Tsunami-Hit Farmers Enter a New Chapter in Indonesia’s Aceh

Dec 21, 2014

Peukan Bada, Indonesia – Squatted before a sea of maroon-colored shallots, Indonesian tsunami survivor, Faisal Amin chuckled as he showed a handful of the best picks to a photographer.  

The 50-year-old rice farmer has many reasons to smile these days.  His recently harvested shallots provided him extra cash to support the schooling of his young relatives.  He’s also been saving money to buy a pickup van, which would help the expansion of his shallots’ business.

Faisal tried his hand at shallot farming soon after UNDP helped him clear his paddy field in Aceh province, once covered by mountains of tsunami debris and sediment. Buoyed by the success of post-tsunami rice harvests, Faisal turned optimistic and decided to learn shallot farming.

“I was really happy to be back on the paddy field. I felt that I had finally regained my life. I’m a farmer at heart, and if I don’t work on the field, I’d be lost … Then (after the rice harvests) I thought, ‘Why not try new things?’  So I tried shallots,” said Faisal, grinning widely.

The 2004 tsunami left deep scars on Faisal.  The native Acehnese lost his wife, three children and home after the 9.1-magnitudes earthquake generated fearsome tidal waves.  Around 70,000 people were killed in Aceh alone, and hundreds of villages were wiped out.

Faisal’s village, a short 15-minute drive from the now-bustling capital city Banda Aceh, looked and felt like a “jungle” after the tsunami, he said. 

“So, we went to the local administration offices to ask for help to clear the land. The administration picked out the areas that were in most critical need. Among them was my village,” he added.  This was how Faisal first became acquainted with UNDP.

Helping Communities to Recover

The land around Faisal’s home was just a small portion cleared by UNDP in Aceh, the area that bore the brunt of tsunami damages.  In total, UNDP helped in clearing more than 1 million cubic metres of tsunami debris and returning more than 1,200 hectares of land to fertile ground. Faisal is also among nearly 2,000 households who have received support to resume farming.

From satellite imagery, UNDP learned that agricultural land for rice paddies that had been ruined amounted to some 26,000 hectares. Hence, land clearance became part of UNDP’s overarching support in helping the communities in Aceh to recover and build back better.

UNDP made sure that the farmers played a key role in the clearing of the agricultural land.  The heavy equipment tackled the dense work, and farmers followed through with shovels and hoes for more intricate excavation.

Other UNDP support in Aceh ranged from massive infrastructure reconstruction to strengthening the capacity of the local governments to resume their normal functions in serving the Acehnese people.

UNDP lent all of its support under the leadership of the Government-owned Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias (BRR). Moreover, UNDP’s support continued beyond 2009, when BRR ended its mandate.  Since 2009, emphasis has been placed on strengthening the provincial government’s capacity to ensure that it can assume full responsibilities and functions.

“Recovery is part a crucial phase of a long-term development process. Thus, we worked closely with the BRR and the local governments to ensure that our support responded to the needs of the affected communities,” said Kristanto Sinandang, Head of the Crisis and Prevention Unit at UNDP Indonesia.

Throughout the process, the BRR and local governments were in the driver’s seat, added Sinandang.

Back inside a storage room where Faisal kept his harvests, he explained the meticulous method of keeping his shallots dry and free from pests. The strong fragrance of ripe shallots permeated the bamboo-walled room as he walked among open racks of shallots.

Now remarried, with no children, Faisal remained deeply philosophical about his tsunami loss.

“They (my wife and three children) are not dead: Allah has summoned them.  All of us live a borrowed life in this world,” said Faisal. “Someday it’s going to be my turn, and Allah will summon me.”  

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