Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Post-tsunami rebuilding takes shape

PATCHY RECOVERY Almost exactly a month after an earthquake-driven juggernaut of water ravaged countries in a wide arc of the Indian Ocean, nations are regrouping


Corpses no longer litter Banda Aceh's streets. Tourists are trickling back to Thailand's beach resorts. Sri Lanka has barred any rebuilding along its ravaged coastline.

One month after an earthquake-driven juggernaut of water crushed cities in a wide arc of the Indian Ocean, killing between 158,000 to 221,000 people, most of the funerals are over and a patchy recovery is taking shape.

But the troubles remain overwhelming. Hundreds of thousands of survivors crowd into squalid refugee camps, too traumatized to return to their farms and fishing boats. Local governments are dysfunctional. Pre-disaster divisions, separatist insurgencies and fears of terror attacks have threatened the aid effort, even as the US military, the spearhead of the relief operation, talks of winding down its efforts.

"We've heard about reconstruction and rehabilitation. But we don't know when. We don't know where," said Iskandar, a 35-year-old government statistician in the hard-hit city of Banda Aceh who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "There are still bodies buried in the rubble and it's so dirty."

The Dec. 26 tsunami struck across a dozen countries in southern Asia and as far as eastern Africa, washing away thousands of villages. In Indonesia alone, the tsunami caused US$4.5 billion in losses and damage.

Foreign governments and international agencies have been praised for pledging some US$4 billion in aid while the UN and World Bank have started drawing long-term development plans.

But across countries decimated by walls of water, countries are grappling with an array of problems. In Thailand, a favorite tourist destination, forensic experts from several countries are slowly identifying the dead. In India's Tamil Nadu state, authorities are struggling over whether to classify the missing as dead, since many victims were buried without being identified.

In Sri Lanka, the tsunami recovery effort has become part of the ongoing political crisis that has gripped the country for decades. Norwegian peacemakers have traveled there to settle disputes between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels over allegations that authorities have restricted or blocked aid to areas under rebel control.

Indonesia, the hardest hit country, has sought to keep a firm grip on the hard-hit Aceh province, an area long been wracked by an insurgency. It ordered aid workers pouring into the region to declare their movements -- or risk being expelled.

Activists fear that corrupt bureaucrats will siphon off assistance. Many in Indonesia worry the aid will run out before the government is ready to shoulder more of the relief effort -- and some expressed concern that the American military was scaling back.

"I want them to stay here 100 percent," said Mohamad Amin, a 50-year-old fisherman. "If they leave, there'll be no more food."

The provincial capital Banda Aceh is in the throes of a humanitarian invasion. American MH-53 and MH-60 helicopters rumble over the city toward the battered west coast with food and water.

C-130 cargo planes touch down on the tiny airport's tarmac. Hundreds of aid groups -- a virtual who's who of the humanitarian community -- work alongside radical Muslim and evangelical Christian relief organizations.

The city itself -- closed to most outsiders in recent years because of conflict -- has welcomed foreigners and is showing signs of life. Traffic jams are commonplace and streets are being cleaned.

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