More than 100 United Nations agencies and humanitarian groups provided assistance in Indonesia after the earthquake and tsunami. Among the biggest ones were the United Nations World Food program and the Red Cross. Indonesia received $4 billion in donations, many of them from abroad. Much of the aid came by sea because the earthquake and tsunami damaged roads, bridges and airstrips and made access by plane or vehicle impossible.

All kinds of groups and organizations were involved in the relief effort. Local people organized fleets of boats to move supplies up and down the coast. The Indonesian Muslim group Muhammadiyah helped the families of victims. Oxfam ran cash-for-work programs in Meaulaboh instead of giving food handouts. There were so many groups some complained about confusion, lack of central organization and duplication.

The International Islamic Relief Organization — one of Saudi Arabia’s largest Islamic charities — was involved in the relief efforts in Aceh. Some Western governments were worried that the group would include radical Islam messages along with relief supplies. Indonesia Islamic militant groups like Laskar Mujahedeen. Majelis Mujahedeen and Islamic Defenders front — some of which had ties to Al-Qaida and were involved in massacres of Christians — also helped out.

Many Muslim Indonesians had questions about the methods of some of the evangelical Christian groups helping in the relief effort. One Christian group, the Jerry-Falwell-sponsored World Help, was prevented from airlifting 300 Muslim orphans to a Christian children’s home in Jakarta.

Relief Effort and the Great Tsunami of 2004 in Indonesia

The first international aid group didn’t arrive in Meulaboh until January 2nd, six days after the disaster,. It was a Singapore armed forced medical until that arrived by helicopter. They worked in camps where a number of people had gangrene, badly inflected wounds and diseases like tetanus. Many had gone so long without medical care the only hope they had of survival was amputation. An Indonesian medical team arrived earlier but lacked equipment. Before they arrived relief was provided mainly by survivors to survivors. Camps were set up around mosques.

The relief effort was initially slowed by the Indonesian government preventing access to Aceh because of the Aceh conflict. The effort took some getting going because relief agencies had few contacts in the region, again because they had generally been kept out of the region because of the Aceh conflict. Even Indonesian groups had trouble getting in. It took72 hours for the first relief mission from an Indonesian charity to arrive. The first on scene were the military and in some cases the Aceh separatists. Early efforts were chaotic and confused. Thousands lined up for water and food. Fights and mad scrambles broke out when helicopters dropped off bags of food. People hung out at the airport in Banda Aceh so they could get first dibs on food supplies that arrived there.

One of the first objectives was to fix bridges and roads so supplies could be brought in by truck. Many places were cut off and only accessible by helicopter or boat. Even deliveries by boat was problematic. Some sunk after they hit debris in the water. Others capsized trying to come ashore in heavy surf.

Banda Aceh had a usable airport so supplies could be flown in there. Meulaboh offered more challenges. It was completely cut off. It had no airport and the roads into it were completely destroyed. The most immediate need was getting enough drinking water there. The city’s two water treatment plants were destroyed and tanker truck could not bring in water because the roads were out. Some water was brought in by helicopters. The Spanish Red Cross set up a temporary water treatment facility while Oxfam engineers tried to get the city’s main water treatment plants up and running. This involved building water storage facilities and bringing in or fixing generators and other heavy machines.

Relief Effort Three Weeks After the Great Tsunami of 2004 in Indonesia

Reporting from Banda Aceh, Edward Girardet wrote in National Geographic: the tiny airport was transformed by the global mobi-lization of human and material resources. A sprawling phalanx of military encampments had mushroomed on either side of the single runway. It looked like a Boy Scout jamboree many thousands strong: British, French, Japanese — about a dozen national flags fluttered in the warm wind. Tents stood shoulder-to-shoulder in regimented rows; others of different shapes and colors perched randomly around them. Aid workers and soldiers stacked food and medical supplies along the runway aprons, oblivious to the constant roar of Antonov transport planes, C-130s, and helicopters. [Source: Edward Girardet, National Geographic, December 2005]

“By the time I'd arrived, in mid-January, in the northern Sumatran city of Medan, a principal launching pad for the relief effort in Aceh Province, the area was swarming with aid workers, journalists, and military personnel. They'd been frantically dispatched within days of the tsunami by governments, the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world.

“Aid organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, CARE, and the International Res-cue Committee also soon found themselves competing for space with newcomers to the humanitarian relief scene. The Church of Scientology, for instance, flew in dozens of smiling young volunteers. Wearing bright yellow T-shirts, they hoisted colorful banners and tents smack in the middle of Banda Aceh. One smiling American college student raved about the amazing things the church was doing in the treatment of child trauma. Meanwhile, young Islamic militants, some wearing face masks, drove around in truck convoys. Their principal concern was to give relief, to clean mosques, and provide as many bodies as possible with proper Muslim burials. ..The place teemed with a high-adrenaline "we're all in this together" camaraderie. On the airport runway I watched a group of Indonesian Red Cross volunteers climb aboard a Singaporean military transport plane, exhausted yet wistful. "What I will remember most is how all these countries came here to help," said 27-year-old Jailani, a student from Borneo. He shifted the heavy backpack on his slight shoulders and disappeared into the plane.

“Not far from the tarmac, soldiers from an Australian engineering regiment worked in camouflage fatigues, hauling heavy equipment for a water purification plant that would eventually process more than 5,000 gallons an hour. Taking a break, they cracked a few jokes, then turned serious. "We're trained for warfare," said a corporal with short-cropped hair. "But in some ways this sort of experience is more sobering. Perhaps it makes us better human beings."

“Perhaps. But several long-term coordinators and some international relief workers redeployed from vital humanitarian efforts elsewhere, notably Africa, were resigned to the uneven allocation of international aid resources. Even as relief workers distributed vitamin-reinforced, high-energy biscuits to hungry children, or dug latrines for emergency shelters, I heard voices raised in distress at the massive influx of aid. The existing infrastructure in Aceh Province was overburdened, there were absolutely no seats available on planes, ground facilities overflowed with supplies, some of which — winter clothing and out-of-date medications — were inappropriate.

“Nigel Snoad, a 33-year-old Australian who headed the UN Joint Logistics Centre in Banda Aceh, had a different complaint. "In the past 28 minutes I've missed 59 calls," he said, waving his ringing cell phone. Snoad said the overkill reac-tion was causing enormous problems with field operations, and he baptized the flood of phone calls and the never ending inquiries from diplomats, NGOs, and volunteers Asia's "second tsunami." For the worn-out aid coordinator, the situation had reached "an insane level of chaos." "When," he asked, "is anyone going to have the guts to tell them that we have enough? That we don't need any more?"

In the village of Calang, the Indonesian military burned heaps of donated used clothes to make room for more needed supplies. On top of taking care of the victims, People helping the victims also had to be fed and housed. "It's perfectly understandable that people want to help, but this sort of situation needs organizations with experience receiving and distributing resources," said an agitated Danish Red Cross official. "I know this sounds harsh, but it really doesn't help to come here or to bring things that aren't needed. When people ask to help, we tell them the best thing is to donate money."

Muslim Charities and Relief Effort After the December 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: Members of the Justice and Welfare Party load relief good for refugees in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. "What we were attempting to do in finding a home for these orphans is no different from what Mother Teresa did in placing Hindu orphans in a Christian children's home," said Vernon Brewer, president the ministry. [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, January 13, 2005]

“The collection of religious groups in this conservative Muslim city, which has only five churches, has raised the possibility of sectarian violence but has also led to some unusual partnerships. The Islamic Defenders Front — known for trashing Western pubs in Jakarta — spent much of this week removing corpses from collapsed homes alongside an Indonesian Christian group. Mormons have teamed up with Islamic relief operations to send aid to the region.

“The United Nations asked the extremist Muslim group Laskar Mujahidin, which allegedly has links to al-Qaida and has been accused of killing Christians in an earlier conflict, to unload a plane of relief supplies because it was short of personnel. "Everyone wants to help in this catastrophe and prejudices are put aside," said Mans Nyberg of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Of course, they are serving a role."

“Still, the dozens of refugee camps have in some ways become the battleground for religious groups. Muslims especially appear to have filled a void left by the government and quickly set up medical clinics, opened schools and are providing much of the food and medicines for tens of thousands of refugees. "We need religion. We need to remember our God," said Sari Andina, a 23-year-old teacher whose camp features a mosque where children are taught Islamic studies.

“The most prominent Muslim group is the Justice and Welfare Party, a political party that has become popular with its message of morality and clean government. Nearly 2,000 volunteers — wearing the party's black and yellow — arrived days after the disaster and are a common sight driving around the city or unloading tons of aid at the airport. For party members like Jamy, the Dec. 26 tsunami was a warning for Muslims. He and other volunteers say that another disaster is inevitable unless people start living according to the teaching of the Quran. "We tell them this came from God and we have to be strong," said Jamy, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "This is some kind of a lesson. People forgot about God and he has now punished them. Maybe now people will realize what they have done and start going to the mosque."

“The task is more complex for Christians because they have often been a target of violence in Indonesia, partly over allegations they were attempting to convert Muslims. Since the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998, thousands of churches have been bombed and burned. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed thousands in the provinces of Central Sulawesi and the Malukus islands. "Any time you have a strong Muslim community and concerns about Christianization, there is going to be conflict," said Eddy Rubble, a North Carolina Christian who is volunteering here. "I'm afraid that after months of people helping one another survive, it will only take one spark to create a big issue."

American and Foreign Military and the Relief Effort

The United States sent Expeditionary Strike Group Five, made up of a an aircraft carrier group and a Marine Expeditionary group, to Aceh Province to provide emergency relief. The carrier group, which been on its way to the Persian Gulf, stopped in Guam for ten hours to pick up supplies (among them all the shovels, lumber, hammers and nails at the Ace Hardware store there), and arrived just a few days after the tsunami. At is peak there were 15,000 American troops helping with the relief effort. It was the largest United States military effort in Southeast Asia since the end of the Vietnam War. The endeavor boosted the reputation of the United States in Indonesia at time when its image was suffering as a result of its activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group brought in the first supplies to some of the hardest hit areas. They ran dozens of mission a day, dropping off food and medicines to survivors and taking injured and sick patients to the 1,000-bed hospital ship USS Mercy. More than two dozen ships, 454 planes and 50 helicopters were mobilized at a cost of $5.6 million a day. A Marine Corps general told the New York Times that organizing the relief efort was like “planning you family vacation while you are packing the car....We are doing something unusual here: Planning, executing and deploying concurrently.”

The American military was the largest tsunami aid group. Troops — more used people treating them with hostility and suspicion — were happy to see people greet them with smiles and appreciate what they were doing. One soldier told the Los Angeles Times, “People sure are nice here. Not like Iraq.” Unlike Iraq U.S. troops could walk around freely, without guns. and body armor. The U.S. military worked closely with the United Nations and other relief agencies. Their planes, helicopters and hoovercrafts were the only way to deliver supplies quickly.

The Japanese military also sent ships to Aceh in what was that country’s largest overseas military operation since World War II. The Japanese sent three ships — a destroyer, an amphibious ship and a supply vessel? loaded with trucks and medical equipment, two hovercrafts and 970 military personnel. The ships arrived in mid January. Their primary goal was to provide medical service and prevent epidemics. Troops arrived from a total of 11 nations, including Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. They were generally greeted much more warmly than the Indonesian military.

Indonesia Government and the Relief Effort

The Indonesian government put strict limits on how long foreign troops could stay in Aceh. A month after the disaster it was pressuring them to leave. The government’s position was that the military groups were helpful in the emergency phase but not required during the rebuilding stage. Foreign aid groups were also encouraged to keep their stay short. The deadline set for foreign military units to be out was March 26th 2005, three months after the disaster. The United States military ended its tsunami relief effort in March 2005 when the hospital ship USNS Mercy left Indonesian waters.

The Indonesian government wanted the stay of international groups to be minimal so they didn’t comprise the government’s position in Aceh. Before the tsunami foreign aid groups and journalist had been prohibited from entering Aceh. Many of the Acehese wanted the foreign troops to stay as long their services were needed, possibly for years.

The new Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was given mixed reviews for his role in the relief effort. He appeared in Aceh the day after the disaster and visited the province four times in the first two months afterwards. But he was criticized for dawdling and not showing the kind if leadership that could have mobilized people. He gave in to pressure from the military, which refused to fully deploy it resources in Aceh, and established a special authority to oversee Aceh’s reconstruction and then failed to develop a comprehensive plan. Indonesians generally seem to felt he did a good enough job. Polls in January and February showed an 80 percent approval rating.

The government was initially criticized for being slow to respond and the military was condemned for putting its own interests ahead of those of Aceh’s tsunami victims. Many military drivers left their posts rather than help delivering much needed supplies. In Aceh many survivors were suspicious of the government because of the long-running conflict in Aceh. They because especially apprehensive when the Indonesian military become heavily involved in the relief effort.

Around 40,000 Indonesian troops arrived in Aceh after the tsunami. Some soldiers were accused of extorting money from boat owners and stealing foreign aid and continuing with their campaign against the Aceh separatists. All in all, however, most NGOs said the military did a good job providing assistance.

On the issue of corruption, a member of Indonesia Corruption Watch told AP, “Based on past experience in other disasters in Indonesia, corruption is highest in the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase, rather than during the emergency response.” Yudhoono hired the accounting agency Ernst & Young to track relief funds and pledged to work closely with donor countries to ensure that aid money was not stolen. A senior welfare minister said the government would publish a monthly list of all aid “contribution and where it is going to avoid any suspicion.”

Aceh Separatists and the Tsunami Relief Effort

Aceh separatists helped tsunami survivors. One rebel leader told the Washington Post: “What we had we gave to refugees.” He described how he and his men came down out their hideouts in the hills, risking capture by the Indonesian military, to deliver what little supplies and aid they had — some food and water, antibiotics, iodine and bandages — to the coastal areas, and helped search for survivors and set up medical stations. In some places they were the first people to respond. Many of the rebels lost family members and friends to the tsunami. The melted back into the hills when the international aid agencies and military arrived in force on the scene.

Aceh separatists said that foreign aid workers were welcome and promised not to attack them. The military offered to provide aid agencies with escorts for protection from the rebels. But they couldn’t escort everybody and when they did provide escort services it often slowed the relief process. The military accused separatists of attacking relief convoys, charges that both the rebels and foreign aid groups denied.

In the days that followed the disaster, both the Indonesian government and the Aceh separatists agreed to freeze military operations and focus on helping victims of the tsunami. The government widely ignored the informal truce and reported in late January that it had killed more than 200 specked rebels. Ultimately the tsunami helped bring the Indonesian government and the Aceh separatist to the bargaining table and hammer a peace deal for Aceh.

Affects of the December 2004 Tsunami and the Indonesian Economy and Environment

The tsunami caused an estimated $4.5 billion in losses and damage in Indonesia. Some men with boats were able to make money transporting supplies to tsunami-stricken areas. After the disaster the Asian Development Bank approved a $300 million grant for Indonesia, its largest grant ever. Exxon’s large facility in Aceh was un affected,

Tourism in Indonesia was affected more than it should have been. Aceh was in sorry shape but it received only 0.05 percent of foreign arrivals to Indonesia before the disaster. Many foreigners cancelled trips to parts of Indonesia that were unaffected by the tsunami. Tourism officials expressed frustration over the cancellations. Bali, for example, was not even remotely affected by the disaster and is almost 2,000 miles away from Aceh.

The environmental damaged caused by the tsunami was estimated at $675 million, with most of the damage occurring to coral reefs, mangrove swamps and degraded farmland. In areas affected the tsunami an estimated 30 percent of the coral reefs were damaged, 30 percent of the coastal forests were lost, 20 percent of the sea grass beds were lost and 25,00 hectares of mangroves were washed away.

In some places the earthquake cause the earth to shift more than a meter upwards., pushing coral reefs above the surface of the water. Damage to mangrove swamps in Aceh stretched along more than 1,000 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in Indonesia were logged to harvest lumber for rebuilding. There were calls for donations of foreign lumber to reduce the amount of deforestation in Indonesia

Life Returning to Normal in Indonesia After the Tsunami

In Aceh, even in places that lost 75 percent of their population, markets were bustling against by mid January. Schools reopened in late January about a month after the disaster. There were many empty desks. Some kids didn’t realize their best friends were gone until they didn’t show up at school. At one school in Banda Aceh only 260 of the 620 enrolled students and 25 of the 75 teachers at the school showed up. In some cases schools were still filled with debris and books that were wet. An estimated 180,000 students had no schools to return to. Around 700 of the 1,100 schools in Aceh were destroyed or damaged.

In July 2006, Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times: “Life in Aceh... has resumed a semblance of normality. For the most part, children are in school, roads are being rebuilt, outdoor markets are packed with local produce, employment is not too hard to find, and even the peace accord between the national government and separatist guerrillas is sticking. Almost everyone has been moved out of muddy tents, though many families still live in dilapidated barracks. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, July 27, 2006]

“Work on a highway down the devastated west coast of the province, financed by the United States government, is under way, and a new port has opened in Meulaboh, the seaside town that was smashed to smithereens. Of the lucky ones with a roof over their heads, those with houses built by the Turkish Red Crescent Society are the most pleased. “They’ve given us good quality,” said Khairuman, 45, a building laborer, and his wife, Suginah, 43, as they showed off their blue-tiled bathroom replete with bath and shower in the beachside community of Lampuuk. Like many Indonesians, they use one name.

“The Red Crescent Society paid $10,000 for each brick house, about double the cost of houses built by other agencies. And it sent a team of engineers with experience from the 1999 earthquake in Turkey. “The people of Aceh suffered; they need to stay in good houses,” said an engineer, Ali Pekoz. From the sunproof window glass to imported hinges on the doors, the Turks chose the best fittings, he said.

“One of the occupants of the tiny new temporary homes built by another aid organization, “Cut Darnita, decorated her interior with vases of fabric roses and orchids, a cheery red rug and a coffee table draped with a white linen cloth. The five-member family lay down mats on the floor to sleep at night. “It’s small but nice,” she said of the room, about 226 square feet. When would she get a permanent home? Ms. Darnita shrugged.

Reporting from Banda Aceh in December 2006,Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “All across the ravaged cityscape, scraped bare by the waves, thousands of tiny, toy-box houses have sprung up in recent months as a program of rebuilding gains momentum. But many of the new houses are empty because they lack water, sanitation and electricity and because there are no schools, clinics or commercial activity nearby. Many of the people whose homes they replaced were swept away to their deaths. Old landmarks are gone, and it is bewildering to trace a remembered path through this sketch of a city. At night the heart of the ruined area is almost as dark and silent as it was before construction started. This rebuilt city of ghosts seems like a ghost town.[Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 26, 2006]

Rebuilding in Indonesia After Great Tsunami of 2004

In many parts of Aceh the rebuilding process was very slow. In Bandeh Aceh, months after the tsunami things looked pretty much as the did the day after the tsunami hit. Three and half months after the tsunami one shopkeeper in Bandeh Aceh told the New York Times, “the only thing we’ve gotten is small packets of food and supplies...Where the money is, we don’t know. It’s just meetings, meetings, meetings.”

Reporting from Banda Aceh in April 2005, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “There are no bulldozers or heavy equipment to be seen here; no one is clearing away rubble or repairing roads or bridges; wells are not being decontaminated ; power lines are not being put up; there are no sounds of hammers or saws...The only people who seem to be hard at work are the looters, who have chewed their way through the ruins like carpenter ants, and are now ripping at the guts of buildings for scarp metal to sell.”

Preparation of a blue print for rehabilitation and reconstruction was months behind schedule. When it was completed it was 12 volumes long and few people could understand it. Some people were moved into government-built wooden barracks. Many local Acehese people were nervous about moving into them because they were guarded and administered by members of the military that were also involved in fighting Aceh insurgents. Many people didn’t want to move back to their old neighborhoods out fear of ghosts of those who died and memories of lost loved ones.

Disappointment Over Tsunami Relief Effort in Aceh

Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times: “A veil of disenchantment with international aid agencies pervades, a feeling that extravagant promises backed by unprecedented donations, large and small, from the around the world have yet to materialize. To many, the $8.5 billion that humanitarian agencies, foreign governments and Indonesia say they will spend on the rebuilding of Aceh seems a mirage. In some ways, they are right. So far, the World Bank says only $1.5 billion of the $8.5 billion dedicated to the disaster has yet been disbursed. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, July 27, 2006]

“More than that, much of what has been spent has not been spent well. A scathing report issued in mid-July by experts from governments, the United Nations and international aid agencies, and endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, makes clear that the villagers are not just grumbling. Many of the hundreds of aid agencies that poured into Aceh in the aftermath of the tsunami displayed “arrogance and ignorance” and were often staffed by “incompetent workers” who came and went quickly, the report said.

“Although the billions of dollars in donations translated into a record $7,100 for each affected person — compared with $3 for each survivor of the 2004 floods in Bangladesh — the people of Aceh have not seen the fruits of the generosity, the report added. The assessment, which Mr. Clinton noted in a foreword contained “uncomfortable reading,” rapped the aid agencies for paying more attention to advertising their “brands” and releasing self-laudatory reports than accounting for their expenditures.

“The agencies performed relatively well during the first three months after the tsunami when they delivered food and water, and kept diseases at bay. Much of that success was “thanks largely to local inputs,” the report said. For the longer term reconstruction, the report said that lack of expertise by the agencies had led to “shoddy results.”

“The harsh analysis by Mr. Clinton’s evaluation group has prompted some introspection among the major aid agencies. The criticisms come as some argue here in Aceh, and in Washington, that more experienced private contractors or national armies should take on future reconstruction efforts in disaster areas. But the humanitarian agencies reject that idea, saying they bring a special dimension to the work that is implied in their very name. “I suppose we all could have given the billions raised for the effort to the Halliburtons of this world, and perhaps the job would be done by now,” said Ian Small, the director of Oxfam in Aceh. “But would that build a fairer, more accountable and equitable society where the poor are not left behind for the lack of a voice and where women are empowered to effect change, and society as a whole has built up the capacity to go forward on its own?”

Shoddy Construction Mars Some Reconstruction Efforts

Reporting from Masid in Aceh, Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times: “For a moment, the villagers in this seaside community glimpsed a vision of a splendid future: houses with shady verandas, a new elementary school and an end to the squalid barracks that had been their world since the Asian tsunami swept all before it 19 months ago. But the houses, built with untreated, rickety wood by the aid agency Save the Children, turned out to be uninhabitable — some of them were thrown together in three days and nights, the villagers said. The foundations of the school remain abandoned, overgrown with weeds. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, July 27, 2006]

“People are mad,” said Innu A. Barkar, the village head, as he walked around the empty houses, some of them relegated for use as chicken yards. “The aid workers gave promises, but they don’t turn out to be reality.” House building is in fact the main source of complaint. In some areas, clusters of new houses, their corrugated iron roofs glinting in the tropical sun, have sprouted in the barren landscape. In others, row upon row of dilapidated barracks, swollen with families squatting in tiny rooms, attest to the slow going in building new family dwellings. In all, about 25,000 houses, constructed by a wide variety of agencies, have been completed out of a projected 120,000 that are needed, according to the United Nations agency Habitat.

“There were many reasons the rebuilding has fallen short, said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, director of the Indonesian rehabilitation and reconstruction agency. Flush with donations from the public as never before, the aid agencies felt compelled to press ahead with building houses even though they lacked experience. “They said, “Let’s build,” Mr. Kuntoro explained. “They don’t talk about contracts; there are no agreements with contractors. It’s build houses, boom, boom, boom.” He said he had warned the agencies. “I kept telling them that the type of people they had, the way they managed, had to change,” he said. “It took until the end of last December to convince them to change.”

“As for the disappointments in Masjid, Save the Children said it would demolish 371 unusable houses it had built here and elsewhere, and would repair 200 others. The agency, which suspended its construction programs in order to investigate what went wrong, has ordered prefabricated houses from Canada. Starting in September, it plans to train villagers on how to assemble them, said Mike Kiernan, the group’s director of communications.Three housing inspectors have been fired from the agency for failing to do their jobs, Mr. Kiernan said. Similarly, Oxfam dismissed 10 staff members on grounds of gross misconduct after uncovering collusion between them and Indonesian contractors that resulted in shoddy houses, said Ian Small, the director of Oxfam in Aceh.

“There were other problems as well, some peculiar to Aceh. One of the big stumbling blocks, for instance, has been the supply of wood, the most common material in local housing. The province of Aceh, a great storehouse of timber with some of the most valuable forests in Indonesia, is also one of the most over-logged places in the nation. In a move to preserve the endangered forests, the Indonesian rehabilitation and reconstruction agency, which is overseeing the rebuilding, issued a ruling that basically prohibited the use of wood from Aceh.

“The scramble for enough wood for 20,000 one-room temporary houses became an enduring quest for Kevin Duignan, a building contractor from New Zealand who came to Aceh to head up the housing efforts of the International Federation of the Red Cross. To build the houses, he issued families do-it-yourself kits with tools and steel frames bought in Bangkok. But to get the wood planks for the walls, the Red Cross signed on with a British timber company, which supplied Baltic pine bought in Scandinavia.

“Concerned about potential health problems associated with the wood’s antitermite treatment, the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva took two months to approve the contract. Finally, the wood was milled in Britain, and then shipped via Singapore to Medan, the Indonesian port just south of Aceh, Mr. Duignan said. But often the journey by ship from Britain to Singapore took much longer than the three weeks it was supposed to take, and delivering the wood over Aceh’s rotten roads ate up still more time. By mid-July, just 8,900 of the planned 20,000 temporary houses that were supposed to be up months ago were finished, Mr. Duignan said.

December 2004 Tsunami Helps Bring Peace to Aceh

A year after the disaster the Boston Globe ran an editorial which read: “Hundreds of foreign relief workers, it turns out, provided more than medical care and other emergency services to Aceh province in Indonesia following the tsunami a year ago. Their presence is credited by many with encouraging peace between the Acehnese separatist movement and the government. While the tsunami did not have this effect in strife-torn Sri Lanka, in Aceh the conflict became harder to sustain before the eyes of the world. [Source: Boston Globe, December 28, 2005]

“If the peace agreement reached in recent months between the separatists and the government turns out to be enduring, it will aid in the recovery of the northwest corner of Sumatra. With an estimated 67,000 Acehnese still living in tents, reconstruction has a long way to go. It has been slowed by confusion over deeds and land rights and by the fact that miles of formerly built-up coastland of the province were simply washed away. Officials are also concerned that land immediately inland might not be safe to build on.

“By the time the tsunami hit, the conflict had gone on for three decades and taken 15,000 lives. The Acehnese separatists viewed the Indonesian government much as they had viewed Indonesia's Dutch colonialists and Japanese invaders: as outsiders seeking to exploit their province's natural resources. Aceh has substantial oil and gas reserves. Fatigue over the unresolved conflict was one factor in moving the separatists, in particular, to peace talks in Helsinki even before the tsunami struck.

“But Suffolk University professor Judy Dushku, who recently visited Aceh as part of a human rights assessment mission organized by the nonprofit organization Global Exchange, said she came to the conclusion that the peace agreement would not have been reached without the post-tsunami influx of foreign relief workers.

“In the agreement, the separatists have turned in weapons and demilitarized, seeking to become a political force. Now it will be up to the Indonesian legislature to permit former combatants to compete in provincial elections. Without such legislation and without the absorption of the separatist rebels into the province's work force, the accord might not prove longlasting. Dushku said the role of the Aceh Monitoring Mission of foreign observers will be crucial.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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