Event: Tsunami, 2004

The Port of Meulaboh and the surrounding area were devastated by a tsunami in December 2004. The small-scale port located in Aceh, Indonesia, handles general cargo, and has just two docks and a limited capacity due to its shallow water depth of 5.5 meters. (UNCTAD, 2020)

Causes and impact

A tsunami was the main factor causing the disruption. Amplifying factors included: (i) poor hinterland connectivity; and (ii) heavy reliance on maritime transport for access and mobility. The Port of Meulaboh is located 200 kilometers away from the earthquake epicenter and was heavily damaged by the tsunami. The disruption caused damage to the ferry terminal but also destroyed the terminal building and access way, and led to the removal of berth fenders. The berthing area was only relatively damaged.

Response and mitigation measures20

Temporary measures of up to 12 months were introduced to ensure port business continuity. These included the construction of a new T-shaped wharf with deepened water depth at low tide, which was completed one year after the event. Two accessible ports in North Sumatra were identified for the purposes of international cargo and transshipment routes. Small reconstruction measures allowed small ferries to moor at Meulaboh’s old wharf six months after the event. Longer-term measures focused on creating short-sea shipping lanes connecting Meulaboh with other ports in Sumatra and nearby islands.

Lessons learned and good practice

  • Invest in early warning systems.
  • For small ports in developing economies, international aid can be critical in the early stages of a crisis and reconstruction efforts due to the lack of access to capital. These funds should be channeled to ensure the long-term sustainability of the projects and the solutions provided. This will also ensure preparedness in case of future similar disruptions
  • Monitor and follow up, as deemed appropriate, on the initial efforts to verify progress and ascertain effectiveness.



20 This section also draws upon UNDP (2005).