BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in Indonesia by last December's tsunami will be moved to semi-permanent or permanent houses in two years, the United Nations said on Saturday.
Bo Asplund, the U.N. resident coordinator in Indonesia, said the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR had returned to Indonesia's tsunami-hit areas to help rebuild houses for the 500,000 people left homeless in the country.
"My best estimate here is that within two years the very large majority of people will be either in semi-permanent or permanent houses," Asplund told reporters at a ceremony in Banda Aceh marking six months since the disaster.
The earthquake-triggered waves hit 13 Indian Ocean nations on Dec. 26, devastating Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island, where nearly 170,000 were left dead or missing. Many of the half million homeless still live in tents.
"Many people are impatient -- especially those in tents," said Asplund. "Reconstruction of all houses needs to be done as soon as possible, I think UNHCR has a great deal of competence in providing shelters."
The UNHCR left tsunami-hit areas in Indonesia in March at the end of the emergency phase.
Asplund said the government was facing a complex task in sorting out land titles before going ahead with reconstruction in many areas, adding only 25 percent of land in Aceh was titled before the tsunami struck.
Eddy Purwanto, the Aceh Reconstruction Agency's official overseeing the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure, told Reuters UNHCR had started its housing project this week but it was unclear how many houses the agency was committed to build.
Asplund compared the speed of reconstruction in Indonesia with rebuilding in other countries hit by disasters such as Armenia, where many people were still living in temporary shelters after being hit by massive earthquake in 1988.
"I'm convinced that it will be much, much, much, faster here," he said.
During the ceremony, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who heads the Aceh Reconstruction Agency, said $2.8 billion was ready to be spent for the reconstruction, out of which $1.9 had come from the private sector and international donors.
"Things are happening on the ground and progress has been made, houses are going up around Aceh and people are taking actions," Kuntoro said outside Baiturrahim mosque, the only standing building in the ruined coastal suburb of Ulee Lheue.
"We don't believe we have a choice for the event (tsunami) but for sure we do have a choice about how to respond."
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