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Reporters on the Job

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Because he has kept in touch with a number of people he first met in the grim aftermath of Indonesia's 2004 tsunami (see story), correspondent Tom McCawley has a good gauge for how people are feeling about their lives three years later.

"There was a sense of despair when I was in Banda Aceh three years ago – it felt like an apocalypse," he says. But enough progress has been made that the atmosphere is very different today. "A lot of those people have been optimistic and looking forward," he says. "I credit their religion for that. They have a pragmatic sense of faith that sustained them early on."

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Nonetheless, Tom says, there is uncertainty about the future. In another year, a lot of the post-tsunami aid will no longer flow. And integrating former rebels, who signed a peace deal after years of fighting in the province, is another challenge.

"People are gearing up for new challenges ahead – having won the war, how do you win the peace? The 1,000 days of mourning is big here in Indonesia, and now that's done. Real life is returning, and people don't know what is coming. All these freedom fighters who have come out of the hills – many have turned out to be as venal as the people they were fighting. "

Tom says that in some ways, he is surprised that the recovery has been as successful as it has. "Democracy has helped, as has national pride. There have been corruption problems, but there hasn't been anything massively egregious. Officials have been under pressure not to be ashamed in the eyes of the world. There's an incredible sense that this cannot be a disaster."

Indeed, Tom says, it feels like a new Aceh. "The war is over, the tsunami is over. No one will ever forget, but they fought to get over the tsunami, they fought for the peace. Now they must fight for a new Aceh, even though the framework of that fight is not entirely clear," he says.

– Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor


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