about the prospects for the planet is tempered by the knowledge that some of us still have the compassion and will to look after one another, and what you've shown us in this post is a prime example. Thanks, Bob.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Pete

It's been a great team effort starting with the Indonesian Red Cross volunteers who had to dispose of up to 200,000 bodies, then the relief and then almost four years of recovery and rehabilitation. Our role is to work with the Indonesian Red Cross, encouraging, supporting building capacities and transferring knowledge. We work with communities and its such a joy seeing them, after so much destruction, having a quality lifestyle.

Thanks for your encouragment Pete.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
An inspiring post, the look on that little girls face speaks volumes, and as Pete writes, you continue to give hope as well as inspiring others to action.
A stormy rainy weekend has desended upon the land of the long white cloud, a good one to settle in with a good book. Hope your weekend is restful and pleasant.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Good morning Robb. I got up at 3 a.m. to watch France and Wales rugby match. Yes, the smile on the girls face says everything. One smile makes it all worthwhile.

Enjoy your stormy weekend. I think I will sneak back to bed for another hour's sleep.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob. At the risk of sounding incredibly superficial against everything you've just written, the opening photo that you included is a real gem.

Thanks for continuing to write about everything that's happening there. It's something that we just miss out on through the regular media, I guess because nothing sufficiently bad is happening to grab their attention.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...


Thanks for dropping by. I think you are cirrect when you say the media doesn't pick up these stories necause "nothing sufficiently bad is happening to grab their attention."

I went to your block and enjoyed reading your 'niche stories." Good stuff Mike. I spent a lot of time up on the tops of most mountain ranges in NZ, and we are so lucky to have such country to walk and paddle in.. Cheers. Bob

Unknown said...

Hey Bob,

good on you mate! you and your teams and the people you meet are constant sources of inspiration. I love checking in here to read some hopeful stories.

I particularly like the story of Ben and his pond. Heres hoping thats its a grass roots practical solution that will speed the ecological recovery of some of those wasted coastal regions, theres sure plenty of them that need it.

take care


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Hello Jamie

Ben and his pond is a good, practical one and there are thousands of others like it. We are also running a mangrove planting programme to bring back the biodiversity to these unique and fragile coastal regions.

Donald said...

Bob, great post.

Also just published your comment on my blog with a grin: It was quite serendipitous as I discovered your blog early Jan. in the context of the recent Cascade Saddle search, and was going to contact you about now. I actually got side tracked reading about the Red Lion trip [v. enjoyable], and also just 3 evenings ago meet, for the first time, Ken and Lyn from Hoki. and they asked if knew you, when they found out about my inclinations and interests in life which revolve around mts.

So it's been quite interesting as I recall meeting you on the Tasman Gl in the early seventies. We were snow caving below the old TS hut. There may have been several of us.



Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Donald

Your name sticks in my brain and thanks for recalling we met on the Tasman Glacier in early 70s. Quite serendipitous meeting again through the ether and not on snow. I was working in the rescue team at Mt. Cook in those days. I enjoyed discovering your blog and the delightful stories and photos, and of course the Vintage, cheese, wine and climbs.

Let's keep in touch. I have listed your blog on mine as one I recommend.

Travel safely.


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