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CI Helps Tsunami Survivors Replant, Rebuild, and Restore
Susie Ellis, Vice President of CI's Indonesia and Philippines Program

Banda Aceh, Indonesia (March 16, 2006): As our CI leadership team flew into this provincial capital last December for my third visit since the tsunami, it was hard to believe that almost a year had passed. Billions of tons of water inundated the city, killing nearly 170,000 people and leaving at least half a million without food, shelter, healthcare, or jobs. In certain parts seen from the air today, one would never know Banda Aceh had been hit. In others, little evidence of reconstruction can be seen, and the devastation is still hard to believe.

CI has worked in Aceh province for the past decade. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, we and our nongovernmental organization partners added humanitarian relief efforts to our conservation program. During December's visit, the focus returned to our principal mission: environmental restoration and biodiversity protection. The tsunami destroyed close to 200 miles of coastline up to a mile inland from the ocean, an estimated 250,000 acres (390.6 square miles) of coral reefs, and about 865,000 acres (1,351.6 square miles) of mangrove forests. The full extent of the damage is yet to be determined.

Much of the land-based destruction was exacerbated by pre-tsunami environmental degradation. Coral reefs had been dynamited, and mangroves had been destroyed to make way for shrimp farming and other commercial development. It is generally believed that healthy reefs and mangroves would have presented a strong resistance to the tsunami, slowing its growth and speed and absorbing some of the impact. Recognizing this, Aceh's provincial government has urged local communities to launch mangrove-planting campaigns in collaboration with the not-for-profit community and the private sector.

During our visit, we joined villagers from the Desa Tibang-Banda Aceh community and the governor of Aceh to honor 28 local women displaced by the tsunami who have developed a mangrove nursery near their former village. Supported by CI-Indonesia and partners, their goal is to replant and maintain 500 acres of new mangroves. Impressed by the women's effort, CI staff waded into the mud to plant mangrove seedlings and emptied their pockets of enough dollars and rupiahs to purchase 7,000 more seedlings, as well as help cover the cost of wages, field equipment, tree labels, maintenance, and other expenses. With an additional spontaneous contribution from CI Board member Dr. Enki Tan, who accompanied the executive team, and funding from the Moore Charitable Foundation, the group will be able to operate for at least one year and grow and plant some 25,000 mangrove seedlings.

As Aceh rebuilds, we worry that without appropriate management of environmental recovery and infrastructure reconstruction efforts, biodiversity could be harmed even further. Because of civil conflict, Aceh’s logging concessions have been under a moratorium for several years, and ecosystems have flourished. The rich, old-growth forests harbor wildlife found nowhere else on Earth. They are the last stronghold of the Critically Endangered Sumatran orang-utan (Pongo abelii) and Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), among other threatened species.

In the tsunami's aftermath, people began rebuilding on higher ground near the forests, creating a voracious demand for lumber. Unless logging is strictly regulated, watershed functions will be badly harmed, and soil retention services will be damaged. Aceh's unique wildlife species will be threatened, and the ecotourism potential will be squandered before it ever has a chance to be developed.

Donations of timber sustainably harvested outside of Indonesia will help meet reconstruction needs and ease the pressure on local forests. Soon after the tsunami, CI partnered with the American Forest and Paper Association and WWF to launch "Timber for Aceh." A week before our arrival, the first containers with contributions from the Boise Cascade, Potlatch, and Louisiana Pacific companies arrived here to augment the rebuilding efforts.

As we look back over the past year's efforts, I am prouder than ever to be part of CI. We have successfully implemented relief operations, provided food and medical care to thousands of survivors, and carved out a strategy for the future. CI will work with communities, government, and other partners to protect Aceh's unique natural resources and restore the damaged ecosystems that provide vital benefits to everyone. By restoring ecosystem services like flood protection, clean water, food, medicines, soil regeneration, crop pollination, and others, we will continue to help tsunami survivors put their lives back together.

Related Links:
> Feature Story: Deep Sea Bottom Trawling
> Feature Story: The Net Loss of Overfishing
> Feature Story: Smooth Sailing Ahead for Cruise Industry
> Feature Story: Kiribati Safeguards Entire Coral Archipelago
> Feature Story: CI Backs Island Community's Conservation Efforts
> Feature Story: A Challenge as Huge as the Tsunami Itself
> CI: Priority Areas: Key Marine Regions
> CI: Northern Sumatra Restoration Fund


© CI, Gustavo Fonseca
Katrina Brandon, CI's Human Dimensions senior technical adviser, helps a local woman plant a mangrove in Aceh.

Photo Courtesy of NASA
Banda Aceh, June 23, 2004:
Before the tsunami.

Photo Courtesy of NASA
Banda Aceh, Dec. 28, 2004:
After the tsunami.

© CI, Gustavo Fonseca
New homes for refugees are now being built further inland, some with donated materials from the Timber for Aceh program.

© CI
The ruins of an Aceh bridge near the coast in January 2005.

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