Tsunami support rebuilding irrigation schemes in Indonesia

Year:2008

Duration:3 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: Aceh province, Sumatra; Nias island, off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia

What did this project achieve?

Rebuild and improve irrigation systems destroyed by the Indonesian tsunami of 2004

On 26 December 2004 an earthquake struck the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. With a magnitude of 9.1 it was the most powerful the world had seen since 1964 when a quake hit Prince William Sound, Alaska.

The earthquake caused a tsunami – a series of massive waves – along the coasts of countries in the Indian Ocean. Indonesia was hit the hardest, followed by Sri Lanka and India.

The tsunami reached the north Sumatran coast – including Aceh province – about 15 minutes after the quake. One local described the wave as ‘higher than my house.’

Almost 228,000 people were listed as missing or dead in 14 countries after the disaster. Material losses were estimated at around £7.4bn.

Around half the total deaths caused by the tsunami were in Aceh province, mostly among fishing and rice-farming communities. A later quake in March 2005 caused widespread damage and killed 1,000 people on the nearby island of Nias.

The earthquakes destroyed or damaged much of the infrastructure in Aceh and on Nias – including many of the region’s irrigation schemes. Nias’s rice irrigation systems provided the bulk of the island’s staple food crop.

A US funded relief project aimed to rebuild and improve irrigation systems in Aceh and Nias after the disaster.

The programme – run by the Indonesian government – saw the reconstruction of 93 irrigation schemes over 58,000 hectares of rice fields.

Difference the relief project has made

The scheme repaired and rebuilt irrigation systems in Aceh province and the island of Nias – helping restore much of the region’s ability to feed itself.

Innovations introduced by the programme should help to protect irrigation schemes against future earthquakes.

How the work was done

  • The tsunami destroyed and damaged irrigation schemes all over Nias and Aceh province. Buildings were flattened and bridges, embankments and river banks collapsed.
  • Programmes to rebuild irrigation schemes saw engineers working closely with local people. Project teams organised ‘walkthroughs’ of damaged sites with farmers and other groups who used them.
  • Typical problems identified on walkthroughs included the causes of damage and the adequacy of water sources.
  • Project engineers reconstructed irrigation schemes to resist future earthquakes. Such as, using reinforced concrete to build or repair weirs and canals.
  • Cyclopean concrete was used for some larger structures. Cyclopean concrete is concrete containing stones larger than 6 inches (15cm) across.
  • Other innovations included the use of mesh-reinforced concrete to replace masonry as a canal lining. The technique was also used for some irrigation structures built on soft ground.
  • The project also saw engineers training locals to maintain and repair systems – saving costs of private sector consultants in the future.
"​‌

[My aunt] was screaming at me 'run, run, run'. I didn't get far, only just outside when the wave hit me, it pushed me against the wall, very hard, and it pushed me along.

Nok, 11 at the time, remembers the ‘big wave’ of 2004

The Guardian, 23 December 2009.

Fascinating facts

The tsunami contributed to the end of 3 decades of conflict in Aceh province.

The Free Aceh movement (Gam) had been fighting the Indonesian government for a separate state since 1976.

Gam declared a ceasefire after the tsunami – many fighters felt it was more important to help people rebuild after the disaster.

Subsequent peace talks led to a permanent deal between the 2 sides. Local elections followed – comfortably won by former Gam candidates.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Government of Indonesia
  • Construction engineers: Black & Veatch Asia
  • Consulting engineer: David Meigh, ICE member

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