Indonesia: Waiting for permanent homes

News and Press Release
Originally published
BANDA ACEH, 24 December 2009 (IRIN) - Ani was preparing breakfast on a Sunday morning five years ago when she heard a loud roaring noise after a massive earthquake.

She fled to the hills with her husband and four children, unaware that within minutes their rented home would be swept away.

Nobody else on her street survived the tidal wave that washed inland after the 9.1- magnitude earthquake just off the coast of Indonesia's Aceh Province - one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history.

"That seemed impossible. We lived 5km from the sea," she said, recalling the devastating tsunami that struck Aceh and 13 countries along the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004.

More than 230,000 people died, half in the coastal Indonesian province.

Her family first fled to the nearest mosque, but it was so crowded they drove to the hills.

"The car was flipped by the churning water and all my neighbours died," she said. "Not a day passes that I don't think about it."

Mixed progress

According to the World Bank, the Indonesian government has shown tremendous leadership in coordinating the US$7 billion reconstruction effort. Thousands of homes, schools, government offices and hospitals were rebuilt by the tsunami reconstruction agency, which wound up its work in April.

Even so, some survivors are still waiting to be relocated - testament to the fact that some people may be falling through the cracks.

Ani, 39, lives in Barak Bakoi, a barracks-like settlement where about 500 people still live in uncertainty, in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

"Everybody here is a victim of the tsunami," said Trusli, the centre's official. "They were all promised a house two years ago. Now the local government told us to be patient and wait."

Almost 200,000 houses in Aceh where destroyed by the tsunami, displacing more than half a million people, the UN said.

Indonesia's Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, which oversaw the building of 141,000 houses, said it was unclear how many people were still living in makeshift structures.

According to media reports, several hundred families around Banda Aceh are still without permanent accommodation.

Of the new homes, only 3,000 were built for renters like Ani, resulting in a shortage.

At the same time almost 30,000 houses are unoccupied because of corruption, poor construction and mismanagement, according to reports.

Harsh conditions

Meanwhile, Ani does her best to make their one-room shelter comfortable, lining it with potted plants. "These are mine and I'm going to take all of them to my new house," she said.

However, it is unclear when that may be. Thousands have already moved away, while other renters have been promised homes.

One is Syarwini, 23. Her new house is already finished, she said, "but it is not clear when I can move in. I am afraid other homeless people will take my house."

The keys she was promised have not been handed over.

Even people who once owned land have had to fight to receive aid because they lost ownership documents in the tsunami or missed deadlines to register property.

Conditions in the camp remain harsh, residents say. Row upon row of poorly maintained wooden shacks are interspersed with toilets shared by as many as 30 people. "The sanitation is very bad," says Ani. "And the water supply is not good."

There is no ready access to clean drinking water and the temporary schools have gone, along with international donors, making it too expensive for some parents to provide their children with an education, she complained.

"My house is one of the last houses built. If I don't get it now, I will never get one," mother-of-two Syarwini said.