- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Aid to tsunami victims in Indonesia is being stifled by government bureaucracy, with many survivors still living in makeshift tents on a diet of instant noodles nearly 10 months after their lives were shattered.

To make matters worse, the tents are expected to rot and fall apart with the looming onset of the rainy season.

Moreover, the destitution persists, despite billions of dollars in aid and nearly $1 billion from the U.S. government alone since the December tsunami that caused at least 130,000 deaths in Indonesia alone.

Hundreds of angry students marched through Banda Aceh this week demanding the Indonesian government dissolve the special Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR) set up by Jakarta authorities in April to deal with reconstruction.

The students charged that the homeless are spending a miserable time during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which families traditionally spend generously on meat and delicacies for meals eaten after sunset to compensate for fasting during the day.

The BRR has “failed to fulfill the legitimate expectations of tsunami survivors,” protest leaders said.

Andrew Steer, the World Bank country director for Indonesia, acknowledged that “in the early stages” reconstruction in Aceh province and the island of Nias had been sluggish.

The region was rocked by a severe earthquake in March, killing hundreds in addition to the deaths caused by the tsunami.

Mr. Steer told reporters that the government’s insistence on setting up the special agency to deal with reconstruction and to implement “bottom-up, community-based policies,” prevented speedy rebuilding of people’s lives and homes.

“These two things have made the reconstruction process slow in the initial stages,” he said. The BRR since has sped up the process to make it more effective, he said.

Banda Aceh Mayor Mawardy Nurdin criticized the BRR for not moving people out of tents quickly enough, saying that the canvas tents are likely to fall apart during the upcoming rainy season.

BBR Director Kuntoro Mangkusubroto defended the agency’s performance.

The agency has finished building 10,000 houses and 22,000 other homes are near completion, he told the English-language Jakarta Post newspaper.

The Tsunami left a half-million Indonesians homeless.

The BRR aims to have cleared tsunami debris from some 90 percent of fish ponds and rice fields across Aceh province by the end of the year, so as to allow farmers to resume working.

It has set itself a target of building 70,000 houses as well as repairing roads, bridges, harbors, schools and clinics.

However, some Aceh survivors think that authorities in Jakarta deliberately are delaying aid for political reasons.

The resource-rich province has long been the scene of an armed insurgency by separatist Muslim rebels who fought to create a breakaway state until a peace agreement was concluded in August.

The rebels argued that Aceh was not part of the Dutch colony of Indonesia when the country obtained independence from Holland after World War II and therefore owes no loyalty to Jakarta, which effectively annexed it.

They charge that massive profits from Aceh’s offshore oil and natural gas fields were siphoned to corrupt politicians in the capital and invested in the flashy skyscrapers that have sprouted out of Jakarta’s dirt-poor slums.

Aceh’s local government further alienated some ministers in Jakarta by adopting Shariah law, under which those who flout Koranic teaching are flogged in public.

Whatever the cause, thousands of impoverished fishermen and farmers and their families or what is left of them are bracing for the rainy season in leaky Indonesian army tents or corrugated metal shacks provided by private charities.

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