Post-Tsunami Baby Boom Coming

Tens of thousands of Banda Aceh residents still live in tents, a year after the tsunami.
Giggling women swarm outside a little gray tent in Block D of a sprawling refugee camp. The attraction is one tiny miracle — 2-month-old Asmaul Tzuchina, swaying peacefully in a cloth hammock.

The baby simply known as Tzuchi, which means "pure" in Acehnese, represents new life and hope for the women who lost children to the earthquake-spawned tsunami nearly a year ago.

Many grieving mothers are desperate to rebuild family and home, even if the latter is just a plastic tent or a cramped barrack. No one has counted all the pregnant women in Indonesia's tsunami-stricken Aceh province, but UNICEF's Dr. Brian Sriprahastuti says she doesn't need statistics to know what's coming.

"A baby boom," she says. "We have to do that because if not, we will lose a generation in Aceh."

UNICEF estimates more than a third of the 216,000 dead or missing in 12 Indian Ocean countries were children — too weak to run, swim or simply hang on.

Sriprahastuti has noticed a surge in pregnancies since August following a flurry of marriages, including mass weddings where hundreds of couples in refugee camps have taken vows to start over. She predicts many of those newlyweds will soon be cradling newborns.

"This is just the beginning," she says, smiling. "We will be very busy next year."

Baby Tzuchi's 23-year-old mother, Erlina, also sees it coming. "Most of my friends here are two months pregnant," she says, while breast-feeding.

In a patient log book at the Jantho refugee camp, a midwife scans dozens of handwritten names, ages and tent locations. Forty women are listed as pregnant.

Cut Asmika is one of them. She pours sweat as she sits in a sarong, tenderly stroking her bulging belly. Also 23, she is due any day and believes the treasure inside promises escape from the loneliness left by the tsunami.

Asmika's mother, father and all three siblings were washed away in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island. Scared and alone, she married a man she hardly knew in a mass wedding in February and immediately began trying to start a family.

"I'm the only person to survive, so I'm all alone," she says softly, sitting on a straw mat in the stuffy tent with a zipper door. "If I have a baby, I will have a friend."

In another tent, 33-year-old Faridah, also sits on the floor, a television blaring behind her. Children scamper about barefoot and she laughs, as though they're a family. But then come tears.