Unfinished business in Aceh

Greed, graft and incompetence allegations continue to plague tsunami reconstruction.

aceh indonesia week special

Aceh’s post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation has been rocky

When the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami hit Indonesia‘s Aceh province, the tiny fishing village of Ulee Lheue was literally wiped off the map.


The village was one of the worst-hit areas along the 800km coastline straddling the Indian ocean and the Straits of Malacca.


Three-storey high waves killed about 130,000 people in Aceh, mostly fishermen and farmers. Tens of thousands more were never found.


Since then a total of $6.4bn in aid has been channelled into rebuilding the province, which suffered losses to the tune of $4.8bn.


Massive shore restoration is being done where fishing villages and coconut trees once stood, with heavy machinery arranging boulders to form rocky shores or wave-breakers.


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Jolufan, 23, a fisherman, lost his whole family when the killer waves slammed into Ulee Lheue on the morning of December 26.


But he, together with two dozens others, still live in the village that was stripped bare by the tsunami.


They prefer a “temporary” shelter to new houses that were built far from the sea, about 20km inland.


“Fishing is our livelihood,” says Jolufan. “This is what we do every day.”


His friend Rizki, 20, who also lost his entire family in the tsunami, blames the government agency tasked with allocating aid resources to victims.


He says the agency had overlooked many things, including the fact that they were fishermen.


“We lost our families, we lost everything in the tsunami … fishing is all we have left.”


Inappropriate housing is one of many complaints that have plagued reconstruction efforts in Aceh.

Housing woes 


Others include the poor quality of the housing, selective distribution of aid resources and alleged corruption.


Jolufan, left, was orphaned by the tsunami

Four months after the tsunami, the Indonesian government set up the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Board (BRR) to co-ordinate and execute government and international projects.


Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, the Indonesian president, declared that Aceh would be rebuilt “better than it was before”.


The promise included the nearby island of Nias – close to the epicentre of the 9-magnitude undersea earthquake that triggered the deadly tsunami.


The BRR, which co-ordinates 12,500 projects by 650 donor countries and international organisations, says it is close to meeting the targeted 120,000 houses before handing over the reins to the local government in April next year.


But while the physical reconstruction of Aceh is nearing completion – at least on paper – survivors in some tsunami-ravaged communities say there is still a long way to go to rebuild whole communities.


In Deah Raya, a fishing village on the northeastern coast, survivors say they were given shoddy housing and incomplete amenities.


Ridwan Asyeck, 25, who moved into a two-room, 4sq m house about a year ago, says their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.


He says the 200 plus houses in his village were built using asbestos, a potentially toxic building material banned in several countries.


“We want all the asbestos houses to be demolished and rebuilt as cement houses fit for people to live in,” he says.

No water


Ridwan says only about 50 people have moved into the houses which also have no water, forcing each household to fork out RP450,000 ($50) a month to buy water.


Houses for fishermen were built
far from the sea

The BRR has been trying to convince villagers that the type of asbestos used is harmless, says Mulia, an aid worker with the Irish Red Cross which has projects in the area.


“But the people tell us that they could not stay indoors during the day because there was white powder dropping all over them.”


The BRR says it is already working with the UN to address the complaints about water supply, sanitation, electricity and access roads.


According to Eddy Purwanto, the BRR chief operating officer, it is normal to receive complaints about shoddy housing in a disaster area.


“The first batch of houses built after the tsunami was of poorer quality compared to newer ones because our priority was to build as many houses within the shortest timeframe as an urgent response to provide shelter.”


But some survivors have become greedy and accused the BRR of allocating good houses to a select few, he says.


“The influx of foreign aid has created a culture of dependency among the victims, and when they don’t get what they want, they say we are corrupt.”


According to Eddy, some local activists and non-governmental organisations “with a hidden agenda” were also part of the problem, instigating and exploiting disgruntled aid beneficiaries.

Alleged corruption 

Last year, the Anti-Corruption Movement, an Aceh-based watchdog, alleged that “30-40 per cent of all the aid funds, Indonesian and international, have been tainted by graft”.


Hundreds of houses were built using asbestos

According to the World Bank, however, Indonesia‘s Aceh has fared better than other countries hit by disaster in preventing corruption of aid with “only one per cent of the reconstruction fund unaccounted for” so far.


Despite the delays and administrative problems in some of the projects, BRR’s Eddy says Aceh’s reconstruction plan is right on track.


To prevent a similar human disaster in the event of another tsunami, a warning system has been installed and tested, with tide gauges and buoys for early detection at sea and a global positioning system and siren towers on land.


“We have placed signs at strategic points on evacuation routes and bus campaigns on what to do following a tsunami alert,” says Eddy, adding that evacuation drills were also part of the school curriculum now.


Eddy also says the transition plan to hand over all BRR projects in Aceh to the local government next year “is moving smoothly”.


“We are in the middle of training the local authority on the maintenance of the completed projects. We want to hand over everything in a transparent and accountable manner.”


The handover may still be a year away, but more than three years after the December 2004 disaster, some survivors say the massive aid funding has not been well spent and the needs of thousands have not been met.

Source: Al Jazeera