Reviewing Aceh's social issues after the tsunami

David Lau and Grace Ho

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Over 120 people from the community gathered at CityU, 30-31 January, for a public forum organized by the Southeast Asia Research Centre (SEARC), to learn about Aceh's social issues arising from last December's tsunami.


The forum began with an overview of the situation in Aceh presented by Dr Vivienne Wee, Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Social Studies and Associate Director of SEARC. Dr Wee covered the general conditions for the tsunami survivors, relief activities and the role of civic groups in Aceh. Ms Suraiya Kamaruzzaman, an Academic Visitor at SEARC, shared her personal experience of helping her relatives and friends in Aceh cope with the disaster.


“The tsuami totally devastated Aceh; buildings and villages were destroyed, numerous corpses were found on roads, missing persons notices were posted everywhere, displaced people desperately sought shelter…” Ms Kamaruzzaman showed the audience the pictures she took in Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh, and talked about what she saw and heard there. She showed the forum audience a local Aceh newspaper, in which photos of the missing are published daily. One of Ms Kamaruzzaman's friends was on the list. “After the tsunami, while survivors are trying to leave the place, many others are trying to get to South Asia to look for family members and friends,” she said. Her eyes filled with tears as she thought about her devastated hometown, dead or missing relatives and friends, and the suffering of the survivors.


Neglected victims

Ms Kamaruzzaman pointed out that very often women, children, the elderly and the disabled are deprived of aid or resources. Some women have to give birth or breast-feed babies in unsanitary conditions. Many children have no clothes to wear. As founder of Flower Aceh, a voluntary organization in support of women, Ms Kamaruzzama introduced their work and appealed to the general public to lend a helping hand to these vulnerable people.


Two other speakers were invited to provide supplementary information at the forum: Ms Lin Chew, another Academic Visitor in SEARC, introduced the work of an international funding agency, the Global Fund for Women, for strengthening women's groups in Aceh; Mr Y K Fong, Vice-Director and Chief Editor of the Hong Kong China News Agency, talked about the situation of the Indonesian Chinese in Aceh.


Launched in February 2001, CityU’s Southeast Asia Research Centre is the first research centre in Hong Kong devoted to Southeast Asian studies. The Centre, under the auspices of the University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, adopts a distinctly comparative, interdisciplinary and holistic approach, and focuses on applied research in the areas of economic and political development, investment and trade, labour practices, ethnicity and environment in Southeast Asia. “After the tsunami in South Asia, we are starting to conduct research work and look into policy ramifications in disaster management and the rebuilding of society, and more effective coordination of among civic groups and international organizations,” Dr Wee said. 


In addition to this public forum, CityU, in conjunction with UNICEF, raised a record amount of donations, over HK$350,000, in support of the tsunami disaster victims of South Asia.


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