Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Working lives - Horror, grief and compassion

In Banda Aceh - A British engineer based in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, describes life in the city before and after the ferocious arrival of the tsunami.

A planned Christmas break at home in the UK was cut short for engineer Alan Clark, as he hastened back to Banda Aceh to be met by scenes of devastation.

Fortunately, his wife and four small children had left Indonesia when martial law was declared in the northern Sumatran province in May 2003.

But instead of spending precious time with his family, Clark's 2005 has so far been occupied surveying wreckage and comforting grief-stricken staff and friends.

Forty-four ear-old Clark and fellow irrigation specialist Nigel Landon head Halcrow's project office in Banda Aceh, the ravaged provincial capital of Aceh.

Existence before the tsunami was complicated by insurgency, with travel heavily restricted and a less active social life than was possible at his previous postings, which include Nepal, Yemen and Pakistan.

However, he describes the province as a pleasant place to work before the disaster struck.

'Now, ' he says, 'the fl avour of the place has changed incredibly. The army was very quick to ensure a visible armed presence which stopped the situation springing up out of control, but the other noticeable characteristic is that the town has emptied of the Acehnese.

'Phones are working, electricity is running and some shops are open, but it feels empty. The streets aren't as busy, there's no bustle in the evenings.

'A lot of the surviving Acehnese have left the province or they've crowded into relatives' houses in the parts that haven't been destroyed.' Wandering through the eerily desolate area around the beach is where Clark finds the most upsetting aspect of the material destruction.

'You could easily not realise what was there before.

Except for a bit of concrete from the foundations of houses you wouldn't have any idea that it was a bustling community of about 7,000 or 8,000 people.

'That hit me hard because the memory is still there of what it used to be like. It's now an absolutely empty landscape - no trees, no bridges, no houses - the whole lot has gone.' The Malawi-born former Oxfam and VSO man has spent more than 10 years in Indonesia over four spells, but his future in Aceh is uncertain.

'It's upsetting to be here in some ways. I think perhaps people who haven't been here before might be able to do a better job. The way I feel is how a lot of the local staff feel too.

'Many of them have reservations about coming back to work. They want to help, but it's so full of associations and they want to start afresh, and I can't blame them. In some ways you want to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction and in others you want to stay and help the people that are here. It's a very difficult time.'

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.