AFTER extending considerable assistance to reconstructing Meulaboh following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, Singapore will look at what else it can do to help develop the Indonesian coastal town, the centre of its relief efforts 10 years ago.
Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday the Republic will study proposals by local government officials, who hope to tap the Republic’s goodwill in carrying on its work to restore Meulaboh’s status as one of the main sea ports of West Sumatra.
Singapore may be able to offer help in training and education, said Mr Tan. As a small island state with few resources, Singapore concentrated its efforts on building capacity in its people, and still does.
“I think that is something we are quite happy to support,” he said. Mr Tan was speaking to reporters yesterday after he toured Meulaboh, which is about 240km south of the capital city, Banda Aceh. The town was closest to the epicentre of the Dec 26 earthquake, which, together with the ensuing tsunami, killed 170,000 in Aceh.
Mr Tan, then an army colonel, led the relief efforts in Meulaboh.
Besides sending in 1,700 men and women from the Singapore Armed Forces in its biggest overseas deployment of humanitarian aid, Singapore also raised about $56 million from Government funds and private donations for reconstruction projects by non-governmental groups such as the Red Cross and Mercy Relief in the years afterwards.
The projects included a new jetty, which became the local residents’ lifeline as it served as an entry point for essential supplies to be delivered.
Mr Tan also met West Aceh’s regent, Mr Alaidinsyah, who said he hoped to tap Singapore’s expertise in areas such as information technology, port management and medical care in order to further develop Meulaboh’s port, hospital and schools. Mr Alaidinsyah said: “We have been trying to fix things for the last 10 years… Now, we need to grow quickly and need to know how to do so. Singapore can teach us those skills.”
Mr Ahmad Dadek, who heads West Aceh’s Development Planning Board, showed Mr Tan and officials from Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry around some of the areas that have been rebuilt, including the landing point, now a scenic embankment, where Singapore troops began their mission after the tsunami had hammered the coastline.
Mr Tan said: “I could not recognise the place at first because, back then, everything was flattened and there was no sign of life. Today, it’s a place where people can hang out and enjoy the scenery.” Mr Tan, whose four-day visit to Aceh and Jakarta ends tomorrow, will visit an orphanage that Singapore helped build in Banda Aceh before flying to the Indonesian capital today.