The massive but, happily, largely benign earthquake off the coast of Sumatra on Wednesday left millions of people in Aceh reliving the nightmare the engulfed them on Boxing Day 2004, when a similarly large but different type of earthquake sent a wall of water across the lowlands, killing around 180,000 people.
That the earthquake and fear of another massive tsunami came just two days after a local elections and a major political upheaval only added poignancy to the otherwise frightening occasion. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, Aceh separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) reached a peace agreement with the government in Jakarta, ushering in a period not just of rebuilding but of relative peace and electoral politics.
Contrary to such opinion that exists on Aceh, the peace agreement was not a consequence of the tsunami as such. Rather, and agreement to start peace talks had been reached just days before the tsunami struck.
Japan March 11th 2011: For the record
In the evening of 22 March, I boarded Qantas flight 22 bound for Sydney via Hong Kong from Narita International Airport. It was a familiar flight for me which was usually a direct flight between Tokyo and Sydney. However, the flight route of the QF22 had been changed due to the disaster in Japan. Qantas wanted to make sure the safety of their crews.
Although I was unhappy and slightly anxious about the change of the route, the flight turn out to be the most memorable and, maybe, the safest flight I have ever had. 72 crew members of the Australian rescue team returning to Australia from the disaster zone were on board.
Aceh has much to teach the world – including those engaged in the reconstruction of Haiti.
It is now six months since Haiti was devastated by an earthquake and six years since the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 devastated Aceh.
Attention in Haiti has moved to the reconstruction accompanied by well publicized frustration at how slowly these efforts are going.