Aceh family on their feet again but yearn for a home

  • World
  • Friday, 24 Jun 2005

By Tomi Soetjipto

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - One day she hopes to be a businesswoman again, but for now Salawati picks up garbage soaked in mud and dreams of what all tsunami survivors cherish the most -- a home. 

Ignoring the putrid smell, Salawati, 37, dumped the rubbish into a pushcart before wheeling it to a waiting truck. 

"It's okay. I like being here. Before this, I was just getting stressed," said Salawati, speaking in Merduati, a coastal suburb of the tsunami-hit Indonesian city of Banda Aceh. 

Earning $4 a day, Salawati and other survivors clean up roads still filled with debris left by the giant waves as part of cash-for-work scheme sponsored by foreign aid groups. 

Salawati's face lit up when she talked about her dream to open up her own business again. 

Before the tsunami destroyed her house and killed two of her three children, she ran a food business that employed 18 people. Her speciality was "abon ikan", a local delicacy made from dried fish and coconut. 

Reuters has been following the fate of Salawati, her husband and their surviving son since the Dec. 26 tsunami smashed into the province of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island. 

The brutal waves left 168,000 people dead or missing. More than 500,000 lost their homes and now live in military style barracks, tents or with other family members. 

Salawati and her family live in a relative's house. 

"When I have a home, then I can do other things like open up the abon ikan business," said Salawati, her painted nails matted with black dirt and mud. 

She said she had not heard of the government's plan to compensate survivors for their destroyed homes. In all, some 120,000 homes are supposed to be rebuilt in the coming years. 


Eddy Purwanto, the Aceh Reconstruction Agency official overseeing the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure, said while there had been delays, rushing through plans would cause problems. 

"We need to re-arrange space, especially in high-risk areas. We need to include plans so there is protection for residents such as walls and escape routes," Purwanto said. 

Scientists have warned the Indian Ocean fault line that spawned the Dec. 26 quake is still quivering with activity and could trigger more big quakes and tsunamis. 

Purwanto said sorting out land titles was difficult but necessary to avoid social conflicts, and some areas remain inundated by seawater with no visible landmarks. 

But the main problem was that 8.25 trillion rupiah ($850 million) in government money had not been disbursed, he said. Parliament only approved the funding last week. 

The agency also acknowledged survivors are confused about what they were entitled to. 

The sheer scale of the disaster has overwhelmed the capacity of local governments to handle the rebuilding tasks, while the huge number of aid groups, big and small, has made coordinated planning difficult. 

In Banda Aceh's Cot Lamkueh suburb, a local aid group promised more than 200 permanent homes to survivors living in tents not far from the ocean. The aid group has delayed the plan because it was unsure about the future status of the area. 

"We are the victims but we are being pulled one way and then the other because the government and the aid group are not on the same page," said community leader Fahrul Razi, 36. 

But at a barracks in the destroyed town of Leupung, 40 km (25 miles) south of Banda Aceh, men and women are taking matters into their own hands. Using chainsaws and machetes, they have cleared 10 hectares (25 acres) of clove plantations to build permanent homes. 

Community leader Zainuddin, 37, said World Vision and USAID have jointly offered to finance the building of more than 200 houses. The project should kick off within a month. 

"We're also planning to build a junior high school and a mosque here. For me, it will be a new life," said Zainuddin, a former truck driver who lost his wife and two children. 

Back in Merduati, Salawati and her family appear optimistic. 

Her husband Nurdin is ready to begin operating his becak taxi -- a motorcycle with a sidecar attached -- to supplement his income as a civil servant. 

"I still like to come here, searching for hidden treasure," said Nurdin, standing by the cement foundation that is all that remains of the family's ruined house, as his seven-year-old son hugged him from behind. 

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