Acehnese want to go home and rebuild lives

  • ASEAN+
  • Tuesday, 08 Feb 2005

BANDA ACEH: Tired of living off handouts in a crowded camp, Muklis returned to his tsunami-devastated neighbourhood and began scavenging for scrap wood, corrugated iron and nails. Within three weeks, he and his brothers had transformed the items into a four-bedroom house. 

The ramshackle dwelling, which has neither plumbing nor electricity, sits on stilts above a river amid the debris left by the giant waves. The furniture, along with several paintings awaiting hanging, were all salvaged from the ruins. The 27-year-old fisherman plans to sell coffee and cigarettes from a verandah facing the street, hoping to earn enough to feed his family. 

“We couldn't remain refugees forever,” said Muklis, after pounding the last few nails into the floor. “You could wait for years for the government to help around here.” 

Muklis' house and the other semi-permanent shacks rising from the ruins in the Indonesian province of Aceh are a testament to the will of its residents to rebuild. 

They also reflect the overwhelming desire of the more than 400,000 people left homeless by the disaster to return home quickly. Helping the survivors do that is now the biggest challenge facing the government and foreign aid agencies in the region. 

Indonesia's record of handling people displaced by natural disasters or armed clashes in other corners of the sprawling archipelago is poor. Thousands of refugees from sectarian conflicts and natural disasters still languish in camps or derelict buildings years after they were driven from their homes. Reconstruction funds are often siphoned off by corrupt officials. 

Rehousing the refugees in Aceh will be especially complicated due to the scale of the disaster. In many instances, there is nothing left of the towns and villages the survivors once called home. Most survivors have lost their land titles, meaning that establishing proper ownership could take years. 

Still, the speed at which people are returning to rebuild their villages has amazed aid organisations. 

“They are three steps ahead of any of us,” said Daniel Curran, deputy director of the US-based Mercy Corps, which is planning to give materials and create jobs for those rebuilding their homes.  

Those working in Muklis' ravaged neighbourhood say what they need most is cash or work, and they are angry at what they claim is small-scale corruption by local officials distributing rice and noodles to survivors.  

“It has been 50 days and we have not yet received one cent,'' said Darwis Newin, who was helping his old neighbour build a house on the foundations of a destroyed garage. “The well-fed stay well fed, and the hungry stay hungry. It never changes.” – AP  

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