The Aceh Province of Sumatra was the hardest hit by the disaster of Dec. 26. A second quake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale on March 31 took another approximately 1,300 lives on the island of Nias, just off the western coast of Aceh. The disaster has left 406,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) located in spontaneous settlement camps, host communities, semi-permanent government barracks, areas affected by the disaster but where already some families are rebuilding, and areas where people are still living in their homes, but whose houses have been damaged and who may have to relocate.
The International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) was contacted and asked to 1) obtain an understanding of the needs and expectations of the NGO community with regards to NGO coordination and collaboration, 2) assess current mechanisms for NGO collaboration and coordination, 3) query NGOs concerning on-going policy issues, 4) identify options for housing an accountability mechanism (as follow up to a previous mission), and 5) provide recommendations for NGO and ICVA involvement in further NGO coordination. A consultant was hired and spent 2 days in Geneva and 12 days (March 22 - April 2) in Aceh. This report is based on individual interviews with 24 staff from 18 International NGOs in Aceh, OCHA, Red Cross Banda Aceh, ICRC, IOM, UNHCR, and the leadership of four local NGO consortiums in Aceh with a combined membership of 150 NGOs.
CONTEXT: The issues of coordination need to be put into the context of the complexity of the disaster, ensuing response, and the political/security environment pre-existing in Aceh. The following are important considerations that have shaped the issues of coordination:
- The tsunami was a huge media event with
many tourists in Thailand and Sri Lanka providing video footage of the
- The effects as seen on television evoked
an unprecedented outpouring of concern, action, and financial assistance,
- An estimated 300 international NGOs
responded to the disaster; an estimated 2,000 foreigners and thousands
of Indonesians arrived to help in Aceh,
- Governments have pledged a total of
5.8 billion for recovery efforts, while impossible to date to know, estimates
of private contributions given to NGOs range from 5-7 billion dollars,
- A number of NGOs eventually informed
donors that they had received adequate donations,
- Only a handful of NGOs had any presence
in Aceh before the tsunami and that presence consisted of small offices;
the estimated NGO expenditures of those handful of NGOs was $ 2 million
- Aceh was (is) in the throes of an insurgent
(GAM) -- military (TNI) conflict, Aceh is in a state of civil emergency,
only a handful of international staff of either UN agencies or NGOs were
working in Aceh at the time of the disaster,
- Local NGO capacity in Aceh (as well
as police, health, education, ministry of welfare, etc.. institutions)
has been diminished in the short term due to loss of staff, traumatized
staff, and loss of material possessions and equipment,
- Organizations were able to assign staff
or recruit new staff for very short periods initially (weeks) due to the
need to also respond in Sri Lanka and India, staff turnover has been very
high in NGO and UN organizations from the start,
- The vast majority of foreign staff do
not speak the locally used languages,
- The humanitarian actors are operating
in what international businessmen consistently vote the most corrupt country
on the planet,
- The emergency phase ended quickly.
In both Banda Aceh and Jakarta the government met regularly with the humanitarian community (OCHA, UN, NGOs, foreign government representatives) and among themselves from the outset of the disaster. These meetings continue. Recently, a "blueprint" for rehabilitation and recovery has been published by the government which outlines the priorities and time frames for recovery and rehabilitation. Further, they are expected to announce, in the near future, the names of important persons who will constitute a special committee to oversee the recovery and rehabilitation program as outlined in the "blueprint."
This report does not focus on an analysis of either OCHA's or the government performance in coordination. Suffice it to say that the unprecedented number of actors in
the context mentioned above has made coordination exceedingly challenging. Overall efforts have resulted largely in exchange of information and generally have not arrived at a rationale assessment of needs, capacities of organizations, and a subsequent agreed upon division of labor. The government is in the process of developing criteria which will provide them the basis to determine which NGOs will stay and which will be invited to leave the province. Requests for information from OCHA to NGOs have not produced the results desired in order to deepen analysis of the situation. The mid term review recently published by OCHA does not adequately portray the amount of money NGOs have dedicated to the tsunami crisis nor in what sectors do they propose to conduct their activities. It has been difficult for NGOs to determine where and in what sectors they will definitively intervene while the blueprint was under development. The UN Under Secretary - General for Humanitarian Affairs has made a plea to NGOs for greater disclosure and transparency in regards to funding received and expenditure plans for the tsunami response.
Note that the humanitarian response to the recent earthquake resulted in further damage and loss of life (primarily on Nias Island) but did produce a better coordination of response on the part of the international community. This reflects the overall understanding of the need to coordinate and increased capacities on the ground among the UN, Government of Indonesia, and NGOs.
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