Cooperative, Coordinated Efforts Speed Up Tsunami Relief Work

Members of a global alliance of churches and related agencies in Indonesia are carrying out their response to the Dec. 26 quake-tsunami disaster in cooperation with established local church and secular organizations in Banda Aceh on the west coast and on the east coast in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh.

Although it has been three weeks since last month’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered massive tidal waves that obliterated seaside towns and killed more than 226,000 people in twelve countries, the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International reports that some communities on the west coast have still not been reached. “The fate of thousands more is still unknown, and survivors in remote areas still face the potential risk of hunger and disease,” the alliance of agencies stated. “The government is planning to relocate the displaced to alternative sites over the coming weeks.”

According to ACT, the unimaginable damage—particularly in the areas of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, two large coastal cities—has created enormous needs.

“The scale of the disaster on all sectors is just beginning to hit home, with whole communities physically and psychologically damaged, livelihoods lost and local capacity diminished through death,” stated ACT in a report released Friday. “Thousands of doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers were lost in the disaster, which wiped out entire areas.”

Currently ACT relief efforts are focusing on all basic services and life-saving interventions such as food, water and sanitation, health care and emergency-relief supplies.

So far, ACT’s response has been carried out by its members in Indonesia—Church World Service (CWS), YAKKUM Emergency Unit (YEU) and Yayasan Tanggul Bancana (YTB). Each in turn has been cooperating with well-established local church and secular organizations in Banda Aceh, on the west coast including the island of Nias, and on the east coast in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh.

With two coordinators in place in Jakarta and Medan, ACT reported that its the work is gathering pace to respond more effectively and coherently to the disaster in Aceh.

"We have been assessing the scale of the problems and the capacity of our local partners to carry out the work," said Jakarta-based ACT coordinator Sjoerd van Schooneveld.

Van Schooneveld said task forces on information have been established which should streamline the work of all partners. On top of this, ACT is reinforcing its quality control to strengthen its appeal with more updated assessments of the situation on the ground.

On Jan. 7, the Geneva-based ACT Coordinating Office issued a US$41.8 million appeal for tsunami relief and rehabilitation activities in the Indian Ocean region. One of the largest appeals in its 10-year history, it includes $11.7 million worth of activities in Indonesia alone.

However, in addition to the funding, what is vital to the effort is a high level of collaboration between partnering agencies on the ground, according to Van Schooneveld. The coordinator reported that each partner's plans are currently being revised as the long-term needs become clearer. At the end of the month, all partners will meet to finalize the revision of the Indonesia appeal and the role of partners.

"But a lot more work needs to be done on coordination, quality control, finances and accountability. We want to set the same standards for all in the field," said Van Schooneveld, who admitted that the work ahead is quite challenging.

ACT reports that one challenge is incorporating the additional activities of other ACT members on the ground. The alliance said its members would be encouraged to work with the local ACT implementing members and help strengthen their capacity.

Meanwhile, sources say with roads, bridges and ports destroyed, Aceh will require a long-term commitment to rehabilitation and reconstruction that is now estimated will cost US$4 billion.