Aceh Reconstruction Almost Complete: Officials

BANDA ACEH ~ The multibillion-dollar reconstruction of Aceh province after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is nearing completion but survivors still face challenges, officials said.

The agency overseeing reconstruction of the province at the northern tip of Sumatra island said just over 100,000 houses have been rebuilt, still short of a 120,000 target, set following the tragedy.

Half of the 3,000 kilometers of destroyed roads have been rebuilt, 332 of 450 village offices have been reconstructed, seven airports have been upgraded and three new ones completed, the report said.

Decent housing remains a massive concern for the local population.

“There will be no more housing projects or housing construction beyond April 2008, except one or two organizations because their plan goes beyond,” said the agency’s head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.

“But it doesn’t mean the problem of housing has been solved,” he warned, speaking at the launch of a key report on the activities of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency for Aceh-Nias (BRR).

The agency has been coordinating the complex reconstruction project following the tsunami, which killed 168,000 people in staunchly Muslim Aceh and destroyed houses, roads and other infrastructure.

Some of the houses rebuilt since then are unoccupied or of poor quality, while others still lack essential items such as drainage or electricity, the official said, without providing figures.

“We understand there are still problems… We are going to solve these problems,” he pledged.

Up to 4,000 families who were renting homes before the tsunami remain in temporary shelters as land has had to be found for their new homes. They are expected to be shifted by April next year, Mangkusubroto said.

Land title registration however has lagged, with just 114,000 titles distributed out of a targeted 600,000.

“But 114,000 is a big deal,” Mangkusubroto said. “We have problems here and there because of the geography and slow administration process.”

Other snags include the fact that some 390 kilometers of electricity transmission grid has been installed, but there is no power to supply them – a problem existing right across energy-starved Indonesia.

The BRR’s mandate ends in April 2009 and its focus has shifted towards handing the projects back to governments – in Jakarta, provincial capital Banda Aceh and local districts, Mangkusubroto said.

“Now the question will be, if these facilities are given to the local government, are they prepared for that?” he said.

“That is what we are now doing: training people, institutional development,” he said.

“US$7 billion in one province in four years in Indonesia has never happened before – what happens after that?” he added, referring to the money pledged by international donors for Aceh’s reconstruction.

Mangkusubroto said he has warned the newly elected provincial government that further investment will be crucial to rejuvenate an economy shattered by the tsunami as well as decades of separatist conflict.

The government is headed by a former fighter from the Free Aceh Movement, which signed a peace deal with the government in the tsunami’s aftermath.

Investors were watching for a new provincial law on investment to be passed, expected to be in December, he said.

The report has been handed to Vice President Yusuf Kalla.

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