Langsa, Backyard Of A Disaster

We arrive in the backyard of a disaster at Langsa, on the east coast of Aceh in Indonesia. Here everything is slow and quiet; this small town has been saved. Yet the catastrophe is so lose, and in the stares, the tired smiles. Agus Syahputra, the coordiator of the centre for solidarity with the victims of the tsunami shows us the statistics: Langsa has received 4051 refugees in a dozen nearby villages. Here there are no refugee camps, nor any international aid. It is the local communities who were saved, who are absorbing the shock and taking charge of the arrivals. In the days following the tsunami, the people of Langsa travelled the roads in every available vehicle searching the nearby areas of the vast devastated zone. Other refugees came by themselves, however they could.

Agus Syaphutra explains that the Indonesian social movements were mobilised immediately when the tsunami was announced. His small local NGO, Yayasan Biduk Alam, is part of a large coalition called the KSKBA (the humanitarian solidarity team for the tsunami disaster in Aceh & North Sumatra provinces). Agus coordinates the third assistance station, after Jakarta and Medan, on the road to Banda Aceh. Passing through here are the food, the clothes and the medicines that have been collected, mainly from the members of this country-wide network.

FSPI, the peasant’s federation of Indonesia, is an active member of this coalition. It is also in the coordination of Via Campesina, the international peasant’s movement, which includes the FUJA (the united front of young farmers) in Belgium and the peasants confederation (CPF) in France. The FSPI has a member based in Banda Aceh, PERMATA. Its office is completely destroyed and their leader has not been found. SMS messages are going around saying that she is alive but no one has seen her. Their voices shake and their lips tremble when they talk about their friends who have disappeared.

Here, in spite of the trauma, logistics prevail and they speak of reconstruction. "We want a process of reconstruction which takes account of and supports the local organisations," explains Indra Lubis, spokesperson for the FSPI. "We do not want the tsunami to be the pretext for imposing industrial agriculture, requiring huge investments," he adds. The organisation is calling for reconstruction based on agrarian reform that guarantees everyone’s access to resources. They fear that reconstruction will turn the independent fishers and farmers into workers for the large plantations and industrial fisheries.

Like the Indonesian anti-debt coalition, the FSPI is calling on governments and the international community to ensure that the tsunami does not bring a new era of austerity imposed by the international institutions and creditors. They are also calling for the cancellation of Indonesia’s external debt. In Langsa, so close to the disaster, the local leaders, trying to get over the terrible state of shock, are imaging reconstruction at a human scale.
Isabelle Delforge 10 January 2005 Indonesia