Ten years on, tsunami survivors in Indonesia hope to move on

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2014 5:46 AM

By Heru Asprihanto and Tommy Andriansyah

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - A decade after a 10-metre (32-foot) tsunami washed away two of her three children, her home and business, Salawati is finally getting her life back on track in Indonesia's western-most Banda Aceh province.

The 47 year old survivor of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 226,000 people around the region, is one of thousands who have gradually rebuilt their livelihoods from scratch with the help of billions of dollars in aid.

"Our feelings are not like 10 years ago when I would feel sad if I talked about my tsunami experience," Salawti told Reuters in her hometown of Merduati on the island of Sumatra ahead of the 10th anniversary of the disaster.

She was speaking in her small house built with aid money on the spot her old house stood before it was destroyed by waves crashing in from the sea a short distance away.

"Now we are focused on improving our business and helping other families in our community," she added, referring to her work of making dried fish, an Indonesian delicacy.

Banda Aceh, which was closest to the epicenter of the 9.6 magnitude earthquake that caused the tsunami, bore the brunt of the casualties.

"At the time, we had no clue if the area would ever return to normalcy so what Salawati represents is the people of Aceh defying all odds to survive and improve their lives," said Tomi Soetjipto of the United Nations Development Programme, who has followed Salawati's fate since the disaster.

Since then, the province has seen about $7 billion in aid pumped into its economy, according to the UNDP, though some of that assistance has trickled in slowly.

"For five years after the tsunami, we still hadn't received help from the government," said Nurdin, Salawati's husband.

"After we received help in 2011 we prioritized the people here in our village. There are still many who live below the poverty line so we want to help them earn a decent income and livelihood."

The couple have high hopes for their business, hoping to be able to export their products one day. They recently expanded the number of workers in their small factory and are regularly invited to conferences on small- and medium-sized enterprises in the capital, Jakarta.

"The memory of the tsunami still exists," Salawati said. "But for the future we want to move on so that we can continue our only son's education and help achieve his goals."

(Additional reporting and writing by Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta; Editing by Robert Birsel)