U.S. to Build Roads, Bridges, Schools in Tsunami Region

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. coordinators for tsunami recovery said today that the United States is prepared to begin rebuilding roads, bridges and schools in Indonesia and Sri Lanka as part of a four pronged reconstruction plan worth a total of $901 million. The funds have now been released by the White House Office of Management and Budget, although more than a third of the total has already been spent and must be reimbursed.

Andrew Natsios, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told reporters in Washington today that of the $901 million, the Department of Defense will reimbursed $245 million for funds spent during its relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the December 26, 2004 disaster.

The remaining $656 is the civilian money, Natsios said, and of that, $131 million has already been expended on relief and rehabilitation.

The final remainder of $525 million in federal funds has yet to be spent, but will now go for USAID programs in four major areas.

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USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios briefs the media. (Photo courtesy U.S. State Department)
Natsios said the four elements of the program are: large-scale infrastructure; vocational education and training; economic growth and jobs; and finally, transparency, accountability and capacity building.

The United States will be helping to rebuild the Banda Aceh Meulaboh Road in Indonesia, which is a 240 kilometer (149 mile) road project. "I think there's 110, 120 bridges on that road, so this is a large infrastructure project," Natsios said.

"It was severely damaged during the tsunami and the earthquake," he said. "People think there was just a tsunami. There was an earthquake that caused the tsunami and that did damage to the infrastructure in the interior of the island beyond just what damage the tsunami itself did."

Originally close to the water, the road will be rerouted farther inland, so that it will be safe from future disasters, and Natsios said road construction is on a fast track.

"There's going to be a quick-start element to the road reconstruction that will be done very rapidly to open up 80 kilometers of this 240 kilometer highway that needs to be reconstructed," he said. "The groundbreaking for the quick-start repairs on this road will be by the third week in August."

The United States is also doing a large reconstruction project in Sri Lanka, repairing the damaged bridge across the mouth of Arugam Bay.

In the vocational training and education part of the program, schools will be constructed or rebuilt and teachers will be trained, Natsios said. "A thousand teachers were killed by the tsunami in Banda Aceh and so there is a huge gap in terms of what's needed in the schools to bring the schools up to what they were before," he said.

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A village resident contemplates the destruction left by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami which struck without warning December 26, 2004. (Photo by Lt. Commander Thomas Pryor courtesy U.S. Surgeon General)
USAID is working with the Indonesian Ministry of Education to build two new state-of-the-art vocational schools and repair eight severely damaged vocational schools. More workers will be trained in the construction trades, as more construction workers are needed in the reconstruction effort.

The fisheries industry and the tourism industry will be strengthened as part of the economic growth and jobs program," Natsios said, and women in particular will have access to funds.

"We started a micro-enterprise program to do micro-lending to smaller enterprises and to individuals, many of whom are women, so that they have some way of supporting themselves," Natsios said. "We will be working in vocational training for women in particular. We've been doing cash-for-work programs where we're trying to get money into the economy by providing day labor to people."

"We have also begun what are called vouchers and credit programs for firms trying to replace assets that were damaged during the tsunami or destroyed during the tsunami," he said.

The Peace Corps will use former volunteers mobilized through the Crisis Corps to assist in reestablishing fisheries and business in Thailand and supporting reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka.

The capacity building part of the program Natsios called "a huge undertaking." Billions of dollars are going to be spent in countries that may not have the systems in place to manage that amount of money in a reconstruction program of this complexity.

"We're working to ensure that systems are in place through the ministries to protect accountability and transparency," he said. "For example, in Aceh we are launching a $15 million technical assistance recovery project to support government agencies in the reconstruction effort."

As an example, Natsios explained that the USAID will pay a technical expert on audits from the General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress, to live in the area and advise the Indonesian government on tsunami audits.

USAID is also working with local governments to establish an online portal for tracking and information sharing to ensure transparency.

Ambassador Doug Hartwick, the senior coordinator for the U.S. Tsunami Reconstruction Task Force, told reporters that people in the tsunami affected countries are beginning to recover from the tragedy that claimed more than 250,000 lives in 11 Indian Ocean countries.

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Ambassador Doug Hartwick is senior coordinator of the State Department's Tsunami Reconstruction Task Force. (Photo courtesy U.S. State Department)
"Having twice visited the tsunami-affected countries, I can testify to the magnitude of the destruction and devastation that impacted families, communities, livelihoods and economies," Hartwick said.

"While certainly much remains to be done, I can say that the shock and numbness has passed and people are actively working to rebuild. Their resilience is evident when you visit now. I can see an energy and a glimmer in the eyes of people that were not there the first time we visited."

Hartwick said $16.6 million of the total would be devoted to building tsunami early warning and disaster response capability in the region. He also noted that Americans contributed $1.3 billion through private entities and nongovernmental organizations.

Hartwick said the Bush administration is "impressed" by how the affected countries have coped with the tragedy. "The affected governments and communities have undertaken complicated assessments and completed ambitious plans to rebuild," he said.

"The hard reconstruction lies ahead, not behind us," said Hartwick. "If you had a chance to visit Aceh or the affected coastlands of Sri Lanka, India or Thailand, you'll realize just what an enormous challenge is posed for these countries ill-equipped to deal with the tragedy of this scale."

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In Sri Lanka, families who have lost everything in the tsunami are dependent on relief distributions for essential supplies such as food, clean water, shelter and medical supplies. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
"And we, the international community, must follow the leads of the governments and local communities themselves as they rebuild."

Former United States President Bill Clinton, the special UN envoy for tsunami relief said Wednesday, "For a period of time everyone focused on saving lives without regard to nationality, politics or anything else. But while the immediate relief effort was unprecedented in its scope, we cannot underestimate the job that remains."

As the operation moves from life-saving relief to long-term recovery, Clinton said an action plan is needed to ensure that all actors UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, donors, affected governments and the private sector agree on who is going to do what, when and where.

As a matter of urgency, Clinton said that local institutions need to be strengthened, livelihoods need to be restored and the displaced need to be moved from tents to adequate transitional shelters. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to protect the most vulnerable, including women and children, as decisions about long-term priorities are made.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that strong coordination between governments, donors and aid organizations is essential to ensure that the unprecedented resources committed to the recovery effort are directed appropriately and help build back better livelihoods for those hardest hit by the disaster.

"Inappropriate and uncoordinated assistance will do more harm than good," said Richard China, who coordinates FAO's rehabilitation activities from the organization's headquarters in Rome.

"FAO is working with ministries and local authorities to help build consensus among nongovernmental organizations on what should be done where by whom and how, including providing technical specifications, to avoid duplication and fragmentation of activities and unsustainable practices," he said.

To date, FAO has $53 million of approved funding for its tsunami response and has deployed more than 70 international and regional experts to help affected countries with needs assessments, coordination, planning and delivery of early recovery and longer term reconstruction assistance.