Indonesia: Tsunami rebuilding a "success" but challenges remain

News and Press Release
Originally published
JAKARTA, 22 December 2009 (IRIN) - Five years after the tsunami struck Indonesia, reconstruction in the hardest-hit province of Aceh is being hailed as a success story, although officials say key challenges persist.

Many of the tsunami survivors in Aceh, where an estimated 160,000 people died, have regained their livelihoods while houses, roads, bridges and ports have been rebuilt in what the World Bank describes as "the most successful reconstruction effort".

"If you look at the numbers, how many roads and schools have been rebuilt and even rebuilt better than before, it's a big success," Joachim von Amsberg, World Bank country director, told reporters.

But making that progress sustainable, creating jobs, and building capacity for effective public policy were among the challenges faced by the government, Von Amsberg said.

"We will continue to help . but the governments of Indonesia and Aceh have to take the lead in overcoming the challenges," he said.

The Asian tsunami, which struck on 26 December 2004, leaving more than 220,000 people dead in 13 countries, also served as an impetus for a peace agreement in 2005 between the Indonesian government and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), the Free Aceh secessionist movement.

The pact ended decades of conflict that claimed an estimated 15,000 lives.

Training needs

Teungku Nazri, who lost his wife in the tsunami, said life for many survivors had improved, though some still lived in temporary shelters provided by the government.

"There are many kinds of work that we can do now, but we need training so we can have better jobs," said Nazri, 35, who was jailed for being a separatist supporter and now runs a welding workshop in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

Mas Amah, 36, who lost her only son and 13 other relatives in the tsunami, said her husband used to sell produce before the disaster but was now left without a regular job.

"Life is more difficult and uncertain now. My husband does odd jobs, sometimes helping people sell their cars or motorcycles," said Amah.

"We need capital to start a small business and it's very difficult to get it," she told IRIN.

The head of the Aceh Reconstruction Sustainability Agency (BKRA), which replaced the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR) after its mandate expired this year, said 94 percent of reconstruction had been completed during the past five years.

"But there's still a lot of work to do in the areas of infrastructure and the economy," Iskandar, who like many Indonesians goes by just one name, told IRIN.

"When the tsunami hit, a lot of rice fields were destroyed and some of these areas can't be used any more, so we still need to [develop] 2,000ha of new fields," he said.

Poverty, healthcare and education are among the most pressing issues for the Aceh government, Iskandar said.

Unresolved issues

Teuku Haikal, a spokesman for the Southwest Aceh Coastal Caucus, an NGO, said BKRA had not been able to resolve issues left over by BRR, including the ownership of multiple houses by some survivors.

Iskandar said more than 130,000 houses had been built, enough to shelter all survivors, but some people received two or three houses because they owned large tracts of land before the tsunami.

"We have reported these problems to the district governments and the police so that they can identify people who are not entitled to some of the houses and give the houses to those who deserve [them]," he said.

Iskandar said no figure was available of how many had still not received houses.

Job creation

With an unemployment rate of 10 percent, job creation is a crucial issue in Aceh, officials said.

"A US$50 million project will fund various sub-projects designed to support economic development, especially job creation in areas such as agriculture and fisheries," Aceh Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar said in a speech on 16 December.

Nazar said the Multi-Donor Fund, a partnership of government and international agencies, had contributed $700 million, which was used to build 19,122 houses, 2,655km of rural roads, 936 bridges and 1,473km of irrigation channels.

Meanwhile, the global relief agency Mercy Corps said it had helped close to 900,000 Indonesians restore their livelihoods and build stronger and safer communities.

"Mercy Corps believes that communities are most capable of solving their own problems. Empowering them is the best way to ensure lasting peace and development in Aceh," said Rod Volway, Mercy Corps' Aceh programme director, in a statement.