Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Aceh fishermen to rebuild houses, refuse resettlement

Nani Afrida The Jakarta Post/Banda Aceh

Hundreds of people from 14 villages in Aceh Besar regency and Banda Aceh municipality gathered in Lam Isiek village here on Tuesday to pledge to rebuild their homes, which were destroyed by the tsunami.

The villagers, who have formed a joint team (udeep beusare), said they would not live in government camps for internally displaced people but seek assistance from other parties.

"The team will collect aid and coordinate the reconstruction project," Addil, a representative of Kampung Pie hamlet said.

Wardah Hafidz of the Urban Poor Linkage (Uplink), which has offered survivors advice and support, said the villagers, who are mostly fishermen, cannot be relocated far from the sea.

"We will rebuild their houses, bridges and other infrastructure using funds from donors. They are determined to return to their villages as the government is not ready with its blueprint for the reconstruction of Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar. They cannot wait," she said.

The villages were inhabited by 30,000 people before the disaster, but only around 10 percent of their joint population survived.

A village head, Zulkifli, said rebuilding the villages was a better solution than staying in shelters.

"We are hard workers. We can't live in shelters. If the government wishes to help us, please give us boats," he said.

Earlier, acting Aceh governor Azwar Abubakar said that as many tsunami survivors preferred to rebuild their homes the construction of some shelters would be suspended until further notice.

"We made this decision after learning that many residents, particularly fishermen, wish to return to their villages," Azwar said.

The provincial government has been building 400 temporary shelters for around 56,000 people, only to find that few are willing to stay there. The construction of 200 more shelters will follow.

"Because many shelters remain uninhabited. we have no choice but to ask the public works agency to suspend the construction of some other shelters, otherwise it will be a waste of money," Azwar said.

The acting governor admitted that limited water supply, electricity and poor sanitary facilities, including lavatories, were other reasons why the displaced people were not keen to move into the shelters.

"We are not going to prevent them from returning to their villages. But they will not receive our assistance until we complete the construction project," he said.

A shelter has 12 bedrooms and costs Rp 200 million (US$21,500) to build. Five shelters are located within a block, which is equipped with 20 lavatories, five public kitchens and a multi- purpose hall.

The size of each shelter varies from between 36 square meters and 54 square meters. They are made of plywood with a zinc roof and are expected to last for two years.

The public works agency has denied allegations of corruption in the project.

"There was no mark up. The shelters are expensive to build as we have to bring in materials and workers from outside Aceh," Totok Pri, a public works ministry official, said.

Earlier, the Peaceful Aceh Sans Corruption (ADIK) corruption watch criticized the government for not revealing the source of funds for the shelters. It said the project was prone to corruption as the government could use foreign aid but claim the project was funded by the state budget.

ADIK activists have also reported cracks in the foundations of some shelters, which could mean that an insufficient proportion of cement was used.