Asia remembers tsunami

2009-12-26 09:31

People across Asia paused today to remember the day five years

ago when an undersea earthquake unleashed a devastating wave that killed more

than 220 000 people.

A solemn day of prayers and remembrance to mark one of the world’s

worst natural disasters was held in Indonesia’s Aceh province, which lost almost

170 000 people in the Asian Tsunami of December 26, 2004.

Prayers were said in mosques throughout the Islamic

province and beside mass graves near the local capital of Banda Aceh.

At the site of one of the graves, where more than 14 000

unidentified victims are buried, a woman sat on the ground weeping and

reciting Koranic verses for the 40 members of her family who died.

“None of my family members survived in the tsunami. My children,

grandchildren, brothers, sisters, they all have gone and left me alone here,” said

Siti Aminah (72).

“This is the mass grave situated close to our residence blocks.

They may be buried here or might have been swept away to sea as we were living

by the beach,” she said.

Aminah, a spice seller, was on the second floor of a local market

building some five kilometres from her family home, when the

tsunami struck.

“Though I don’t know for sure where they were buried, I always come

here every year to pray for them so that God will let them rest in peace,” she

said.

Some two kilometres away, Indonesian Vice-President Boediono led a

sombre prayer ceremony in the port of Ulee Lheu in memory of those lost in the

tsunami.

“Five years on, Acehnese people with support from international

communities have managed to rise again and to lead a new life to rebuild their

social, economic and cultural life in a peaceful situation,” he told about 1 000

residents, schoolchildren and officials.

In Sri Lanka, the anniversary was marked with a nationwide

two-minute silence in memory of the tens of thousands of local victims.

State-run radio and television stations halted their regular

programmes at 9.25, about the time the tsunami hit.

An estimated 31 000 people were killed in Sri Lanka, while a

million people were driven out of their homes.

Similar scenes were expected to play out in countries such as India

and Thailand where more than 50 000 people were killed as the wall of water

smashed into coastal communities from Kalutara to Phuket.

"Asia not prepared for another tsunami"

But as the survivors remembered the dead, experts warn that many

countries in the region remain ill-prepared to face another killer wave.

The 2004 tsunami was triggered by a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off

the coast of Sumatra, and seismologists agree another event of that magnitude is

almost certain to strike the quake-prone region in the future.

Sound alert systems have been developed in many countries to warn

of impending danger, but getting that message out to seaside communities, and to

children in particular, is still a challenge.

UN Under-Secretary General Noeleen Heyzer said countries in the

region had been working with international partners to strengthen early-warning

systems. But ’significant gaps’ needed to be addressed.

“Disaster warnings save lives only if they reach the people at risk

and are acted upon,” she said.

“An important part of the effort is to improve the knowledge of

coastal communities about the risks they face and how to respond to them.

“We won’t know when the next major tsunami in the Indian Ocean will

strike,” she added. “But by learning from disaster response, recovery and

preparedness efforts -- we can ensure our future is a safer one.”

As the reconstruction effort winds down five years after the

disaster, there are also concerns about corruption related to the distribution

of billions of dollars of international aid.

Reconstruction finished this year

Indonesia’s tsunami reconstruction agency finished its work in

April, having spent almost seven billion dollars on rebuilding including 140 000

new homes, 1 759 school buildings, 363 bridges and 13 airports.

The reconstruction effort has generally been hailed as a success,

but relief agencies have complained about widespread graft and questions remain

about how much of the international aid was actually spent.

In Sri Lanka, the government is under pressure from a leading

anti-corruption group to account for nearly half of the 2.2 billion dollars

pledged to the country by foreign donors.


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