Five years on: safeguarding health in post-tsunami Banda Aceh
By Rob McBride
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, December 2009 - Singing as loud as they are, one can make out the distinctive voices of Misrina and Bunga above the din of the other young children attending the health centre. Now approaching their fifth birthdays, both were born within a few weeks of the tsunami - Misrina was delivered by a Russian doctor in a hospital tent.
"This is Misrina Huwaida," says Salliati, a care provider at the centre. "She was born on 13th March, 2005. Her friend, Bunga Mafirah was born on 15th April, 2005."
The centre attended by the two friends is known locally as a Posyandu Plus - an integrated health and early child development centre, one of many built with support from UNICEF in the tsunami affected areas of Indonesia. While children are weighed and their height measured in one part of the centre, others receive vaccinations.
In a separate examination room, expectant mothers receive ante-natal check-ups, and breast-feeding advice.
For Ainul Mariah, that help has proved vital. Born without arms, she has overcome her severe disability to become mother to Zaidah, a healthy and active 18-month old baby girl.
While Ainul talks, Zaidah plays with toys and happily draws with a paper and crayon on her mother's lap.
“Before this place was built I wouldn’t have been able to have a baby," says Ainul.
The schools which this post-tsunami generation of children will go on to attend will also be healthier places than they were before.
Much work has been done at schools throughout the area to improve water supply and sanitation.
At the Mata Ie Elementary School, contractors working in partnership with UNICEF are just finishing the drilling of a bore well to solve a shortage of fresh water, and are testing a cascade of clear water from a hosepipe, to the obvious delight of the children playing in the abundant stream.
According to UNICEF’s Teuku Reza, the children’s excitement is understandable.
“They never got fresh water, that's why we’re involved," he says, adding that the new supply would enable the children to learn good personal hygiene.
To improve hygiene and sanitation generally in the community, UNICEF has been supporting many initiatives including a major sewage treatment plant at Jawa on the outskirts of Aceh. Guided by Teuku and local water engineers the team has been able to demonstrate the entire sludge treatment process, culminating in the discharge of effluent which is clean enough to be returned to the environment, feeding nearby wetlands.
Looking a little further into the distance, one can see the shimmering silver of the waters from which the tsunami came with such devastating force five years ago. For the children born since then, the range of improvements means they will enjoy the best possible start in life.