For Aceh, Three More Years to Rebuild

SINGAPORE ~ Aceh needs three more years to rebuild itself after the December 2004 tsunami, the head of the province’s reconstruction agency said this week.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said there had been “very good” progress but much more needed to be done.

“There is still a lot more that hasn’t yet been built. Because of this, reconstruction will go on for another three years,” Mangkusubroto said on the sidelines of a regional Red Cross conference here.

The tsunami destroyed more than 800 kilometers of Aceh’s coastline, left more than 168,000 people dead or missing, destroyed livelihoods and flattened infrastructure and houses.

According to schedule, 48,000 homes out of the needed 128,000 have already been built, said Mangkusubroto, director of the Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR).

“What we planned, we’ve been able to carry out,” he said, also citing progress in rebuilding the province’s ports.

In April, a S$7 million (US$4.5 million) pier, funded by the Singapore Red Cross, opened in the west coast town of Meulaboh.

“But what’s even better is that people’s livelihoods are going very well,” said Mangkusubroto. “Eighty percent of the ricefields have started production.”

In September about 1,000 tsunami survivors laid siege to the BRR headquarters, complaining of the slow disbursement of aid.

“They are acting like they are a king and we are the subjects. There is no realization of the projects in the field,” tsunami survivor Zulkarnai, who is living in barracks near the provincial capital, said at the time.

Mangkusubroto said most of the demonstrators were landless and had rented their homes before the disaster.

“It’s true this is a group of people who have nothing,” he said, explaining that their needs would be addressed next year.

He said they were among about 50,000 individuals still living in temporary barracks housing.

The British-based aid agency Oxfam called last week for the urgent re-housing of about 70,000 tsunami survivors still living in temporary shelter.

Oxfam director Barbara Stocking said that although reconstruction efforts had picked up speed, it was vital that relocation took place soon, as poor sanitation and the approach of the rainy season heightened the threat of disease.

“It’s true there is a great deal that needs to be finished. Everybody wants it finished today,” said Mangkusubroto. “But a lot has been damaged, so we still need three years … 128,000 houses cannot be built in one or two years.”

Mangkusubroto said the rains should not worsen the condition of those living in temporary housing because none were in tents anymore.

“But for us, the rainy season means there will be a lot of logistical problems … It’s tough because the roads become damaged and things like that.”

Construction of a vital west coast road linking the provincial capital Banda Aceh with Meulaboh has barely begun nearly two years after the US Agency for International Development took on the task.

It is the largest reconstruction project planned but has been delayed by wrangling over its route and land purchases.

Mangkusubroto said the biggest obstacle he faced was delivering building materials to where they were needed.

He said his agency had vowed to eradicate corruption in the projects it handled but that had proven difficult in a country named as among the world’s most graft-prone by watchdog Transparency International.

With about 4,000 individual reconstruction projects, the agency had to expect a problem with “one or two” of them, he said.

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