Monday, January 11, 2010

Alex, our Tripbod in Dubai, witnesses the opening of the world's tallest building

The Burj Dubai, the worlds tallest building, opened just last week and is now taking tourists up to it's scary heights.

Construction began on 21 September 2004 and was inaugurated 4 of January 2010 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum - ruler of Dubai.

It is now the tallest man-made structure in the world. The observation deck on the 124th floor has handy handy electronic binoculars, where you can view the surrounding desert and city for miles and miles.

Burj Dubai – now named Burj Khalifa after the president of the United Arab Emirates is declared to be 828 metres tall – 10 metres higher than previous estimates. The tower's architecture and engineering was performed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill of Chicago.

Photos Courtesy of Alex's website

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tsunami affected Indonesia – Aceh five years later, by Amanda George

Prior to the tsunami, a long standing, low level conflict existed within Aceh. Aji, a young Indonesian Red Cross volunteer at the time, recalls how he used to evacuate at least one corpse every day, victims of the fighting. After 29 years of conflict, that meant a lot of bodies. Instability raged across turbulent Aceh.

Then, on Boxing Day 2004, an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale struck just off the coast of Aceh, violently waking up the sea and sending not one but three monstrous waves up to 20 metres high many kilometres inland. At least 120,000 and maybe as many as 160,000 died in this one province of Indonesia - well over half of the global death toll of the tsunami that affected 13 countries.

As the giant waves as high as six storey buildings decapitated towering palm trees and wiped out everything and everyone in its path, they also wiped out the conflict in Aceh. The enormity of the disaster took over everything. Conversations five years later rarely turn towards the conflict; it is always tsunami, tsunami, tsunami. After decades of conflict, that is saying something.

Within days, mass graves with tens of thousands of unidentified bodies filled up. A few miracle buildings were left standing, including a giant white mosque in Lhoknga, near Banda Aceh. The land was rearranged: where houses and palm trees once stood, there was nothing but water. A 2,600 tonne boat was carried five kilometres inland, where it still sits today. At least 30,000 people died in the capital of Banda Aceh alone. The city and surrounding countryside were completely and utterly destroyed.

Five years later, the astounding and overwhelmingly positive fact is that if you don’t dig under the surface or notice the finer detail it would be hard to tell what happened in Aceh five years ago. Of course there are the subtle reminders, such as headless palm trees, and not so subtle reminders, like the massive boat 5km inland. However there has been an incredible reconstruction effort that has pumped the city back to life – the few old buildings blending into the multitude of new ones, forming one vibrant and colourful city getting on with life. Streets from even two years ago are unrecognisable: they look so different now, so alive.

The British Red Cross has rebuilt over 2,200 houses and supported over 34,000 people to restore their livelihoods in numerous communities across Aceh. In the rebuilt villages, almost every house new, life is moving on in leaps and bounds. Take May Suriyati, 27, who has restarted her sewing business with the help of a cash grant from the British Red Cross. Her business has been so successful that she has built an extension on her Turkish Red Crescent house that now forms her tailoring shop, full of cupboards lined with colourful clothes made to order. The signs of recovery are clearly visible in both the personal and public faces of Aceh. (May's story is just one of many stories of recovery featured on the British Red Cross Tsunami anniversary site )

The tourist industry in the region has also begun to pick up, with visitors returning to the island of Sabang, famous for diving, and luckily relatively unscathed by the tsunami. It is encouraging to see tourists mingling with local people as they travel by ferry between Banda Aceh and the island that lies just off the coastline.

Although the emotional scars from the tsunami still run deep, it is both moving and awe-inspiring to see the incredible results of the tsunami recovery operation in Aceh five years after the disaster.

Further Tsunami photos can be found here:

Amanda George

If you're visiting Indonesia then please connect with our wonderful Tripbod, Ristianto

Boxing Day Reflections

I think most people would agree that it seems like just yesterday that the devastating news of the Boxing Day tsunami hit our TV screens. I'm spending Christmas at my family home and like many people I can remember the exact moment that someone told me to turn on the TV as something terrible had happened across Asia.
Five years later, and life has moved on in leaps and bounds. Although another tsunami may happen again, one of the most important factors in the British Red Cross' recovery effort in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives is that communities have been left stronger and better able to cope with the threat of future disasters.
When I was in Aceh last week, I saw the way houses have been designed to be flood resistant, built on stilts in flood-prone areas. I saw how they were designed with clearly signposted evacuation routes to allow people to escape if another tsunami happens. Coastal plantations have been built along the coastline, and community based action teams raise awareness in their communities about what to do in the face of future disasters. Communities are actively helping themselves.
It would be wonderful to think that more disasters like the Boxing Day tsunami will not happen again. But the reality is that natural disasters are increasing in frequency and organisations like the British Red Cross need to support communities to prepare themselves for the future. Disaster preparedness has become an integral part of the British Red Cross' recovery operations across the world. (To read about other BRC recovery programmes see our interactive map here).
As people enjoy today with their family and friends, memorial services are taking place across Aceh and the rest of the tsunami affected regions, and even here in the UK, remembering the hundreds of thousands who died. Today is also a time to reflect on the incredible recovery and reconstruction across Asia and the empowering of communities to deal with future disasters - the key to protecting the most vulnerable and saving lives.

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