From New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/world/asia/27indo.html?_r=1&ref=world&oref=slogin Aid Groups Are Criticized Over Tsunami Reconstruction
Kemal Jufri/Imaji, for The New York Times
Brick houses built in Aceh Province by the Turkish Red Crescent Society have received the most praise.
By JANE PERLEZ
Published: July 27, 2006
MASJID, Indonesia — For a moment, the villagers in this seaside community glimpsed a vision of a splendid future: houses with shady verandas, a new elementary school and an end to the squalid barracks that had been their world since the Asian tsunami swept all before it 19 months ago.
But the houses, built with untreated, rickety wood by the aid agency Save the Children, turned out to be uninhabitable — some of them were thrown together in three days and nights, the villagers said. The foundations of the school remain abandoned, overgrown with weeds.
“People are mad,” said Innu A. Barkar, the village head, as he walked around the empty houses, some of them relegated for use as chicken yards. “The aid workers gave promises, but they don’t turn out to be reality.”
Life in Aceh, the northernmost province of Indonesia where 170,000 people perished in the December 2004 tsunami, has resumed a semblance of normality.
For the most part, children are in school, roads are being rebuilt, outdoor markets are packed with local produce, employment is not too hard to find, and even the peace accord between the national government and separatist guerrillas is sticking. Almost everyone has been moved out of muddy tents, though many families still live in dilapidated barracks.
But beneath the activity, a veil of disenchantment with international aid agencies pervades, a feeling that extravagant promises backed by unprecedented donations, large and small, from the around the world have yet to materialize.
To many, the $8.5 billion that humanitarian agencies, foreign governments and Indonesia say they will spend on the rebuilding of Aceh seems a mirage. In some ways, they are right. So far, the World Bank says only $1.5 billion of the $8.5 billion dedicated to the disaster has yet been disbursed.
More than that, much of what has been spent has not been spent well. A scathing report issued in mid-July by experts from governments, the United Nations and international aid agencies, and endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, makes clear that the villagers are not just grumbling.
Many of the hundreds of aid agencies that poured into Aceh in the aftermath of the tsunami displayed “arrogance and ignorance” and were often staffed by “incompetent workers” who came and went quickly, the report said.
Although the billions of dollars in donations translated into a record $7,100 for each affected person — compared with $3 for each survivor of the 2004 floods in Bangladesh — the people of Aceh have not seen the fruits of the generosity, the report added.
The assessment, which Mr. Clinton noted in a foreword contained “uncomfortable reading,” rapped the aid agencies for paying more attention to advertising their “brands” and releasing self-laudatory reports than accounting for their expenditures.
The agencies performed relatively well during the first three months after the tsunami when they delivered food and water, and kept diseases at bay. Much of that success was “thanks largely to local inputs,” the report said.
For the longer term reconstruction, the report said that lack of expertise by the agencies had led to “shoddy results.”
House building is in fact the main source of complaint. In some areas, clusters of new houses, their corrugated iron roofs glinting in the tropical sun, have sprouted in the barren landscape. In others, row upon row of dilapidated barracks, swollen with families squatting in tiny rooms, attest to the slow going in building new family dwellings.
In all, about 25,000 houses, constructed by a wide variety of agencies, have been completed out of a projected 120,000 that are needed, according to the United Nations agency Habitat.
There were many reasons the rebuilding has fallen short, said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, director of the Indonesian rehabilitation and reconstruction agency.
Flush with donations from the public as never before, the aid agencies felt compelled to press ahead with building houses even though they lacked experience.
“They said, ‘Let’s build,’ ” Mr. Kuntoro explained. “They don’t talk about contracts; there are no agreements with contractors. It’s build houses, boom, boom, boom.”
He said he had warned the agencies. “I kept telling them that the type of people they had, the way they managed, had to change,” he said. “It took until the end of last December to convince them to change.”
As for the disappointments in Masjid, Save the Children said it would demolish 371 unusable houses it had built here and elsewhere, and would repair 200 others.
The agency, which suspended its construction programs in order to investigate what went wrong, has ordered prefabricated houses from Canada. Starting in September, it plans to train villagers on how to assemble them, said Mike Kiernan, the group’s director of communications.
Masjid residents said the houses built for them were uninhabitable.
Three housing inspectors have been fired from the agency for failing to do their jobs, Mr. Kiernan said.
Similarly, Oxfam dismissed 10 staff members on grounds of gross misconduct after uncovering collusion between them and Indonesian contractors that resulted in shoddy houses, said Ian Small, the director of Oxfam in Aceh.
There were other problems as well, some peculiar to Aceh. One of the big stumbling blocks, for instance, has been the supply of wood, the most common material in local housing.
The province of Aceh, a great storehouse of timber with some of the most valuable forests in Indonesia, is also one of the most over-logged places in the nation. In a move to preserve the endangered forests, the Indonesian rehabilitation and reconstruction agency, which is overseeing the rebuilding, issued a ruling that basically
prohibited the use of wood from Aceh.
The scramble for enough wood for 20,000 one-room temporary houses became an enduring quest for Kevin Duignan, a building contractor from New Zealand who came to Aceh to head up the housing efforts of the International Federation of the Red Cross.
To build the houses, he issued families do-it-yourself kits with tools and steel frames bought in Bangkok. But to get the wood planks for the walls, the Red Cross signed on with a British timber company, which supplied Baltic pine bought in Scandinavia.
Concerned about potential health problems associated with the wood’s antitermite treatment, the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva took two months to approve the contract.
Finally, the wood was milled in Britain, and then shipped via Singapore to Medan, the Indonesian port just south of Aceh, Mr. Duignan said.
But often the journey by ship from Britain to Singapore took much longer than the three weeks it was supposed to take, and delivering the wood over Aceh’s rotten roads ate up still more time.
By mid-July, just 8,900 of the planned 20,000 temporary houses that were supposed to be up months ago were finished, Mr. Duignan said.
One of the occupants of the tiny new homes, Cut Darnita, decorated her interior with vases of fabric roses and orchids, a cheery red rug and a coffee table draped with a white linen cloth. The five-member family lay down mats on the floor to sleep at night.
“It’s small but nice,” she said of the room, about 226 square feet. When would she get a permanent home? Ms. Darnita shrugged.
Not all the news is bad. Work on a highway down the devastated west coast of the province, financed by the United States government, is under way, and a new port has opened in Meulaboh, the seaside town that was smashed to smithereens.
Of the lucky ones with a roof over their heads, those with houses built by the Turkish Red Crescent Society are the most pleased.
“They’ve given us good quality,” said Khairuman, 45, a building laborer, and his wife, Suginah, 43, as they showed off their blue-tiled bathroom replete with bath and shower in the beachside community of Lampuuk. Like many Indonesians, they use one name.
The Red Crescent Society paid $10,000 for each brick house, about double the cost of houses built by other agencies. And it sent a team of engineers with experience from the 1999 earthquake in Turkey.
“The people of Aceh suffered; they need to stay in good houses,” said an engineer, Ali Pekoz. From the sunproof window glass to imported hinges on the doors, the Turks chose the best fittings, he said.
The harsh analysis by Mr. Clinton’s evaluation group has prompted some introspection among the major aid agencies. The criticisms come as some argue here in Aceh, and in Washington, that more experienced private contractors or national armies should take on future reconstruction efforts in disaster areas.
But the humanitarian agencies reject that idea, saying they bring a special dimension to the work that is implied in their very name.
“I suppose we all could have given the billions raised for the effort to the Halliburtons of this world, and perhaps the job would be done by now,” Mr. Small of Oxfam said in a recent speech. “But would that build a fairer, more accountable and equitable society where the poor are not left behind for the lack of a voice and where women are empowered to effect change, and society as a whole has built up the capacity to go forward on its own?”