Aceh, ten years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami’s devastating destruction, is a shining example of resilience and recovery. It demonstrates the power of family, community, and individual involvement, as well as the effects of international and domestic aid. Many communities were devastated by the tsunami in Indian Ocean countries. The tsunami caused the most destruction in Indonesia’s provinces of Aceh, North Sumatra, and elsewhere. There were an estimated 170,000 deaths and hundreds of kilometers worth of damage to the natural and built environment. The Indonesian government, donors, and NGOs, as well as individuals, contributed approximately $7 billion to aid. A high-ranking bureau was established in Aceh by the government to coordinate recovery efforts.
The Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recovery was established to shed light on the way individuals, families, and communities responded to the disaster. STAR began in 2005 and has been following over 30,000 people since 2004 (pre-tsunami), in 487 communities (community locations depicted in the figure below). This was part of a household-representative population survey by Statistics Indonesia. Interviews were conducted every year for five years following the tsunami. The ten-year follow-up is currently underway. We have interviewed 96% of survivors and determined survival status for 98%. This study provides information about the long-term costs and recovery for those living in extremely damaged communities, as well as in communities that have had less direct effects from the disaster.
Mortality: The tsunami had a devastating effect on mortality. Some STAR communities saw more than 80% of the people killed in the 2004 pre-tsunami survey. Death rates in areas that were not directly affected by tsunami track life tables are lower. As shown in the red-figure below, about 25% of the population died in areas that were heavily damaged. Prime-age men were less likely to die than women, children, and seniors. The survival rate of a household was influenced by its composition. Children and women aged 15 to 44 were more likely than their wives and husbands to survive when there were at least two men between 15-44. Relationships were also important: Survival chances were highest for wives and husbands, followed closely by mothers and children. Evidence suggests that stronger household members sought out to help the weaker members of their households when the tsunami hit, sometimes with success, and sometimes not. (1).
Loss of resources and trauma: One in five survivors were injured or caught in the tsunami’s path in severely damaged communities. More than one-third of those who survived were witnesses to their family and friends being swept away by the waves. Although these experiences were rare in those who lived in areas that the tsunami didn’t reach, many people lost loved ones who resided in coastal areas when the disaster struck. The tsunami caused extensive damage to infrastructure and housing, as well as land and property. Other locations also suffered earthquake-related damage.
Mental Health: Symptoms of post-traumatic stress reactivity (PTSR), were the highest immediately after the disasters was higher among people who were living in tsunami-damaged communities at the time, but not among people from other areas. However, PTSR was higher among those who had experienced traumatic events. Being from a community that has been severely damaged also results in a higher Sarthe sum of all individual experiences. The symptoms gradually diminished over time with those in heavily affected communities experiencing the fastest rate of recovery. Average levels of post-traumatic stress response were the same regardless of where one lived at the time of the tsunami in 2007. Although PTSR levels immediately after the tsunami were not related to education, those with higher education recovered more quickly. (2), (3), (4).
Family Formation and Fertility: More than a third of the children living in severely damaged areas died as a result of the tsunami. Five years after the tsunami, fertility rates in tsunami-affected communities were higher than in other communities. Two groups of women are responsible for the rise in fertility: women who lost children or had children later than others, and women who did not have any children at the time the tsunami hit initiated childbearing immediately after the tsunami. This was in contrast to women who were not affected by tsunami-related deaths. In communities with tsunami-related mortality, new families formed faster than other communities by getting married and having children. (5).
Human Capital for Children: STAR was created to help children understand the effects of the tsunami on their lives. A large percentage of children lost both their parents. We compare the changes in time over time between children aged 9-17 years at the time of the tsunami to children who lost both their parents or their mother. Five years later, Losing one or both of their parents can have serious consequences for older boys who leave school to enter the workforce and older girls who marry. However, the effects on children younger than 5 years old are much more subtle. (6). The height of children is also an indicator of health and nutrition that will predict later life success and health. Children who were literate lives of those born after the tsunami, or 3 to 6 months later, were shorter than in earlier generations. They lived for 18 months less than their predecessors. This is likely due to the combination of reduced resources and maternal stress during pregnancy. Three years later, the children are now at or above their older peers in height and age, suggesting that post-tsunami reconstruction can have long-term effects on health, well-being, and even longevity. These results are important as they indicate that it is possible to recover height deficits early in childhood.
Housing and Migration: Within the four months following the tsunami, nearly two-thirds (33%) of severely damaged residents have moved to new homes. This is a 10x higher rate than the average for people living in other places. People whose homes were destroyed were more likely to move. (7). These results are consistent with the fact that the proportion of people who claim to live in homes owned by family members has fallen dramatically between 2004-2005 for individuals who lived in severely damaged areas at the time the tsunami hit. However, it is not the same for those who live elsewhere. Surprisingly, individuals have returned to their family-owned homes by 2010, at the same rate as before the tsunami.
Aceh suffered a terrible tsunami. The tsunami’s impact on Aceh was devastating. Kinship networks were destroyed, people lost their homes and businesses, the landscapes were altered by saltwater and silt, and infrastructure was damaged. The efforts to rebuild Aceh took the time and money of many people from across the province and from around the globe. These efforts have had remarkable results. In five years, people were back in their homes, often on their original land. They also lived in new communities with improved schools and infrastructure. These communities are home to new residents every ten years, thanks to in-migration and births.
Overall, the impression is that a province and its population have emerged from an immense disaster. STAR data provides scientific evidence to support this impression, even though some populations have not yet recovered. The success of reconstruction efforts in Aceh is based on evidence. This shows the importance of well-organized and well-funded recovery efforts after a disaster. It’s easy to forget this once the initial humanitarian crisis is over.