Slow Rebuilding Process Frustrates Tsunami Victims The Asian tsunami that struck one year ago left nearly 170,000 people dead or missing in the Indonesian province of Aceh alone. Hundreds of thousands more lost their homes and the rebuilding process has not been as swift as they had hoped.
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Slow Rebuilding Process Frustrates Tsunami Victims

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Slow Rebuilding Process Frustrates Tsunami Victims

Slow Rebuilding Process Frustrates Tsunami Victims

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Monday will mark one year since the Asian tsunami that left nearly 170,000 people dead or missing in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Hundreds of thousands more lost their homes and just about everything else. The outpouring of aid from the international community was unprecedented. More than $5 billion was pledged to help with the relief and reconstruction effort. As NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Aceh, that effort has had mixed results so far.


At a small, open-air factory just outside the provincial capital, hundreds of local laborers pour concrete and weld metal beams for new houses for some of the estimated 400,000 Acehenese left homeless by the tsunami.

(Soundbite of machinery)

SULLIVAN: This is one of 16 factories run by the International Organization for Migration in Aceh. Paul Dillon is with the IOM field office here.

Mr. PAUL DILLON (International Organization for Migration): This is the ground zero for reconstruction, if you like. This contractor has about 500 men working for him, two shifts, 24/7. They produce the cement components for our housing. They produce the doors, the lintels, the jambs, everything that you need to get people out of tents and into houses.

SULLIVAN: Dillon says the IOM has finished more than 900 houses so far and has funding for 11,000 more. IOM has built more houses and better houses than most groups working here, but, Dillon says, it's not nearly enough.

Mr. DILLON: There's no easy solution to this. We're talking about 320 square miles of complete devastation, homes, mosques, churches, businesses completely erased off the map. There's no trace of these areas anymore. There's extraordinary infrastructure challenges here. So it's a gargantuan task.

SULLIVAN: No one expected that task to be completed overnight, but almost everyone believed it would move faster than it has. A year after the tsunami the UN says up to 100,000 Acehenese are still living in tents.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in foreign language)

SULLIVAN: This camp is just a few minutes from the IOM factory on the outskirts of Banda Aceh. Residents complain the tents leak when the rain comes, and it comes often. When it does, the dirt floors here sometimes turn to mud. Sixty-eight-year-old Anwar(ph) has been at this camp next to a mosque since a few days after last December's tsunami, sharing a single tent with nine family members, including several grandchildren. He is not happy.

ANWAR: (Through Translator) I'm angry that we've had to stay here for so long. This is not a good way for people to live, especially for the children. I'm angry at the government and the NGOs because they just come here and promise to build us a house, and then we never see them again.

SULLIVAN: `It'd be better,' he says, `if they didn't promise us anything. Then we would be disappointed when they don't follow through.'

Eddie Purwanto, deputy director of Aceh's Reconstruction Agency, or BRR, hears Anwar's frustration. Broken promises by some foreign NGOs, he says, are eroding the goodwill generated by the initial relief effort.

Mr. EDDY PURWANTO (Deputy Director, Aceh Reconstruction Agency): Just tell the people the truth. If you're going to build the houses in three months' time, say so, but not promise them next week, for example, because to people in Aceh, the promise is a debt. So if you promise something to them, they count it as a debt you have to pay. That's why they're angry.

SULLIVAN: The initial response to the tsunami, the emergency phase, was by all accounts extraordinary. Food, water and medicine poured in and was distributed quickly to those who needed it. The epidemics many feared never took place, thanks to prompt action by health workers early on. The reconstruction phase hasn't gone as smoothly. Lack of clear guidelines on how and where to rebuild is one reason. Lack of coordination, says the UN recovery coordinator, Eric Morris, is another.

Mr. ERIC MORRIS (UN Recovery Coordinator): What BRR and the UN need to look at now is: How, in fact, do you start matching what we call twinning agencies? Because you have some agencies with significant amounts of money but perhaps not great capacity in something like building houses. Why don't we start matching them with agencies that have that capacity and they're effective but perhaps don't have the resources? That would be one way of trying to move forward more effectively.

SULLIVAN: The Indonesian government is even considering asking some underperforming aid agencies to leave Aceh in the next few weeks in order to streamline the rebuilding process. The UN's Morris says he hopes to have all the displaced out of tents by March. The Aceh Reconstruction Agency's Eddy Purwanto says the government is aiming to finish 40,000 houses in the next year.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: The tsunami brought terrible suffering to Aceh, but it also served as a catalyst for peace in a province that has known little for three decades, a province where separatist insurgencies and a heavy-handed government response left thousands dead or missing.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: At this storefront outside the provincial capital, separatist rebels released from prison register with local authorities as part of their reintegration process. A peace deal signed in August continues to hold. The rebels have dropped their demands for independence, and the feared Indonesian military is withdrawing bit by bit from the province. And, for the first time in a long time, people say they are not afraid to be out at night. University Professor Humum Hameve(ph) says this is a far cry from what life was like before the tsunami.

Professor HUMUM HAMEVE: (Through Translator) Being caught, being shot, being--everything could happen to you. And now you can see people moving day and night in the car. They can take motorbike, you know, traveling all over Aceh day and night. You can do that. No problems.

SULLIVAN: The peace dividend is perhaps the most tangible sign of progress since the tsunami, but Hameve and others warn against complacency and against allowing the reconstruction effort to falter.

Mr. DILLON: I think the stakes in Aceh could not be higher.

SULLIVAN: Paul Dillon of the International Organization for Migration.

Mr. DILLON: There's a young peace process here. We're coming off 30 years of low-level civil war, this catastrophic event of December 26th last--these issues are tied in together.

SULLIVAN: Rebuilding Aceh, making it better than it was before the tsunami, is imperative, Dillon argues, for building trust between the Acehenese and the Indonesian government. And the international community, he says, has a role to play in making that happen. Failure to do so, Dillon and others warn, would alienate the Acehenese, perhaps irrevocably, and endanger the current peace process. University Professor Humum Hameve of the Aceh Recovery Forum agrees but says he's hopeful the reconstruction effort and the peace process will bear fruit.

Prof. HAMEVE: I think we got to demonstrate to the people that we are moving. We are moving for the future. We are moving for betterness. We are moving for progress. And we going to work very hard to take this opportunity in peace to make sure that we will never come back again to the previous situation. Those dangerous years will never come back and happen again. We've got to move. Life must go on.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

SIEGEL: Recovery from the tsunami is also ongoing in Thailand. There's a multimedia story about the experiences of one Thai family at our Web site,

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