Science - January 27, 2005

Tsunami auction raises thousands

On Thursday 20 January an auction took place in the Aula of Wageningen University. Hand-painted hanging prints, a wayang shadow puppet and traditional Indonesian food dishes were brought in to be sold.

About seventy people, mostly students, but also the ambassador of Indonesia, the rector of Wageningen UR and the mayor of Wageningen showed up at the ‘donation day’ held by the Indonesian Students Association (ISA), to raise money for the province of Aceh in Indonesia – the region worst hit by last month’s tsunami.

The starting price for Nasi Kuning, a Javanese yellow rice dish with fried chicken, was 19 euros, but the bidders were generous, having the unfortunate people in Aceh in mind, and raised the price up to 60 euros. Thus the mood was set, and other items such as the Ayam Bakar (broiled chicken with coconut milk) were also sold for a good price.

The Indonesian students, all dressed in colourful traditional Indonesian clothes, had put together a well-organised event, with dance, songs, poetry and a film of the Aceh disaster. ‘In The Netherlands we are living in peace and safety. It is our obligation to do something for our fellow countrymen in Aceh,’ said Wageningen PhD student and ISA chairman Yurdi Yasmi. ‘Last night I saw on CNN that the death toll in Indonesia alone had risen to more than 160,000. Many more are still missing and many children have been left orphans. We also want to help the five Indonesian MSc students that were studying in the Netherlands (Enschede, Maastricht, Amsterdam) but flew back to Aceh, and are now with their families in refugee camps.’ The camps have been built with the help of the UN, as about 1 million people were left homeless on Sumatra.

The Indonesian ambassador Mohammad Jusuf also expressed his worries about the situation in Aceh, stressing the difficulties of carrying out relief work because of the destroyed roads, power lines and air traffic towers. ‘We are relying on helicopters because that is the only way the remote areas can be reached. We are glad that American and Australian helicopters are delivering aid now.’ Besides the urgent needs, Jusuf foresees that there are not likely to be sufficient financial means to build up the disaster area, which may take more than twenty years. The ambassador said he thinks that if the countries hit by the tsunami are to recover, it is vital that they earn more money by trade, and he hopes that Western countries will give them better access to their markets.

Although it maybe a relatively small gesture, Wageningen UR can also help Indonesia and other the other affected countries recover from the blow, said the university rector Professor Bert Speelman: ‘Relief aid is not our mission, but we can do something to help these countries in the long term, to rebuild the disaster area.’ Speelman, referring to the inventory made by the director of IAC Dr Bram Huijsman, sees three main fields in which Wageningen UR can contribute: research institute Alterra has the expertise to help with the fight against salination: the inundating seawater has damaged large agricultural areas. Researchers from Wageningen can lend assistance in the recovery of fisheries communities, and also with the development and application of Geographical Information Systems. These information systems are important for mapping the damage caused by the tsunami and the vulnerability of the land in the face of future tsunamis.

The members of the Indonesian Students Association were happy with the result of their donation day; they collected just over 2000 euros. This will be added to the 2500 euros they already raised. The money will go to the Indonesian television company SCTV that is currently using donations for relief work in Aceh, and part will go to Indonesian students in the Netherlands whose families were hit by the disaster. /HB

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