Report highlights degree of damage in Aceh

The first credible review of the physical damage caused by the tsunami that devastated the coastline of North Sumatra hints at the colossal task facing the Indonesian government once the initial crisis in aid delivery ends.

    Many public buildings, including hospitals and mosques, are gone

    The Interior Ministry reports more than 900 schools, eight main hospitals and 230 local clinics have been destroyed. More than 2700 mosques have been ruined, along with 18 churches and 20 Hindu temples.

    Close to 500 bridges have been washed out or badly damaged and more than 5900km of civic, district and provincial roads have been made impassable, including the main north-south route along the west coast of the province.

    "The infrastructure was not very well maintained before but at least there was something there," said a ministry official in Banda Aceh. "We are going to have to start all over again."

    Pledge appeal

    The economic impact of the disaster will be hardest felt by Aceh's poor. The tsunami appears to have wiped out most of the province's shrimp farms, and thousands of hectares of rice paddies are buried under mountains of mud.

    Many roads have been swept
    away and buried

    Nearly $3.7 billion worth of humanitarian relief for tsunami-affected areas around Asia was raised or pledged at a special meeting of international donors in Jakarta on Thursday. Australia and Germany pledged $765 million and $680 million respectively. Japan will donate $500 million and the United States $350 million.

    Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare urged the international community to make good on its pledges.

    "The one thing we would ask is that the international community honour its pledges," said Alwi Shihab, who is responsible for coordinating the relief efforts. "Sometimes it takes a very long time to deliver. I understand that pledges made to Iran after the Bam earthquake have not been fully honoured."

    Long-term approach

    Minister Shihab does not see relief efforts here as an open-ended affair but refused to be tied to a timetable for foreign agencies to withdraw.

    "I think that once we make significant progress, there will come a point when Indonesians alone will be able to handle the burden," he said.

    "It may take several years before we reach that point but there is no reason why we should not be able to accomplish a lot of the work ourselves, particularly the reconstruction work. Perhaps some foreigners will remain in a supervisory role."

    Meanwhile, a sense of normality is returning to many parts of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh. Electricity is more reliable with each day, most of the main boulevards once choked with debris are clear to traffic and, on Wednesday, a small supermarket opened to supplement the traditional outdoor markets.

    At the same time, the landscape is considerably changed. The aircraft of a dozen nations deliver aid to the modest provincial airport, guided in with the help of Australian air traffic controllers.

    Forgotten Aceh

    American helicopters circle the skies above camps holding up to 500,000 displaced people, and Western organisations continue to pour staff into a place that has been largely closed to foreigners since May 2003, and never attracted much notice before that time.

    Bodies are still being retrieved
    for burial in mass graves

    Clean-up efforts are continuing across the city during daylight hours. Everything from elephants to heavy machinery is being used to clear the 40% of the city that has been reduced to a wasteland of smashed concrete and tree trunks, while lines of dumper trucks haul debris to a lot several kilometres to the west of the city.

    The grisly task of recovering bodies is also continuing, with civic agencies, police recruits and hundreds of Indonesian soldiers scouring the rubble for corpses. Lines of blue, red and yellow body bags line the roads waiting to be taken to mass graves.

    Medics coping

    City hospitals staffed by doctors and paramedics from as far away as Australia and Mexico have survived the first few horrific days and the government is now turning away medical assistance.

    "Several nations have offered to send floating hospitals but we have advised them that they are not needed," said Shihab. "But there are tourists too. The Germans insisted. They said, 'We are on the way from Nigeria'. So, even if you say no, they still want to come."

    Indonesia says it can cope
    with the healthcare crisis

    While local schools remain closed, an hour's worth of classes was being offered at the TVRI camp for internally displaced people on Friday morning. Between 3000 and 4000 people are staying in the camp, including many orphans.

    Nineteen-year-old Budi was there searching for his daughter, whose photograph he has stored on a mobile phone that he showed to as many camp volunteers as he could. The colour image shows a young father offering up a chubby, smiling infant in a yellow lace dress.

    Among the roughly 60 kids attending school in the shade of a tree, was 12-year-old Anta who, like many Indonesians, only uses one name. He and two friends were writing in their notepad about their experiences the day of the earthquake.

    "I was OK because my family left for a wedding, but when we got back, the whole neighbourhood was gone," Anta wrote.

    "My family is very sad for Hendi and Irawn because they have no family any more so they are staying in our tent at the camp. I hope we will be able to leave here soon and go back to regular school."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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