Tsunami Reconstruction Body Winds Up

BANDA ACEH ~ Indonesia’s tsunami reconstruction agency wound up work in devastated Aceh province on Thursday, more than four years after deadly waves killed 168,000 people here.

The headquarters of the Aceh-Nias reconstruction agency (BRR) was officially closed in a low-key ceremony, ending its responsibility for one of the largest disaster reconstruction efforts in history.

“We’re changing this name plaque because the BRR finishes its mandate today,” agency head Kuntoro Mangusubroto told reporters at the ceremony in Banda Aceh.

“The job of Aceh reconstruction will be carried forward by the Aceh provincial government and six ministries.”

The agency has been largely hailed as a rare success in a country renowned for graft and inefficiency, but it leaves behind a number of unfinished projects and concerns that its withdrawal will destabilize the local economy.

Mangkusubroto praised the work of the agency earlier this week, but acknowledged it had failed to meet the expectations of all victims.

“Building back an Aceh devastated by this disaster is not the same as building real estate because what we have faced here is wreckage and angry people, frustrated people, because their hope is for speedy development,” he said.

The 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 220,000 people in total, including in Sri Lanka, Thailand and India, led to an outpouring of international aid.

The BRR says it has allocated US$6.7 billion of the $7.2 billion pledged by individuals and governments after the disaster.

It has built over 140,000 homes, 1,759 school buildings, 363 bridges and 13 airports.

But by its own reckoning around 350 families are still living in barracks waiting for housing. A major US-funded highway through some of the worst-hit areas also remains incomplete.

Teuku Achmad Fuad Haikal, the 39-year-old head of a local non-governmental organization, said he was still waiting for a new home four years after the tsunami swept away his house, along with his wife and two daughters.

“I haven’t gotten a house up to now, even though I’ve sent a request to the BRR twice,” he said.

“But some people have gotten more than one home; this has to be stopped.”

The tsunami sparked peace talks that led to a deal in 2005 between separatist rebels and Jakarta, ending a three decade war that had killed over 15,000 people.

Many demobilized rebels were given jobs in reconstruction projects and there are fears the BRR’s closure will fuel discontent and unemployment at a sensitive time in the peace process.

Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former guerrilla, has said he expects unemployment to rise and the economy to slow as reconstruction tails off.

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