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Eyewitness Account from Indonesia – Dr. Hany El Banna
(12 January 2005)
Dr Hany El Banna with survivors of the tsunami

Dr. Hany El Banna, president of Islamic Relief, travelled to Indonesia and Sri Lanka with Islamic Relief's emergency response team and saw first-hand the damage caused by the tsunami of December 26, 2004.
Dr. Hany El Banna, president of Islamic Relief, travelled to Indonesia and Sri Lanka with Islamic Relief's emergency response team and saw first-hand the damage caused by the tsunami of December 26, 2004.

What did you expect to see in the disaster zone?

I had seen some footage on television, but this paled in front of what I saw in Banda Aceh. We visited an area 15km in from the shoreline; it was completely destroyed. It was as if the water, in unimaginable rage, had washed away the lives of the people, and with them, their memories and their history.

The sea washed away houses; it carried sea vessels from the ocean and deposited them on top of buildings and bridges; it carried tractors, coaches, all types of vehicles, into the middle of rice fields; it carried dead bodies everywhere. Massive concrete structures and multi-storey buildings were reduced to rubble. Every few hundred yards there were lines of corpses in body bags.

I have seen the effects of war in Bosnia, Kosovo Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, but this is far worse. Destruction by weapons of war, however devastating, is not as complete as the destruction caused by the tsunami. When the water came, it came at once across the entire coastline and took everything with it. Except for the mosques that still stand proud as though they refused to kneel to the tsunami, nothing remains.

What is the risk of disease among survivors?


 


The tsunami caused widespread descruction in Aceh
Weeks after the disaster, there are still thousands of unburied corpses. We visited a village 20km from Banda Aceh, where volunteers were retrieving bodies from the wreckage. One side of the village was completely destroyed, we were walking on the roofs of houses and we could smell death beneath our feet. The air was still, everything was still, as if time had stopped.

Some distance away, four or five volunteers were retrieving the corpse of a woman. It had become green from gangrene and I could smell the stench from where we were, how would it be for the volunteers who were retrieving it?

On the other side of the village, a group of people who had been digging a grave stopped and began pointing up a tree. There, the body of a young boy was hanging upside down. His hair was stiffened by congealed fluids; his face, arms, and neck had turned black.

There is a real risk of infectious diseases spreading among the survivors. In this small area, there may be hundreds of unburied bodies. The nightmare is, when children recover and begin playing around the wreckage, they will be exposed to infectious diseases if they discover rotting corpses.

How is the aid community helping?

Many organisations have begun work and the airports are full of relief goods from different countries. My advice is not to send goods, but cash instead. Aid goods can be bought cheaply in the affected countries, and money spent locally benefits the local economy.

Islamic Relief has distributed locally procured food and other items to the survivors, and has begun water and sanitation projects in the area.

IR has received more donations from non-Muslims than ever before, what do you think this says about IR?

It says two things. Firstly, that the calamity is of such magnitude that it is beyond the capability of one organisation. Only by cooperating together can the international community help the survivors effectively.

Secondly, people of different faiths trust Islamic Relief. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, businesses, organisations and churches see Islamic Relief as an effective international relief organisation.

Why is IR working with other organisations such as church groups?

We have partnerships with many organisations worldwide, be they mainstream or faith-based. We agree at the outset to work for common goals and to preserve the identity of the local community.

With this disaster, the catastrophe is far beyond the capacities of the international bodies, including UN and the EU. The affected countries need billions of dollars, not billions of pledges; and they need this money spent on aid, not consultancy fees.

What is your Message to IR supporters?

I think what you have done is incredible and it shows that you are capable of more than you thought possible. The amount of money raised so far is tremendous, but if you had seen what I saw in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, you would be compelled to say, "We have not done enough".

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