Two Years After Tsunami Thousands Live in Barracks

LONDON, UK, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - At least 25,000 poor and landless families in Aceh, Indonesia have yet to be re-housed nearly two years after the Indian Ocean tsunami swept their homes away and destroyed their land, the international aid agency Oxfam said Thursday in new report on the progress of recovery from the disaster.

Aceh, the northern province of the island of Sumatra, was the region worst affected by the tsunami of December 26, 2004. Some 169,000 people were killed, 600,000 were left homeless and 141,000 houses destroyed.

On Thursday, Oxfam issued a new report, "The Tsunami Two Years On: Land Rights in Aceh," and urged the Indonesian government to find a fair and just way of re-housing the landless.


The tsunami destroyed much of the city of Banda Aceh. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
"Aceh has made enormous strides towards recovering from the tsunami," said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International. "But two years after the tsunami struck, the poorest Acehnese - squatters, renters and women - are still facing a crisis over when and where they will be resettled."

There are 70,000 people living in around 150 barracks across Aceh - temporary buildings where "many families live in cramped, often unhygienic conditions," Oxfam says.

The Indonesian government aims to title 600,000 plots of land through the Reconstruction of Aceh’s Land Administration System, RALAS. But by mid-2006 RALAS had only issued 2,608 land certificates.

Aceh is the largest reconstruction project in the developing world. The government has said it intends to build 128,000 houses for displaced people, but up to November, only 48,000 houses had been built in Aceh.

"The lack of a clear policy for landless people has led to a huge amount of uncertainty and delay," said Hobbs. "There’s a risk these people will end up in the slums of the future, despite the huge amounts generously given after the tsunami."


People living in the government-built barracks get one room per family and access to water, cooking areas and sanitation. This family started a shop on the walkway in front of their room. (Photo courtesy UNDP)
The barracks are filled with poorer Acehnese who before the tsunami had rented their homes, or squatted on state-owned or private land.

Now, says Oxfam, there are 15,000 households of renters and squatters who need do not qualify for any new land or housing but are being given a cash grant. Oxfam fears that given the slow pace of reconstruction their money will be eaten up by Aceh’s high inflation before a new house is ready for them.

Around 10,000 households that owned property before the tsunami now need resettling because their land became submerged or was ruined.

But many land ownership documents were destroyed by the enormous wave of water following an earthquake off the Sumatran coast.

Documents that still exist are ruined. Oxfam says 15 metric tons of documents have been shipped to Jakarta to be restored.

Many land holdings along the coast were marked out by trees and paths, but the wave wiped out these boundary markers. In other areas, land sank into the sea or was washed away.


Aceh mother holds her child at their home in the barracks. (Photo courtesy Foundation for Mother and Child Health)
"Rebuilding homes without knowing who owns the land could create problems in the future," said Hobbs. "But this can be a desperately difficult and slow process. Oxfam has been working with tens of villages in Aceh to help people decide how to reallocate land so everyone has somewhere to live."

The Indonesian government has bought 700 hectares of land for them but progress is slow – only 700 houses have been built and occupied.

The tsunami had a more positive effect on the political and military situation in Aceh. On December 11, Aceh voters go to the polls in the first direct elections for governor and district chiefs in the once rebellious province.

During 30 years of conflict, some 15,000 people died and many villagers lived in constant fear.

Natural resources were one root of the conflict. Aceh has substantial oil and gas resources - some estimates put Aceh gas reserves as the largest in the world. In 1976, oil and gas revenues accounted for less than 17 percent of the province’s gross domestic product; by 1989, oil and gas accounted for 69.5 percent.

Aceh rebels, resentful over the distribution of resource revenues, fought the central government for control.

The tsunami prompted the rebels and the government to sign a peace agreement in 2005 that ended three decades of conflict and paved the way for the December 11 elections.