Reclaiming land, reclaiming livelihoods

Aceh Disaster/ Photo by Wahyu Wening

The small village of Kareung Ateuh nestled at the foot of a staggering lush green mountainside in Aceh Jaya district, was one of the areas affected by the 2004 tsunami which killed more than 120,000 people and displaced around half a million others in Aceh alone.

Cut Awi says she’s been a farmer since she was born. She wouldn’t tell her age, but this sturdy woman, with her hard hands and weathered face, has seen a lot of life in the last few years.


  • More than 120,000 people killed & half a million displaced in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.
  • The Tsunami Recovery Waste Management Programme (TRWMP) returned over 1,000 hectares of land covered in debris to fertile ground.
  • 135 households of the Kareung Ateuh community can restart their livelihoods and improve their standards of living.

Cut and her neighbours lost almost everything in 2004 when a 20-metre high wall of water swept away their loved ones, their livelihoods, and their belongings. The entire west coast of Aceh was submerged and the bits of road visible through the high water were reduced to rubble.

“There was nothing left,” she says. “Everything was destroyed.”

Approximately 26,000 hectares of Aceh’s agricultural land near the coast lay under a thick layer of ocean sediment and debris. Farmers who survived the disaster were forced to abandon their fields in the immediate aftermath in order to contribute to the recovery and reconstruction effort and provide for their families.

In response to this need, the Tsunami Recovery Waste Management Programme (TRWMP) helped farmers by clearing their land of its sediment, returning over 1,000 hectares of land to fertile ground for future crops. TRWMP has made sure that it’s an effort ignited at the heart of the community. Farmers are the key players in returning the land to normal. They have been involved in the process from the very beginning.

Idrus is the head of the farmers association In Kareung Ateuh says, “We’re committed to reactivating these fields.”

“As soon as we can, we’ll get back to work,” Nahon, another farmer, calls out. The heavy equipment does the dense work and farmers follow behind with shovels and hoes in hand for more intricate excavation. It was such a system that enabled the farmers to find sixteen bodies, buried under layers of silt since 2004.

While reminders of their loss are everywhere, the farmers have their goals in sight. With the field restored, the community of 135 households can restart their livelihoods and improve their standards of living.

“This project has made a big contribution to our lives,” says Ilyas, 30, a community leader. “There was no way for us to provide for our families. Now that we can grow crops again, we can improve our economy.”

This story originally appeared in the Multi Donor Fund Progress Report, December 2011.

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