26 December 2008

The people of the tsunami

Recovery has been uneven in the dozen countries hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster, which killed more than 220,000 people. While some communities have rebounded and flourished on a multibillion dollar outpouring of aid, others have languished.
Coastal plain after tsunami, Aceh west coast (Photo from AusAID)

While the tsunami helped end a war in Aceh, the fog of Sri Lanka's dragging war with Tamil separatists has hampered efforts to rebuild devastated parts of the nation. Around 31,000 people died in the tsunami in Sri Lanka and around 10,000 still live in temporary camps.

In Aceh meanwhile, there are concerns that as reconstruction ends Aceh will return to misery, and possible instability.

Hope and disappointment four years on from Asian tsunami
AFP 26 Dec 08;
LAM TUTUI, Indonesia (AFP) — When the deadly waters of the Asian tsunami smashed into this fishing village in Indonesia's Aceh province four years ago, not one house was left standing. Now there are too many of them.

Recovery has been uneven in the dozen countries hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster, which killed more than 220,000 people. While some communities have rebounded and flourished on a multibillion dollar outpouring of aid, others have languished.

In Lam Tutui, 54-year-old villager Keuchik Baharuddin recalled how he heard the monkeys in the trees screaming wildly before the tsunami hit, killing his wife and all five of his children.

"I saw our village had been levelled to the ground," he said.

One of only 75 people from the village of 545 to survive, Baharuddin has rebuilt a semblance of his old life in a gleaming new village, marrying a tsunami widow who has just given birth to a baby son.

So many houses have been built with aid that survivors are now making money on the side by renting them to tenants while other houses sit empty, he said.

In Aceh, which along with nearby Nias island was the region worst hit by the disaster, with at least 168,000 killed, reconstruction has been a qualified success.

Authorities have spent around 6.7 billion dollars of the roughly 7.2 billion dollars in aid pledged by donors, building nearly 125,000 houses and infrastructure from schools to roads and bridges, according to Indonesia's Aceh-Nias reconstruction agency (BRR).

The BRR, which is set to wind up its mandate overseeing the local and international aid effort next April, has been praised for getting the job done with little of the corruption that routinely infects Indonesian government projects.

The recovery has also been aided by peace forged between the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government in the wake of the tsunami's devastation, ending a three-decade civil war that claimed 15,000 lives.

Concerns now are that as reconstruction ends -- and the sugar-rush of foreign money dries up -- Aceh will return to misery, and possible instability.

Unemployment, currently around 10 percent, is expected to rise and the economy to slow as the BRR wraps up its work, said Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former GAM fighter allowed into politics as part of the peace deal.

"I never dreamed that we would be able to remove all Acehnese from hell and bring them to heaven. I just wanted to try to remove them from hell," he said.

There are also fears unemployment among ex-fighters, currently estimated at around 20 percent, could lead to a rise in violent crime or clashes during elections in April.

Adding to potential woes is the fact that while aid has transformed the tsunami-hit coast, those living in inland areas devastated by the civil war have been left out, BRR head Kunturo Mangkusubroto said.

"The rural economy on the coastline that was hit by the tsunami is back, I can say that with full confidence. The rural economy in the hinterland that was affected by the conflict is not back," he said.

While the tsunami helped end a war in Aceh, the fog of Sri Lanka's dragging war with Tamil separatists has hampered efforts to rebuild devastated parts of the nation. Around 31,000 people died in the tsunami in Sri Lanka and around 10,000 still live in temporary camps.

The state auditor general in 2005 said only 13.5 percent of the 1.16 billion committed to assist victims had been spent. There have been no government audits released since then.

Waste and bureaucratic bungling was underscored in October when the government destroyed more than five tonnes of rice and lentils donated by the World Food Programme for tsunami victims, as it rotted before distribution.

Mismanagement has also tainted the much smaller aid effort in Malaysia, which lost 68 people in the disaster and where government auditors have found mishandling of aid money that ended up in shoddy houses or fishing boats unsuitable for local waters.

In Thailand, where 5,400 people were killed -- half of them foreign holidaymakers -- tourism has bounced back, only to be buffeted by ongoing political turmoil.

The recent closure of airports in the southern province of Phuket and the capital Bangkok by anti-government protesters has led to a dip in arrivals, said Yiamsuriya Palusuk, the governor of Phangnga province, one of five Thai provinces hit by the tsunami.

Homeless in Aceh After 4 Years
Nurdin Hasan & Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 25 Dec 08;
Banda Aceh. Four years after the devastating tsunami barrelled into Indonesia’s westernmost province, killing more than 170,000 people and washing away entire villages, Aceh is still trying to cope with lingering problems in reconstruction and rehabilitation, residents and officials said.

Ujong Kareung village in Meulaboh, the capital of West Aceh district, was among the first villages smashed by giant waves on Dec. 26, 2004, and has become symbolic of the shortcomings in the massive reconstruction.

“Ironically, the village has remained untouched by reconstruction efforts, either by NGOs or by the BRR [Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency],” West Aceh district head Ramli Mansur said. Because of those shortcomings, organizers selected the village to serve as a backdrop for this year’s tsunami commemoration, which gets underway today.

Ujong Kareung was once a village with a population of 1,000, covering about 500 hectares only

500 meters from the coast. Tsunami survivors have since been relocated, living in worn-out camps or living with relatives.

Ramli said West Aceh still needs thousands more homes for displaced survivors.

Nongovernmental organizations, UN agencies and donor countries have helped the district reach about 80 percent of its reconstruction targets, Ramli said. He hopes aid groups will stay to see remaining humanitarian projects to their completion.

“The district’s administration would not be able to do it by itself, due to limited funding,” he said.

The BRR, set up by the national government in 2005 to rebuild Aceh and Nias, the regions most severely affected by the tsunami and a massive earthquake that struck a few months later, is set to expire in April 2009. It managed a Rp 32 trillion ($2.94 billion) budget during its four-year tenure and coordinated the management of trillions of rupiah from national and international humanitarian aid agencies.

In Lam Tutui village of Aceh Besar district, Keuchik Baharuddin, a 54-year-old resident, clearly remembers hearing monkeys screaming wildly in the trees before the tsunami hit. The towering waves claimed the lives of his wife and five children.

“I saw our village levelled to the ground,” he said. He is among the 75 survivors of his village of 545.

Baharuddin has tried to rebuild his life in a new village, and has married a tsunami widow who has just given birth to a baby boy.

He said a glut of housing built with aid money has allowed some survivors to make money by renting them out. Many other homes remain empty, he said.

But Aceh Transition Committee spokesman Ibrahim Syamsuddin said about 3,000 tsunami survivors still live in temporary camps.

“Our measure for success for the rehabilitation and reconstruction projects is seeing that all the survivors can have their own permanent homes,” he said.

“The [BRR’s] biggest challenge before it dissolves is to ‘clean up the dishes’, a task which will be passed on to the governor and could potentially become a time bomb,” Ibrahim said.

Lawmaker M. Nasir Djamil, a member of the reconstruction agency’s monitoring team, agreed, saying the extraordinary disaster should have been handled with extraordinary measures.

“In reality, the government handles the project with a business-as-usual development approach, which results in inaccurate, slow and misappropriated projects,” Nasir said.

Zamzami A Rani, deputy chief of the Aceh Jaya district, said there are at least 1,500 families left homeless four years after the tsunami. But BRR data indicates that they have built 124,500 houses in Aceh and Nias, exceeding the original demand of 120,000.

BRR head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said only 800 families were still living in tent shelters and that they would be housed by January.

Nazamuddin, an economist at Banda Aceh’s Syiah Kuala University, said despite shortcomings, reconstruction efforts have helped transform Aceh into a modern economy. But he expressed pessimism that local administrations would be able to carry on with the reconstruction once the BRR leaves, saying stronger internal monitoring against graft is needed.


More links
Rebuild Differently After the Tsunami, UNEP Advises
UNEP News Centre, 22 Feb 05

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