Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 9 News List

As donors convene, what kind of recovery plan is really needed?

There is no disagreement that reconstruction efforts after the Dec. 26 Tsunami will take time, but what should the priorities of reconstruction programs be?

By Brian Whitaker  /  THE GUARDIAN , London

Indonesia is planning to impose a one-year state of emergency in its devastated Aceh province, followed by a four-year recovery plan.

The move will initially focus on people's immediate needs -- food, clothing and temporary shelter -- but then switch to rebuilding infrastructure.

But charities said yesterday that the reconstruction effort -- which will be highlighted at the Jakarta summit scheduled for today -- could miss an opportunity to bring permanent prosperity to the population.

Ambitious plans for a tsunami warning system and an appeal for more funds by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, are expected to dominate the meeting, but Oxfam called for a clear reconstruction plan Sunday that would reduce poverty.

"The affected governments and donors face a choice," said Ed Cairns, Oxfam's senior policy adviser. "Are they simply going to rebuild the poverty that blighted so many of these communities, and made them more vulnerable to the tsunami? Or will the reconstruction aim to reduce poverty and future vulnerability?"

He called on the affected governments and donors to commit themselves to "reconstruction plus," aimed at reducing poverty and protecting the environment.

"They should commit to support this for the long-term, no less than five years," he said. "Donor governments should provide grants, not loans, and aid should not be tied to benefit Japanese, American or European companies."

Indonesia's plan follows a classic strategy, but such plans have a habit of going awry, and not just because donors eventually lose interest or forget to post their cheques.

In 1995 an earthquake hit Kobe in Japan, killing 6,400 people and making 400,000 homeless. As a rich country, Japan was confident of providing permanent homes for all the survivors within 18 months. Six years later, some were still waiting.

Here are four key areas for attention in the Aceh reconstruction effort.

Housing

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, survivors need temporary shelter. The question is: how temporary?

Tents and tarpaulins are quick and cheap but if reconstruction is likely to take several years something more substantial is needed.

Sleeping in tents increases the likelihood of insect bites and the risk of malaria or other parasitic diseases.

There are plenty of inexpensive alternatives such as the Global Village Shelter, a flat-pack hut made from cardboard-type material which is water and fire resistant, takes 20 minutes to assemble, and costs about US$400.

Simple permanent homes can be built for less than US$2,000, according to Architecture for Humanity, which has previously been involved in reconstruction in Grenada, Iran and Kosovo, and has worked with organizations that use local building techniques and local labour. Employing local people to help with rebuilding can kickstart economic activity.

Relocation

Following the Bam earthquake in Iran a year ago, the authorities wanted to rebuild the city in an orderly way according to a "master plan." In the meantime, they wanted people to live in temporary camps but many were reluctant to go. Some feared they might lose the land they owned, while many wanted to stay on their plots to grow fruit and vegetables.

In the tsunami-hit countries there is already talk of rebuilding homes in safer places but this is likely to meet resistance. The government of Kyrgyzstan has been trying to relocate villagers in the Osh region where many are killed by landslides, floods and avalanches. Many villagers are reluctant to go, because of complaints about the compensation system and the length of time it takes to get the money.

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