Banda Aceh in Indonesia was the first major town to be hit by the tsunami. The giant wave smashed the lives of local fishermen as thoroughly as it smashed their boats. But ten years later, the fishing community has bounced back and many locals are rightly proud of what they have achieved.
ACEH -- When the tsunami hit, Surya Darma was out in his fishing boat. Suddenly he and his crew were fighting for their lives in the middle of raging waters.
He remembers the terror they felt as they tried desperately to row to the top of the 30-metre wave. He and his companions knew that, to avoid being swallowed by the wave when it broke, they needed to get the boat to the other side of the crest, away from the land. Amazingly, they managed.
"All I could think of was how I would ever find the bodies of my family.”“The drop on the other side was so scary,” Surya recalls. “But it was not as frightening as seeing the countless dead bodies when we finally got back to land. All I could think of was how I would ever find the bodies of my family.”
Surya’s house is only 50-meters from the sea shore, so he figured there was no way his family could have survived. When he did finally get home, he could not believe his eyes. He found that all of his family had survived.
In the days and weeks that followed, Surya remembers that his family received food aid from WFP: rice, oil, noodles and canned sardines. “The food saved our lives but also our community in some ways. Not only did it give us the strength we needed to live, but it also kept the community calm.
"If we hadn’t received food, I am sure people would have resorted to crime to feed their families. It would have been scary, but thankfully it didn’t happen.”
Banda Aceh fish market is now back in business. Photo:WFP/Rein Skullerud
WFP provided food assistance to 1.2 million people in Indonesia in the wake of the tsunami. It was one of the biggest operations the organisation has ever mounted. After the initial phase of direct food relief, food assistance was also used to help communities rebuild. WFP closed its office in Banda Aceh in 2008.
Nowadays, Surya and other local fishermen have rebuilt their homes, repaired their boats and recovered their livelihoods. But for many, it took a long time.
“It took six years for the fishing industry to return to normality,” says Ari, who trades fish at the main fish market in Banda Aceh. “Aceh lost many fishermen to the tsunami.”
But those who survived have got back on their feet and, according to Ari, the fishing business has grown bigger than it was before. He attributes that growth to several factors, among them the aid received from the international community and the “resilience” of the local people.
Noor, a fisherman who witnessed the tsunami in 2004. Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud
“It was devastating. I lost pretty much everything,” says Noor, a fisherman who lost two children in the tsunami. “It took me four years to get back on my feet and it would definitely have taken much longer if I hadn’t received help from various organizations, such as the food I received from WFP.”
After years of saving money earned with a small fishing boat, Noor is now two months away from completing the construction of a new 80-ton fishing boat. Business, it seems, could soon be booming.