Editorial – War and Peace

There’s no better ending to the year just passing than the peace that has descended over Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra, a region for long decades embroiled in never-ending battles with government troops that left thousands dead in a bid for independence.

It took a tsunami to change all that.

Now that the independence rebels are no more, and are set to govern the staunchly Muslim region after unprecedented local elections earlier this month, our thoughts turn to the still-devastated lives of the tens of thousands of Acehnese who lost loved ones and homes, many of whom remain without shelter two years on.

At least 25,000 families in Aceh are still homeless, according to the British aid organization Oxfam earlier this month, and only 48,000 of a projected 128,000 homes had been built.

So it was vexing to learn this week that of the billions of dollars donated from ordinary people in every part of the world to the countries affected by the killer waves on December 26, 2006 – most of them in Aceh, where 168,000 of a region-wide death toll of 220,000 lost their lives – half of the funds remain unspent.

Just US$3.4 billion of $6.7 billion pledged has thus far been spent, and around one-tenth of donors have yet to make good on their pledges, according to figures obtained by the BBC from the United Nations Department for Aid and Development.

Meanwhile, two years later, some Acehnese are still living in tents.

It was never going to be easy, the rebuilding process in wiped-out areas in countries rife with overbearing bureaucracy and corruption, with essential documents like land-title certificates swept away by the racing waves, and indeed foreign aid agencies have been battling – sometimes losing – against local authorities to get things done.

The Red Cross admitted this week that the rebuilding efforts were “incredibly difficult” and that it would take time before all the donated monies were spent “in a responsible manner.”

However, the UN’s special rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, properly argued that “It should really not take this long to build permanent housing.

“I do not accept the explanation that it is going to take four to five years, in some cases seven. I’m an architect. I know how long it takes to build a house.”

Meanwhile, for many in Aceh, their lives remain on hold, their only consolation that they are now living in a province of peace, where war was swept away with so much else.

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