Tsunami survivors long for home

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 06 Nov 2005

IN a little shack they built on a rubble-strewn field where the tsunami travelled the farthest inland, a group of teenaged boys orphaned in the disaster have made themselves a family. 

They have been cooking and caring for each other, playing football and singing sad songs at night since the Dec 26 tsunami wiped out much of the fishing village of Lampuuk in the Indonesian province of Aceh. 

“We are our own family now,” said Nasrullah, 18, one of five boys between the ages of 15 and 20 who share the shack, no bigger than a walk-in closet. 

The boys are among 67,500 tsunami survivors still living in improvised camps more than 10 months after a 9.15 earthquake and the tsunami it spawned left more than 170,000 dead or missing in northern Sumatra. 

Another 75,000 are living in Indonesian government-built barracks and nearly 300,000 are staying with friends and relatives - sometimes shifting in and out of barracks and camps when their welcome with a host family wears out. 

United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said sheltering the survivors was moving too slowly. 

Aid organisations had “quite a lot of money” to use, he said during a visit to Aceh last month. 

More than US$12bil (RM45.31bil) has been raised in public and private donations across the world, making the tsunami the most funded disaster in history. 

“It's clear that we must move much quicker now to put people away from the tents and into permanent houses.” 

With permanent homes for many likely to be years away, the UN Recovery Coordinator in Aceh has ordered 15,000 to 20,000 prefabricated shelters with a minimum durability of four years. 

Home rebuilding has been slow all around the tsunami region, where more than a million people remain displaced. 

Confusion about land titles, debates about location and home designs, unclear policies, soaring land prices – and the unwillingness of many agencies to coordinate – have delayed work, the United Nations said in a recent report about Aceh. 

The few homes that have been completed have often been built by religious-based aid groups. 

The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has started building 3,700 permanent houses in Aceh at an estimated cost of US$27mil (RM101.9mil). 

The religious groups, deploying their own volunteers and bringing in building materials, have been quicker because they tend to do small projects and bypass bureaucracy. 

The delays by aid agencies in delivering on their promises to build homes have angered Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of Indonesia's reconstruction agency. 

“People say we're slow. Well, in the whole of Indonesia there are 16,500 new houses built a year. We're building 22,000 in Aceh. But compared with the hundreds of thousands that are needed, yes, it's a challenge,” he said in an interview. 

“NGO's that don't perform will be sanctioned. They'll be asked to leave,” Mangkusubroto added. 

In Lampuuk, the tsunami travelled some 7km before it smacked into steep hillsides that still show wave marks 10m high. 

Four out of five people died in the village, which had a population of 6,500.  

The sole building left standing was a two-storey mosque, visible for miles. 

The only other permanent structure is a US$10,500 (RM39,646) model home for tsunami survivors built by the Turkish Relief Agency that would not look out of place in a well-off Istanbul neighbourhood. 

But no other homes like it are under construction in the village. And while it stands just across a field of rubble from the boys' shack, there's little chance they will find similar shelter. 

“Sometimes we talk about our families, the ones we lost,” said 15-year-old Joel Akbar. 

“It's a relief to share with the others because I don't have friends to talk about it at school.” – Reuters  

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