Aid as Outreach: Disaster Relief and Public Diplomacy

Aid as Outreach: Disaster Relief and Public Diplomacy

On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive earthquake shook Aceh, Indonesia, sending tsunamis racing across the Indian Ocean to shatter communities as far away as Somalia. Many of the countries struck by the destructive waves were embroiled in major, often-violent, political conflicts at the time. Indonesia's Aceh province and Sri Lanka, the two worst-hit locations, had each experienced a decades-long internal conflict that had taken thousands of lives.

At the time, many wondered whether the tsunami disaster would affect the conflicts, potentially bringing peace. Would violent means be set aside to achieve a common humanitarian purpose of helping people and communities rebuild? Such "disaster diplomacy" had already been investigated for dozens of case studies concerning different disasters around the world. Few successes had been documented. Would the 2004 tsunamis prove different?

As the world's humanitarian relief operation swung into action, the Indonesian government and militants in Aceh started peace talks that ultimately led to a memorandum of understanding, widely viewed as a peace deal, being signed on Aug. 15, 2005. Since then, despite sporadic violence, Aceh's general peace has lasted. Despite the popular perception that the earthquake and tsunami had created that new peace, the agreement was based on ongoing pre-disaster negotiations. The earthquake and tsunami did, however, help to support those negotiations reaching a solid resolution.

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