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Homeless adrift a year after Boxing Day tsunami BANDA ACEH - Billions of dollars have been pledged and thousands of new homes built but the city of Banda Aceh is still a scene of devastation after the Boxing Day tsunami of last year. Tens of thousands are surviving in shanty towns of scrap wood and metal churned up by the terrifying force of the sea. There are 67,500 still living in tents. More than 200,000 survivors are thought to be staying with friends or relatives. Along the coast, towns and villages are nothing more than swampland and rubble. Survivors are jammed together in windowless plywood barracks hurriedly built by the army.

Sartinah Fatar is one of the lucky few who have a new home. Her family was eating breakfast when the quake rattled the dishes off the table. They ran outside, joining others who were racing in from the beach shouting "the water is coming". She ran with her husband to the elementary school next door, her eight-year-old daughter close on her heels and her 18-year-old son helping his frail grandmother. Sartinah was about to haul herself onto the roof of the school when the waves, taller than the palm trees in the yard and travelling faster than a train, slammed into her. She never saw her daughter, son and mother again.

"I was hanging onto the roof and thinking I never had a chance to ask for my mother's forgiveness," she said. "As a Muslim you have to ask forgiveness. If your mother doesn't forgive you, you can't go to heaven." A year on, only 20% of those in Aceh province displaced by the tsunami are in permanent housing. And the remainder face a long wait.

Reconstruction efforts in Banda Aceh.
Reconstruction efforts in Banda Aceh.
The World Bank last week criticised the slow pace of recovery. Andrew Steer, its Indonesia director, said officials and non-government organisations had promised more than they could produce. "Are we happy with the progress in Aceh? No, we are not at all. We should have figured out the simple arithmetic, which was that you simply can't build more than 30,000 permanent houses in the first year."

The province highlights both the successes and failures that followed billions of dollars in aid money to the region. Houses - 16,200 so far - are being built in Aceh and hundreds of miles of sewage pipes have been replaced. A further 13,200 homes are under construction, according to government figures, with 78,000 more to be built next year. But planning and land disputes have slowed progress, as has the sheer scale of devastation. Roads and ports were swept away, making it impossible to get to some of the most devastated areas quickly.

John Sparrow, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: "The government hopes that its permanent house-building programme will be completed by the middle of 2007, but the chances are that it will take longer. Eight hundred kilometres of the Aceh coast were destroyed. It takes a lot of time to rebuild an area like that - it can't happen overnight."

In Thailand $1.7bn, most of it in loans to businesses, has been spent on reconstruction and assistance. More than 20,000 fishermen have been given aid to replace or repair boats. Although 1,907 new homes have been built, about 2,900 people, down from 7,000 in June, are still living in shelters.

In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, 95% of those affected have moved into "transitional shelters". In the worst affected Indian state of Tamil Nadu plans have been drawn up for more than 31,000 homes. After the Kobe earthquake in 1995 it took the Japanese seven years to rebuild the city.

Soon after the disaster it emerged that few of those who lost their homes in Aceh turned out to hold title to their land. Other families had lived on property they had occupied for generations as squatters.

Another problem is that vast areas of Indonesia once suitable for building have become flood plains because of the coastal shelf sinking. There has been no alternative but to use temporary housing. The aim is to get people out of tents and barracks built by the army into wooden shelters with tin roofs. Twenty thousand such structures are due to arrive in Indonesia this week.

Sparrow said: "We are trying to move those who are in tents first because they have had to put up with the worst conditions. No one should have to put up with emergency shelters much longer but these are an improvement."

The Boxing Day wave killed at least 131,338 in Indonesia and left more than 25,000 missing. Although Aceh took the bulk of the casualties it wasn't the only place that suffered when the sea rose up that Sunday morning. At least 31,147 died in Sri Lanka, 10,000 in India and 5,000 in Thailand. More than 500 perished in countries as far away as Somalia. The latest casualty total in the dozen nations hit stands at more than 216,000. But it was in Aceh, only 160 miles from the epicentre of the undersea earthquake, that 100-foot walls of water hit the coast at speeds of more than 350mph, reducing a city to rubble.

The tsunami devastated Aceh's economy, 70% of which is directly or indirectly dependent on open-water fishing and fish farming, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The FAO estimates that a fifth of Aceh's 98,000 fishermen were killed, and 7,500 fishing boats and most of the fish farms and shrimp hatcheries on the eastern coast destroyed. Thirty-two of Aceh's 72 fishing ports also were destroyed.

$1.4bn was pledged to the UN for tsunami work but nearly four times as much, $5.5bn, was pledged by the public to aid agencies to help reconstruction. The immediate effort was to contain the risks of disease. With thousands of bodies lying on streets there was a risk of malaria and dengue fever.

More than 1.5 million litres of fresh drinking water were delivered to the local population. A sign of the continuing struggle is that one million litres are still needed daily. Of the 550,000 who registered for food and hygiene supplies, most still receive assistance.

The wave destroyed the country's Land Registry and all the records it contained. The local government also ceased to exist: officials were dead. It is this problem that is hindering reconstruction. Without legal proof the authorities are reluctant to allow building work to start for fear that they will run into territory disputes months or even years later. But the frustration among aid agencies is that without homes families cannot begin to plan a future.

Sparrow said: "At least shelters will get people starting to look at possible livelihoods. If there is a land problem they can be moved and reassembled. If people cannot go home they can't really work."

Kevin Byrne, Save the Children's programme director for Indonesia, said the situation was complex. He said: "There are still thousands of people in tents and we are not happy with that but we feel relatively happy with what has been achieved. On December 26 half a city was destroyed. There were bodies in the streets and entire villages had fallen into the sea. But there has not been a medical disaster or major public health hazard. We prevented it."



Posted in Earthquake @ 18 December 2005 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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