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Aceh moving slowly forward

  • 14 May 2006

The earth shook, the sea swelled and lives were destroyed—tens of thousands of them. The media arrived even before the emergency services. The emergency services did a good job because, contrary to early fears, no major diseases took hold. The media also did a good job because the story got out and the aid poured in—billions of dollars’ worth—from distant communities, from NGOs and from governments.

Along with the aid dollars, hundreds of personnel arrived—sanitation experts, construction engineers, risk assessors, communications consultants, community workers, counsellors and aid advisers.

Mountains of debris were bulldozed into landfill. Bodies were recovered and buried, temporary shelters mushroomed and the bewildered survivors did—and are still doing—what survivors everywhere do: they struggle to rebuild their lives.

So where is it all at now, nearly 18 months down the track? According to Banda Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (BRR), only 20,000 houses out of a required 120,000 have been built. Most of the survivors are still living in temporary accommodation. This has been the focus of much criticism. Why haven’t more people been relocated into permanent rather than temporary housing?

Allegations of corruption don’t help, and the fact that one leading aid agency has recently suspended operations pending an inquiry into missing funds does little to enhance faith in the reconstruction process.

But red tape and corruption aside, there is a very credible reason why permanent housing is taking so long. The fact is that the land needs to be remapped. The devastation altered the topography and destroyed the landmarks along with many of the land records. Because so many people perished, so too did much of the memory of the land. Survivors have difficulty stating exactly where their houses were, and nobody wants to rebuild on land that may be contested later on.

Land-mapping can be painstakingly slow. It certainly isn’t a sexy media story, yet it is essential to the reconstruction process and it does explain, in part, why things take so long.

 ‘The community land mapping project provides details of where the village house sites are,’ said Nick Mawdsley, governance adviser to the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Rehabilitation and Development (AIPRD). ‘This means that survivors can rebuild knowing that their location will not be in dispute. It also means that the Indonesian National Land Agency can then issue a certificate of ownership to each mapped household.’

So far about 23,000 parcels of land have been mapped in