Rehabilitating Aceh’s ports



Imogen Wall, Communications Officer, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Banda Aceh, Indonesia



When the tsunami struck on December 26th, 2004, the devastation it wrought was nowhere worse than in the province of Aceh in Sumatra, Indonesia. So far, 126,000 people are confirmed dead, but the full total will probably never be known. As well as destroying lives, the tsunami also destroyed many key infrastructure facilities. The ports along the west coast, by definition located along the seashore and thus very vulnerable, were among the worst hit. Not only has this complicated the process of bringing aid, much of which is best moved by sea, but in a province where commercial fishing is a key industry, the loss of the ports has had a huge impact on the local economy. But, where there is disaster, there is also opportunity. There has been an extremely generous financial and humanitarian response from the international community, and now there is an exciting opportunity to rebuild a new vibrant economy in the province.

Strategy for redevelopment

The task facing UNDP and its port specialist Gerry Byrne, who is surveying all the key port areas and planning their redevelopment, is daunting. The present estimate is that there will be a requirement for over 30 million tonnes of material required for the reconstruction of Aceh and Nias, and a very large proportion of that will have to be brought in by sea over the next two to three years. There are 11 major or regional ports in the devastated areas of Aceh and on the island of Nias that were badly affected by the second major quake of March 28th, and in much need of work. The problems vary from cases where the entire port was completely washed away (Calang) to blockages created by massive rocks dumped in key channels. Perhaps most seriously, the earthquake, which caused the wave, also caused entire land masses to shift up or down by up to two metres, meaning that many ports are now submerged beneath the water or lifted above it. In one case – on the island of Simeulue, the earthquakes have lifted the township and the port out of the sea by over a metre. Most of the fishing port, ferry terminal and storage sheds were either destroyed or rendered unusable. The main wharf is still standing, but the deck now resembles a roller coaster with variations of over a metre along the structure – it is unusable, except for handcarts. At the other extreme, the town of Singkil at the southern end of the province has sunk by over a metre. At high tide, there is half a metre of water in the main street and all the port facilities are submerged at high tide.

The strategy for most, says Gerry, is to begin with rehabilitation: making ports functional so that vital aid supplies can be brought ashore and the fishing industry can begin functioning again. In the long term, UNDP will then work with the government to build much-needed new facilities that will result in ports that are an improvement on what was there before.

Rehabilitation of the port of Ulee Lheu

The first major port to undergo rehabilitation is Ulee Lheu, the main passenger port in the provincial capital Banda Aceh. This port has the opposite problem to that of Simeulue: here the land sank and the road connecting it to the mainland was washed away. The wave deposited five tonne rocks on the jetty and swept away the ferry pontoon – which was discovered months later by a UNDP team washed up on an island about 15 kilometers away. The pontoon, which is a steel and concrete structure 20 metres long by seven metres wide, was holed and is now lying partly submerged on one of the island beaches. Fortunately, it has three separate watertight compartments, and efforts are underway to pump most of the water out and tow it back to the harbour.

Before the tsunami, the Ulee Lheu harboured the mooring for a large floating power station that provided base load power for Banda Aceh. The tsunami wave picked up the power station whole and deposited it about three and a half kilometers inland on top of some houses, cars and a main road. No one has figured out a way to get the power station back into the water and it is likely either to be cut up for scrap or left as a very large monument to the power of the tsunami wave. Surprisingly the dolphins and the landing ramp where the power station was moored suffered almost no damage. One bollard was missing and some of the chains restraining the fenders have since been stolen by enterprising entrepreneurs for scrap. The facility will now be turned into a good berth for large landing craft and for small Ro/Ro ships.


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