Monday, May 09, 2005

Tsunami Aid Yet to Reach Hardest-Hit

The terrible death toll from last December's Indian Ocean tsunami provoked an outpouring of compassion from the developed world. Billions of dollars were pledged by governments, aid organizations and private individuals worldwide to help the people of affect region recover from the tragedy and rebuild their lives. Predictably, however, in the hardest hit area, most of the aid has yet to reach the victims of the tsunami's destruction.
The Indonesian official co-ordinating the recovery of tsunami-hit Aceh has said reconstruction there has hardly begun, five months after the disaster.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said he was shocked at how little had been done for almost 600,000 survivors who lost their homes on 26 December 2004.

He said Indonesia had been too slow to set up the agency he heads, and that $5bn in aid had not yet been dispersed.

Mr Mangkusubroto said bureaucracy might delay the money for four more months.

The progress of reconstruction efforts in Aceh are underwhelming at best. Who's to blame? Not surprisingly, both the international governments dispensing the aid and the Indonesian government receiving it.

"Roads? There are no roads being built. Bridges? There are no bridges being built. Harbours? There are no harbours being built," [Mr Mangkusubroto] said.

He said part of the problem was that foreign governments were waiting for his agency to be up and running before handing out the billions of dollars they had pledged.

Defenders of the aid effort say they are doing their best in the face of overwhelming suffering. They say they need to move with deliberation to avoid misdirected or duplicated assistance.

The BBC's Tim Johnston in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, says Mr Mangkusubroto's comments echo the increasing frustration of many Acehnese at what they feel is the relatively slow pace of reconstruction.

More than 165,00 people died or are assumed dead in Aceh, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. A further 600,000 were left homeless.

In total, some $10bn has been pledged for relief and reconstruction for the countries around the Indian Ocean, and the bulk of that money is expected to go to Indonesia, the hardest-hit country.

Complicating the reconstruction of Aceh is an separatist insurgency that aims to break Aceh way from the rest of Indonesia. The conflict between the insurgents and the Indonesian government has been simmering for some years with occasional bloody outbreaks. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, Jakarta was hesitant to permit foreign aid workers to enter Aceh, claiming it couldn't guarantee their safety because of the insurgency, though more likely afraid the international press would get a good idea of what's been going on it Aceh. The insurgency against the national government is likely a major part of the reason for the extremely slow pace of reconstruction. Jakarta may simply have little sympathy for the residents of a rebellious province.

"There is no sense of urgency," [Mr Mangkusubroto] said.

Mr Mangkusubroto, who has just visited Aceh, said the situation there was "shocking".

"There is not enough food for the kids... at least there should be some food."

He said the key to the problem was co-ordination, and he promised to provide the needed direction.

And he pledged to take a tough stand towards anyone in his agency found misusing funds, saying they would be subject to double penalties under Indonesian law, including prison terms.


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