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Billions pledged as aid, but Aceh still frustrated

A year after the tsunami laid waste to Aceh, people still live in a vast archipelago of shanty towns made of scrap wood.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2005 08:50 IST

A year after the tsunami laid waste to Aceh, tens of thousands of people still live in a vast archipelago of shanty towns made of scrap wood spit back by the sea.

Along the coast of the Indonesian province, little remains of villagers but swampland and ankle-high rubble. In hurriedly built plywood barracks, survivors are jammed together in windowless rooms.

Billions of dollars were pledged to help the survivors of the tsunami, which left at least 2,16,000 people dead or missing and displaced more than two million more. But many people remain desperately frustrated.

"We know a lot of money is going to Aceh, but where is it? Where are the buildings? Where is the construction?" demanded Zoelfitri, a 32-year-old man who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. He lives in a homemade shanty on the fringes of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, and cares for nearly a dozen relatives who lost parents, children and siblings in the tsunami.

But to see only the destruction is to miss what else has come to Aceh since the disaster: the villages slowly rebuilding with workers' help; the miles of new sewage pipes and hospital emergency rooms.

One year later, Aceh is testament both to the successes and the failures that can come from billions of dollars in aid money.

Aceh suffered most from the killer waves spawned by the massive undersea earthquake last December 26. Eleven other Indian Ocean rim countries were hit - Sri Lanka, India and Thailand suffered thousands of deaths.

Within hours of the waves striking shore, as the world watched on TV, the international aid community began one of the biggest emergency assistance programmes in history.

Indonesia estimated it needed at $5 billion and received pledges totalling $6.5 billion. Nearly $4.5 billion has been collected, according to the UN.

Where has the money gone?

By the end of the year, the World Food Programme estimates it will have spent more than $125 million in Aceh, including nearly $20 million on helicopters and airplanes that have ferried 40,000 passengers and 1,000 tons of cargo and $26 million on 72,000 tonnes of food aid.

Billions, though, remain unspent, now earmarked for the years of work ahead.

Save The Children, for instance, still has nearly two-thirds of its $157 million budget for Indonesia, now planned for use through 2009.

The tasks remaining are immense: rebuilding the road on the battered western coast; building tens of thousands of homes; digging pipe networks to bring clean water.

Aid officials insist reconstruction must be viewed in the long-term, despite pressure to get things done faster.

"We don't want the situation where the pressure to spend money makes us do things so quickly," said John Sparrow, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

First Published: Dec 26, 2005 08:50 IST