December 28, 2005 · Posted in: General, In the News

Resilience amid ruin

LAST December 26 marked the first year since the deadly earthquake that triggered catastrophic tsunamis in several parts of Asia. Worst hit was Aceh in Indonesia which was close to the 9.0-magnitude quake’s epicenter at the northern tip of Sumatra.

The total death toll from the tsunamis that swamped coastal communities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, India, and seven other countries was placed at 220,000. More than half of those deaths were from Aceh, according to the Indonesia National Disaster Coordinating Board (NDCB).

The figures do not include those who remain missing, which are estimated to be far more than the fatalities. In many areas, including Aceh, most of the missing or dead are women. In five villages in Aceh’s Lampu’uk subdistrict, only 40 of the 750 survivors from a population of 5,500 are women. In Aceh Besar district, the international relief group Oxfam reports that male survivors outnumber the females by a ratio of three to one. In four villages in North Aceh, the female death toll made up 70 percent of the fatalities. In Kuala Cangkoy, 80 percent of the dead were female.

On a fellowship from the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), PCIJ contributor Tess Bacalla travelled to Aceh in May to document life among the Acehnese in the aftermath of the tsunami devastation. What she found out is a situation even more stressful for women who have to endure a male-dominated environment in temporary shelters where their privacy and safety are constantly threatened.

Acehnese women also found themselves engaging in cash-for-work activities organized in the refugee camps, on top of their traditional chores of doing housework and taking care of children.

But not all is however bleak in post-disaster Aceh as women are beginning to find their place in their communities, somehow empowered by their own efforts to rebuild their lives. Accustomed to keeping mum about their concerns, some have started to express a desire to go back to their homes, start a small-scale business, and not to be dependent on others. "It’s a good sign," remarks Nani Zulminarni, head of the women’s rights group Pekka.

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3 Responses to Resilience amid ruin



December 28th, 2005 at 8:13 pm

there is a good news that came today as reported by associated press:

the armed struggle by the Free Aceh Movement fighters comes to an end after 29 years with the agreement to join the peace process.

wish all parties good luck and speedy reconstruction for the devastations that beyond imagination.



December 30th, 2005 at 9:06 am


Haven’t read Tess’s piece (is it posted anywhere?), but when I was in Aceh last January (about ten days after the tsunami), I learned that, as in the Philippines, many women in coastal villages do not know how to swim, and that could be one reason why many more women died. Fishermen of course generally know how to swim. When I was in Coron a couple of years ago to cover the sinking of a boat, I discovered that nearly everyone who drowned, mostly women, did not know how to swim.

The moral: swimming is not just a leisure activity, as commonly believed, I think, but a survival skill. Local governments, especially those in coastal communities of island nations, should make swimming lessons — at the local beach if there’s no community pool — a part of their public safety program.


Alecks Pabico

December 30th, 2005 at 1:00 pm


A non-swimmer myself, my usual facetious take on this is that the skill is instinctive because, after all, we all came from the sea. :-) Seriously, I do agree it would not hurt to learn how to swim — or should I say relearn what lies dormant in our genetic memory — especially as a way of equipping ourselves with a survival skill.

BTW, I did provide the link to the story in my post. But here’s the URL anyway:

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