Aceh and the Governmental Tsunamis
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The destruction of the earthquake and tsunami dominated the news at the close of 2004. The Indonesian 'Special Province of Aceh' (Nanggroe Aceh Darussalamat) at the northern end of the island of Sumatra, was very close to the earthquake and among the hardest hit by the tsunami, especially at its capital, Banda Aceh. The insurgency in Aceh and the military response by the government of Indonesia has wasted resources that could have gone to enabling Aceh to better cope with such disasters.
The 'Free Aceh Movement' has been fighting violently for independence from Indonesia. The population of Aceh, four million, is Muslim, like most of Indonesia, so the conflict is not over religion, but, not surprisingly, over land, as well as ethnic self-governance. Aceh is richly endowed with oil and natural gas, whose revenue been tapped by the Indonesian government.
The countries affected by the tsunami (Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and others) have been afflicted with governments that have reduced the growth and potential wealth of their economies, making them more vulnerable to disasters. As Henry George wrote in Social Problems, , 'There is in nature no reason for poverty.' This is the most important statement ever made in economics. Poverty is a policy choice. It's not that government chiefs want poverty, but that extricating poverty is a low priority, or else there are interests which would lose privileges if poverty were eliminated, and these interests have political priority.
The main justification for government is the protection of the people. While catastrophic tsunamis have been rare in the Indian Ocean, the governments of countries by that ocean should have warning systems for all disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, fires, epidemics, pestilence, and terrorists. But the best policy for preventing unnecessary damage from disasters is to have social peace and let the economy be prosperous, so that people will have the wealth that makes affordable individual as well as collective protective measures. But people have preferred to fight with one another rather than live in harmony in prosperity.
The conflict in Aceh goes back to before the Independence of Indonesia from the Netherlands in 1949. The Acehnese did not wish to be part of Indonesia, just as previously they rejected Dutch rule. During the 1800s the Netherlands and the United Kingdom competed for power in the East Indies. From 1811 to 1815, Sumatrans benefitted from the enlightened British rule of Sir Thomas Raffles, who ended the slave trade and enacted land reform and the collection of the land rent. In 1819, Raffles founded Singapore, a British colony at first mostly financed from ground rent, and now an independent state.
The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 ended British claims to Sumatra, and the 1871 Treaty of Sumatra let the Netherlands take Aceh. The Dutch previously had treaties with many of the rulers of Sumatra, but not with Aceh. The Dutch fought a brutal war of conquest in Aceh from 1873 to 1913, killing many thousands of Acehnese.
The state of Indonesia was a Dutch creation, imposed on a large population of many ethnic groups and religions, including the last Dutch colony in the area, West Papua (New Guinea). Aceh is a distinct ethnic group with its own language and history, and along with other ethnic groups, should be offered real autonomy. While ideally the rent of material natural resources should be shared by all humanity, given the history of imperialism in Aceh, leaving some of the resource revenue with the Acehnese, at least in the near future, would help compensate them for the wars and impositions of the past.
As of the end of 2004, the United States government pledged $350 million to help the victims of the tsunami, a figure which could rise as the need continues. There has been criticism by the United Nations that the U.S. has been stingy in response to the crisis, but this overlooks the huge amount of private donations, which at the close of 2004 was about $50 million, and continues to increase. The UN officials unfortunately only think of aid as governmental, not taking into account that American private donations are greater per-capita than in most wealthy countries.
Perhaps this colossal disaster will help bring some folks to the realization that peace, liberty and prosperity are the best policies that enable people to cope with natural disasters. Nature provides more than enough calamities without our having to add to it.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2005 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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