Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Aceh reconstruction struggling to get off the ground


Two months after the Dec. 26 tsunami devastated the province of Aceh, Indonesia has officially left the emergency stage behind, but the long process of reconstruction is still struggling to get off the ground.

The slow shift to reconstruction could perhaps best be illustrated by the completion just last week of the first semi-permanent housing barracks for thousands of displaced people.

The first groups of those who lost everything in the quake-triggered disaster have now begun to move out of schools, mosques and other public buildings and into new temporary homes.

After delays in construction, over 3,200 families, or 11,500 people, were moved off floors and out of tents into some 300 wooden barracks, where they are expected to live for up to two years before their permanent new homes are completed.

The finished barracks are less than half of the 803 shelters expected to be built.

"The short supply of timber, lack of transportation facilities and lack of clear land are the three main factors that have contributed to the late construction," Totok Pri, director of the local development planning board, was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post.

Some victims of the tsunami have started moving back to their homes, or the areas where their homes once stood near Meulaboh, Banda Aceh and other areas along the west coast, as final plans for rebuilding are still being drafted, and officials continue debating factors like how close construction should be allowed to the coast.

In addition to debate over the need for a "buffer zone" along the coast to protect against future disasters, officials with the environment ministry said assessments show areas up to 2km from the coast were heavily contaminated by E. Coli bacteria, which meant they were uninhabitable, according to the Jakarta Post.

Despite the fact that plans have still not been finalized, officials say they will begin construction of new permanent homes next month outside Banda Aceh and Meulaboh for some 82,000 families.

"The government will hold a meeting next week with the regents from areas around both cities to find out which locations would be best for the housing complexes," said Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab.

Indonesia is still trying to get the local government back on its feet, but with so many public servants dead, missing or still traumatized by what happened, services such as education, health and transportation continue to rely mostly on local and foreign non-government organizations, militaries and individuals for assistance.

With the end of emergency aid earlier this month, however, militaries are scaling back their presence in the region.

The US and Singapore have reduced their personnel and equipment, Australia announced plans to do so soon, while Germany said it will consider whether its military presence is still needed.

"Emergency aid is coming to an end and we will reconsider whether the military will continue to stay," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on a recent visit to Banda Aceh.

Thousands of tonnes of food aid continued to pour into the province from the UN World Food Program and others.

Aid workers said sporadic fighting between rebels of the GAM separatist movement and the Indonesian military still hadn't affected their aid delivery in the area, but all sides hoped that the second round of talks would move forward a resolution to the decades-long conflict.

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