Tsunami 10 years on – Aceh builds back better

Dec 15, 2014

Ten years after the devastating earthquakes and a tsunami, a sense of normalcy has returned to the Indonesia’s province of Aceh.

Under the leadership of the Government-owned Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias (BRR), Aceh and Nias Islands succeeded in building back better. The tsunami in Aceh also brought an opportunity to restore peace in the resource-rich province. Following the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement, Aceh successfully held two direct elections and entered into a period of relative calm and political stability.

The reconstruction and rehabilitation phase received strong backing from the international community, including UNDP, which supported BRR since its inception. UNDP’s support to Aceh continued beyond 2009, when BRR ended its mandate. After 2009, emphasis was placed on strengthening the provincial government’s capacity to ensure that it could efficiently assume the responsibilities, functions, resources and assets it had inherited from BRR.

Building Resilient Communities

Working with local authorities, UNDP helped the communities in Aceh and Nias Islands to become more resilient. UNDP has laid to the groundwork for integrating disaster risk reduction (DRR) into development plans. The objective of disaster risk reduction was overarching in a number of critical initiatives, including;

  • Creation of the tsunami early warning system
  • Establishment of provincial and district disaster agencies
  • A province-wide increase in public knowledge to mitigate vulnerabiities in disaster-prone areas

All of these were supported by UNDP with funding from the Multi Donor Fund for Aceh and Nias (MDF).

Restoring lives and livelihoods were at the heart of UNDP’s livelihood projects in Aceh and Nias. In the emergency phase, cash-for-work systems provided much- needed income to survivors. Later, in the recovery phase, sustainable business opportunities were born out of UNDP’s efforts to leave lasting economic foundations in place. Agricultural livelihoods comprise more than half of the economic foundation of the province and, as such, investments were made into local commodities like coffee, rice, fruit and cocoa. These investments then contributed to increasing the competitiveness of local commodities in the global marketplace, benefitting tens of thousands of farmers and their families.

Preservation of Aceh’s and Nias’ delicate and vibrant ecosystems was a top priority in all UNDP activities. UNDP helped build a landmark regional landfill serving Aceh Besar and Banda Aceh and supported the recycling sector, resulting in thousands of tonnes of materials being diverted from local landfills and providing livelihoods to small businesses turning waste materials into recycled commercial products. UNDP also provided policy advice to the formulation of the provincial government’s Aceh Green strategy, which has been aimed at accelerating development progress and investments while avoiding the overexploitations of natural resources. In addition, UNDP projects facilitated the planting of thousands of trees.

Bureaucracy Reform Support

UNDP likewise played a role in helping Aceh’s newly formed government take shape. With UNDP’s support, the national Government developed a road map and capacity assessment for reform of the provincial administration. Training was provided to the human resource agency in Aceh to develop and promote a merit- and equal opportunity-based system for appointments to the provincial civil service.

UNDP’s support to strengthening democratic governance in Aceh further encompassed the provision of technical assistance to provincial elections. Since the tsunami, the people of Aceh successfully held two relatively peaceful direct elections to appoint the province’s governor and local readers. With financial backing from AusAID, UNDP supported the most recent election in 2012, particularly with regard to the drafting and distribution of vote-counting manuals for poll officers.

Learning From Aceh and Nias Islands

The experience gained in the recovery process for Aceh and Nias Islands has provided valuable lessons during subsequent disasters in Indonesia, such as the Padang earthquake in 2009. It also has proven useful throughout the region, such as in Pakistan during the devastating 2010 floods and in Philippines during massive typhoons in 2012 and 2013. The innovative and highly effective solutions developed for debris clearance and solid waste management in the wake of Aceh’s tsunami disaster have inspired other regions around the world faced with destructive disasters: For example, expertise from Aceh has been called upon to advise early recovery efforts in disaster zones such as Haiti and Pakistan.

Early recovery mechanisms that took shape in Aceh and Nias Islands thus are being shared around the world. As a nation vulnerable to some of the world’s largest and most frequent natural hazards, Indonesia is a leader in disaster risk reduction and is contributing to global learning by making its experience available through South-South exchanges with other developing countries.

Significant opportunities still exist to support Aceh and Nias Islands as Indonesia navigates its way toward middle-income status. To help address development challenges, and to sustain the gains made in the years since since the 2004 tsunami, UNDP is committed to pursue longer-term initiatives in the province in the areas of democratic governance and bureaucracy reform.


Tomi Soetjipto
UNDP Indonesia Spokesman

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