Lessons from Aceh
The chapters of this volume have reflected upon the reconstruction of Aceh following the Indian Ocean tsunami. They reveal the ways in which different perspectives provide different understandings of the reconstruction, and it has become apparent that there is no single or ‘correct’ interpretation. While this multiplicity of views might be considered a constraint to learning from the experiences in Aceh, examining the reconstruction response from numerous viewpoints can actually enhance the depth of comprehension and the lessons that can be learned. Rather than being purely an instrumental evaluation, for example solely interested in the mechanics of the response (for example the. number of houses built, number of health clinics established, number of unaccompanied children reunited with their families), this approach allows a more encompassing suite of lessons to be identified. In the number of countries and people affected, the Indian Ocean
tsunami has been the largest natural disaster to occur in modern times, and while its enormity made it particularly unique, there are general lessons that transcend this specific event. Natural disasters do occur frequently and it is possible this frequency will increase as a direct result of climate change (Clarke, 2008; IPCC, 2007). Preparedness to respond to complex humanitarian emergencies is important for all countries. Natural disasters occur in developed countries (e.g. Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005) as well as developing countries (e.g. Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008). Certainly an interesting and recent phenomenon has been the flow of aid from ‘poor’ countries to ‘wealthy’ country in response to such events. For example, Papua New Guinea donated A$65,000 in response to the ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires in Australia in February 2009, while the government of Indonesia donated A$1 million for the fire reconstruction efforts, as well as sending a forensic team to Victoria to assist with identifying the dead (AusAID, 2009). The lessons that can be identified from analysis of the post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh will therefore have wide relevance. It is important to note that the lessons from Aceh reconstruction are not
simply a diatribe of errors and mistakes made during the reconstruction.
While poor decisions were undoubtedly made (see Cosgrave, 2007), there were also examples of successes (many of which are discussed within this volume). Therefore the lessons described below are drawn from both good and poor practices displayed within the reconstruction. They focus on cultural sensitivity, community engagement, political regeneration, participatory practices, government planning and international responses. It is expected that these lessons, while mired in a very specific event, will be more widely applicable to future complex humanitarian emergencies. The overarching lesson that this volumes identifies is that reconstruction
is not a one-dimensional process. ‘Reconstruction’ must refer to multiple aspects, involve multiple players and allow for multiple perspectives and experiences. A one size fits all cookbook does not work. It is inappropriate to consider that a single approach or a single ‘view’ is sufficient when responding to a disaster. It is necessary for local and international agencies, host governments, donors and local communities to purposely seek out different perspectives and different voices to ensure that the response is inclusive and encompassing. This overarching perspective on what we can learn from analysis of the
reconstruction of post-tsunami Aceh sets the framework for other lessons.
Not only is every reconstruction multifaceted, it occurs within a particular context. For example it is not possible to understand the dynamics of change and intervention in Aceh’s reconstruction without grasping how the often tortuous political history has set the backdrop for political regeneration after the tsunami, or how Islam is a key part of the social and cultural context. Such understandings are reminders of the folly of analysing postdisaster reconstruction as abstracted technical procedures.