Tens of Thousands Still Homeless in Aceh: Oxfam

LONDON ~ More than 25,000 families are still homeless in Aceh, nearly two years on from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, a leading aid agency has said.

British-based Oxfam said many survivors were landless and still living in cramped, often unhygienic conditions as the second anniversary of the deadly December 26, 2004, tsunami approached.

In a report entitled The Tsunami Two Years On: Land Rights in Aceh, Oxfam said that despite generous international donations, only a third of the target number of houses have been built.

Around 48,000 out of an anticipated 128,000 homes had been erected in what it said was the largest reconstruction project in the world.

Oxfam urged the Indonesian government to find a “fair and just” way of re-housing the remaining landless.

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

Aceh, the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, was the closest point on land to the epicenter of the earthquake that triggered the tidal wave and therefore the region hardest hit.

“Aceh has made enormous strides towards recovering from the tsunami,” said Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

“But two years after the tsunami struck, the poorest Acehnese squatters, renters and women are still facing a crisis over when and where they will be resettled.

“The lack of a clear policy for landless people has led to a huge amount of uncertainty and delay. There’s a risk these people will end up in the slums of the future, despite the huge amounts generously given after the tsunami.”

Oxfam’s report found that a considerable amount of land was submerged and 15 percent of agricultural land – some 150,000 hectares – was lost.

Most of the land titles were destroyed or made illegible and most people lost all their identification documents, the aid agency said.

“Rebuilding homes without knowing who owns the land could create problems in the future,” said Stocking.

“But this can be a desperately difficult and slow process. Oxfam has been working with tens of villages in Aceh to help people decide how to reallocate land so everyone has somewhere to live.”

Oxfam demanded a commitment by the Indonesian government and non-governmental organizations to find long-term solutions to the barracks problem.

It urged better cooperation between the government and NGOs in Aceh to create a range of options for renters and squatters.

Oxfam said that where possible, a process of resettlement should be carried out and rental agreements restored.

Former US president Bill Clinton praised the wider rebuilding progress during a visit to the capital Banda Aceh on Saturday.

A peace agreement last year ended nearly three decades of conflict between separatist rebels and the Indonesian military, paving the way for Monday’s first direct elections in Aceh to pick the heads of the province and its 21 districts.

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