Friday, February 04, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Foreign Assistance & Reconstruction Stage

A selection of coverages for "Crisis in Aceh" series that focus on foreign assistance and reconstruction stage. In chronological order and the highlights are mine.


Foreign Assistance Draws Few Complaints in Aceh
By Alan Sipress (Washington Post)

Lhoknga, Indonesia -- Ali, a scruffy Acehnese truck driver turned tsunami refugee, said he wasn't sure who provided him with a sack of rice, bottled water, a blanket and a few other meager provisions, just that they were foreigners.

Brushing aside flies, he knelt in a corner of his tent and pointed to the sky when asked where the supplies had come from. One item was a silver packet labeled "Shortbread" in English. Another larger brown package was stamped "Red Beans and Rice." They appeared to be U.S. military food rations.

"The foreigners are the only ones who gave us anything. We haven't gotten anything from the Indonesian government," said Ali, 43, a sad-eyed man with curly hair and a scraggly beard. "If the foreign soldiers leave Aceh, the Acehnese people will starve to death."

A heated debate over how long U.S. and other foreign troops should be allowed to remain in Indonesia has been dominated by political and military leaders based in Jakarta, the capital.

The country's welfare minister, for example, told reporters Sunday that it was "only logical" that foreign forces begin pulling out. "The emergency phase is almost behind us, so the military will no longer give their contribution," said Alwi Shihab, referring to U.S., Singaporean and other foreign troops.

But in more than two dozen interviews in Aceh, Indonesia's western most province, residents unanimously said that foreign forces should remain for at least several years. Acehnese, from homeless rice farmers to professors and local officials, said the troops should help with reconstruction and serve as a check on Indonesian security forces, widely feared in the province because of their heavy-handed campaign against separatist rebels, known as the Free Aceh Movement. The rebels have been fighting for autonomy for decades.

The desire of many Acehnese that the foreign forces stay reflects frustration with domestic relief efforts but also an alienation from Indonesia born of 29 years of civil war.

The tsunami that crashed into 11 Indian Ocean countries on Dec. 26, killing an estimated 150,000 people, triggered an unprecedented international relief campaign. At least 12 countries, including the United States, provided military support operations, and about 100 U.N. agencies and private humanitarian groups rushed to the stricken area. But many Indonesian officials, party activists and senior military officers have demanded that U.S. and other foreign troops depart within weeks.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, airing the nationalist sentiments of many Indonesians, called on the foreigners to leave by March 26. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, however, has softened the deadline, saying that some foreign military expertise and equipment might be needed beyond that date.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said recently that military forces involved in providing relief to countries struck by the tsunami were already beginning to withdraw and could be gone entirely by late March. The U.S. military has deployed about 8,000 troops in and around Indonesia, mostly on ships off the coast.

Acehnese have been cautious in public about the foreign presence. The government's battle with the Free Aceh Movement has left the local population cowed, fearing interrogation, detention or even summary execution by one side or the other for voicing offending views.

As Ali and his wife shared their impatience over Indonesian relief efforts, they kept watch through the opening of the tent, lowering their voices whenever Indonesian army trucks, crowded with soldiers in green camouflage uniforms cradling automatic rifles, rumbled past. U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopters roared overhead every few minutes, heading down the west coast to deliver aid.

"If it's possible, the foreign troops should stay here 50 years," Ali continued, almost pleading. He and other refugees said they feared being identified by the army and requested that they not be photographed or further identified. "If the international troops don't stay here for a long time, there will be corruption, and none of the assistance will get into our hands."

Sitting on a blue tarp in a plaid sarong and swatting flies with his folded yellow hat, Ali complained that Indonesian soldiers were hoarding foreign assistance and had confiscated one of the tents that a U.S. helicopter had delivered to the relief camp he shares with about 35 others. Another refugee, Syaiful, 19, a high school student with floppy bangs, poked his head into the tent and seconded Ali's complaint, alleging that Indonesian soldiers had yanked a sack of rice out of his hands.

Acehnese in interviews repeatedly accused Indonesian soldiers of stealing foreign aid but said they feared reprisals if they reported the practice to authorities.

Ali said friends had been tortured by soldiers, and that he had been beaten at a police checkpoint by soldiers demanding a bribe.

"We've been praying to God that the government will withdraw the military from our place," he said with a scowl, thick furrows gathering above his eyes. "Under the supervision of foreign troops, we'll be free to move. Our farmers will be able to go into the fields and plant rice, and our fishermen will be able to fish. But if the Indonesian military is in charge, they stop us and point their guns at us."

Human rights groups have accused Indonesian security forces in recent years of committing abuses against Acehnese civilians in the course of fighting the insurgency. The Indonesian government has dismissed these charges, saying they target only the rebels.

The Indonesian government has also rejected allegations that soldiers are stealing assistance. Officials said tens of thousands of soldiers have been involved in clearing streets of corpses and delivering humanitarian assistance to refugees in Aceh. If relief aid did not arrive sooner, officials have said, it was because of a shortage of military equipment, in particular transport planes. Isma, 23, a rail-thin woman dressed in a blue sweat suit, disagreed. "The international soldiers and aid workers help us sincerely. The Indonesian soldiers do not," she said.

"I hope the international soldiers stay here for a long time," Isma said as she hung laundry on a clothesline outside an abandoned house near her camp. "They can help the Acehnese people wake up from this nightmare. They can help develop Aceh and prevent war here so we can live in peace."

Hussein, 20, a bare-chested man in black trousers who had been drying cloves on a sheet in front of the house, walked over to join the conversation. He said he preferred the presence of foreign troops to government intervention.

"If the foreign groups and soldiers had not come, Aceh would still be dead," said the jobless laborer. "The government set the deadline for international soldiers to leave Aceh because they don't want the world to know the truth of what is happening."

Before the tsunami struck, Indonesia had restricted the access of foreign humanitarian workers and journalists to the province on grounds that they could be targeted by the rebels. Human rights groups and some foreign diplomats said the measures were meant to cover up abuses by the security forces.

Hussein said the government's greatest fear was that the world would learn that most Acehnese want to be independent. He also said he hoped the foreign presence would push peace negotiations between the government and the rebels.

But he said disaster relief was the immediate concern. "We can't allow the international soldiers to leave and let us starve," he said.

Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.


Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Indonesia says eyes longer tsunami debt moratorium

Jakarta, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Indonesia may seek a further freeze on debt payments to the Paris Club of sovereign creditors to help cope with rebuilding areas devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami, Planning Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said on Monday.

The 19 members of the Paris Club agreed in mid-January to a three-month debt moratorium while the World Bank and International Monetary Fund assess the cost of recovering from the disaster, which may have killed 230,000 people in Indonesia.

"The reconstruction will take place mostly in 2005 and 2006, therefore support in the forms of grants, soft loans and debt moratorium are most likely in 2005 and 2006," the minister told reporters.

Jakarta has estimated the cost of rebuilding Aceh, the area of Indonesia which bore the brunt of the tsunami, at $4.5 billion over the next three years.

The debt moratorium had helped boost sentiment on the rupiah currency in recent weeks, as such a relief would help ease capital outflows.

The rupiah has strengthened to about 9,160 against the U.S. dollar from around 9,300 rupiah early in the year, helped also by foreign cash going into the stock market.

Indonesia owes $48 billion to the Paris Club creditors. Its central bank said it was due to pay them $4.5 billion in principal and interest this year.


The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Aceh needs more medicine, not foreign doctors: Aid official

Tsunami-stricken areas in Indonesia were in need of more medical supplies rather than additional medical workers due to the declining number of patients and the already excessive number of medical workers, a senior aid official said on Monday.

Gunawan, deputy head of the Indonesian Red Cross, said that the number of medical workers in Aceh and North Sumatra had surpassed needs and that no additional medical workers, especially from foreign countries, were needed.

"Therefore, we can reduce the number of medical workers especially as the number of patients visiting field hospitals and health posts is falling anyway. It will be more useful if aid comes more in the form of medical equipment and medicine instead," he told reporters.

The Aceh health agency estimates that there are more than 10,000 local and international medical workers currently working in the province, which was pulverized last month by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Approximately 400,000 others are now living in makeshift tents, leaving them highly vulnerable to communicable diseases.

"Besides, the types of diseases that we are facing at the moment are more common illnesses rather than those specifically related to the tsunami," Gunawan argued.

Furthermore, he added, differences in language and culture constrained foreign doctors and nurses, making their assistance in the massive relief effort less than optimal.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Bob Dietz told AFP that he did "not necessarily agree" with Gunawan's assessment.

Dietz said "we are struggling to keep up with the generosity of the rest of the world" in terms of providing medical supplies, equipment and personnel to the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra.

WHO deputy director-general Jack Chow said last week that while Aceh seemed to have escaped post-tsunami epidemics, "there's still a critical need for primary health care, water, doctors and nurses".

He argued that the heavy wet season in the country meant that diseases like malaria and dengue become more prevalent.

"We have to remain vigilant. I think we are fortunate that we haven't had this spike of communicable illnesses. We can't let our foot off the accelerator."

Chow said the relief effort was now "somewhere between" the emergency phase and the rebuilding phase, and that the health authorities needed to install the "building blocks of clean water and sanitation" to safeguard displaced people.


Indonesia will not force displaced people to move to Aceh barracks: Minister

Banda Aceh, Aceh, Feb. 2 (AFP): Indonesian authorities said on Wednesday they had no plan for forcing an estimated 400,000 tsunami-displaced people to move to temporary resettlement barracks.

"There is nothing the government can do to force them to live in barracks," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and disaster relief coordinator Alwi Shihab, told a press conference here.

The government has said it was trying to provide temporary relocation centers for up to 150,000 displaced persons in and around Aceh, while some 250,000 others were expected to be absorbed by the local communities.

It has begun to build zinc-roofed wooden barracks in hundreds of locations across the province to resettle the displaced for a period of up to two years.

"By Feb. 15 over 50 percent, meaning 374 relocations centers, will be completed and the rest will be completed by end of February," Alwi said.

The latest figure issued by the Ministry of Health showed there were 424,563 displaced persons in both Aceh and neighboring North Sumatra, the two Indonesian provinces hardest hit by the Dec. 26 disaster.

There have been protests from some survivors who say the government should focus on rebuilding proper housing instead of herding people into cramped barracks.

"We cannot live in the barracks. We need separate houses even though they are small ones," said Burhanuddin, the chief of a devastated farming village outside Banda Aceh.


Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Asia Times
Thursday, February 3, 2005

Indonesia Targets Foreign Doctors
By Andreas Harsono

Banda Aceh, Indonesia - The Indonesian Red Crescent - claiming there is an oversupply of "do-gooders" who "do not speak the language" - has said it wants all foreign doctors helping the Indian Ocean tsunami survivors in Aceh to leave and hand over their emergency medical functions to local doctors instead.

Gunawan, the spokesman for the Indonesian Red Crescent, said in a press briefing on Monday, "It is better if the international community helps us with medicines rather than sending human resources here." Although there is now a surplus of foreign doctors, more medicines are needed as ailments such as malaria and dengue begin to break out.

Gunawan said the large number of foreign doctors was "counter-productive" as "there are language and cultural barriers with regard to the presence of foreign doctors" that prevent them from making a worthwhile contribution to medical relief work.

But Acehnese such as Ismet Nur, the co-coordinator of a grassroots relief service in Ulle Kareng - a crowded neighborhood in Banda Aceh - sees it another way.

"We have cases where Indonesian doctors are perceived to be not as professional as their international colleagues," he told Inter Press Service.

Gunawan said the Indonesian Red Crescent arrived in Aceh on December 27 - a day after killer waves lashed the province killing at least 220,000 - and set up two field hospitals in Lambaro and Pidie districts, as well as a mobile medical facility.

The Red Crescent spokesman said there are more than enough local medical staff on the ground. "Altogether more than 390 [local] volunteers are involved in our work," said Gunawan.

At the present moment, the local relief agency also works with volunteers from Germany, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Belgium and the United States.

There are at least 100 aid organizations - plus UN agencies - operating in Aceh. Aid agencies have provided emergency food, water and shelter to about 330,000 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The agency says the next step is to construct temporary settlements for 150,000 families.

Because the tsunami destroyed hospitals and medical clinics, killing doctors and nurses, access to quality health care has been severely restricted. Drinking water is still in short supply and this keeps the risk of some sort of epidemic high.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials are worried about an outbreak of measles as well as the risk of malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that measles still kill more children than any other disease that is preventable by vaccine.

Measles can lead to brain damage, deafness, blindness and mental disorders. To help prevent an outbreak of measles, WHO has set up a program to vaccinate as many children as possible - up to 65,000.

Currently, refugees in Aceh seem to be suffering from diarrhea, respiratory problems and skin infections. While these diseases are not considered life threatening, they can lead to more serious illnesses. Sanitation is still lacking and that alone can pose health risks.

To make matters worse, last week Australian doctors reported treating a case of Mucormycosis, a deadly fungus that attacks the brain, lungs, skin, kidneys and sinuses.

It is still not clear how many doctors, anesthetists, surgeons, dentists and nurses work in Aceh now. Bernt Apeland of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Aceh used to have 700 doctors and nurses. They mostly "disappeared" during the tsunami, he told IPS.

Commenting on the Indonesian Red Crescent's statements, Apeland said: "I do agree that in the long run the health service should be ran by Indonesians. But it is an emergency situation here.

"We were asked by the Indonesian authorities to set up a field hospital. We always have 10 doctors - five Indonesians working side-by-side with five internationals," he added.

Relief worker Ismet wants the foreign doctors to stay. He says he is skeptical of the local medical services - and he has every reason to be.

His son, Mahdi Anzala, a 23-year-old college student, had a bad cut in his foot as a result of injuries sustained when he tried to flee the killer waves. The festering sore, because it was untreated, later developed into a tumor. Ismet first took his son to an Indonesian clinic to seek medical help.

"They asked me to register first, then to show documents from my district officials - you know, typical Indonesian bureaucracy. Later a doctor checked Mahdi and said he should be transferred to a bigger hospital," Ismet told IPS.

It is a common practice among Indonesian doctors to ask their Acehnese patients to produce their red-and-white identity cards. Red and white are the colors of Indonesia's national flag. The cards were specifically designed for the Acehnese after the Indonesian government declared martial law in Aceh in May 2003, in its fight against separatist rebels.

Before the December 26 tsunami struck, Aceh was almost entirely closed to any international presence due to military operations there against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has been fighting for independence since 1976. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then.

Ismet said he had to thank a foreign doctor - who happened to visit the relief camp where he is currently seeking shelter - for saving his son's leg.

"This Brazilian doctor saw Mahdi's wound and decided on the spot to perform surgery on a bench, using local anesthesia, to remove the tumor," he said. "No questions asked, he just [did] what he thought was best.

"When the tumor was out, it was the size of my thumb," added Ismet. Ismet said his son started walking after the Brazilian doctor came back to the camp again to remove the bandages.

Murizal Hamzah, an Acehnese journalist who works for the Jakarta-based Sinar Harapan daily, also considered the Indonesian Red Crescent's request "a bit odd".

"I have traveled and visited many hospitals throughout Aceh. Indeed, the foreign doctors are more popular than local ones because the bureaucracy of the Indonesian medical services is really notorious," he said.


AFP, February 3, 2005

World Bank to launch tsunami rebuild with US$660 million dollars

The World Bank said it expected to provide US$660 million dollars to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives under the first phase of its support for the reconstruction of tsunami-hit areas.

Financial and technical support to the three economies, which had sought help from the Washington-based institution, is expected to rise over time, the bank said.

"The bank is working with the governments of each country and our partners from the development community to quickly begin the process of reconstruction," World Bank President James Wolfensohn said in a statement.

"There are many challenges we must face together, including critical issues such as the involvement of people at the community level, resettlement and financial accountability for the enormous outpouring of aid," he said.

The December 26 tsunami killed more than 290,000 people and left 1.5 million people homeless across a dozen countries along the Indian Ocean coast.

Wolfensohn had said previously the bank's commitment could spiral up to one billion dollars to 1.5 billion dollars.

The bank said recently rebuilding costs for Indonesia, whose Aceh province in the northern tip of Sumatra was the worst hit, could range as high as 5.0 billion dollars.

Sri Lanka's tsunami damage is estimated at one billion dollars but the island needs 1.5 billion dollars to recover, the bank and other international lenders had said.

The bank said Wednesday its funds would mainly be provided through the International Development Association, its financing arm for the poorest countries.

The World Bank management has presented a paper to the Board of Executive Directors this week outlining a plan for working with the tsunami-affected countries, primarily Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

The management said that it will determine potential support for India after a damage and needs assessment is completed in coming weeks.

The Bank also will continue to work with its international partners in providing assistance to the other nations reeling from the catastrophe, Seychelles and Somalia, using relatively small scale, non-operational grant funding.

The bank said key principles guiding the reconstruction effort include "country ownership" of the reconstruction process, the involvement of communities in designing recovery programs, and ensuring that recovery efforts did not simply return people to the same level of poverty they endured before.

The most urgent priority in the transition from relief to reconstruction is to put money into the pockets of those people left without a source of income, the bank said, citing as an example "cash for work" programs.

Other immediate goals will be repairing or rebuilding damaged schools and health facilities, and providing children with new text books and clinics with urgently needed medicines, it said.

The bank added that the next three months should also see some restoration of public services in many of the affected countries, such as telecommunications and power, in addition to health and education.


The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Thursday, February 3, 2005

BOA to start work next month, says official

The government hopes the Aceh Authority Body (BOA), overseeing the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Aceh, will be operational by March 26, presidential spokesman Andi Malarangeng says.

"The BOA's operation will end Bakornas PBP's responsibilities in the emergency response required for the disaster-affected areas. Therefore, concerns regarding an overlap between the two bodies should cease," he said on Wednesday in a discussion on the development of Aceh's reconstruction, referring to the National Disaster Management and Refugees Coordination Board, which is now chaired by Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Andi explained the organizational structure of the BOA was still being formulated, including the composition of its membership, its jurisdiction, legislation and coordination with existing bodies. In consideration of Aceh's unique cultural and social makeup, BOA members will include local administration officials as well as informal leaders of the Acehnese community.

The principle behind the BOA's formation derived from the need for an effective organization that focuses on the reconstruction of Aceh, which might take up to ten years according to the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT).

"The BOA's operation will also help the ministers currently responsible for Aceh to concentrate on a wide range of national problems," Andi said.

He added that the BOA would only be operational for about two to four years, or until Aceh's currently paralyzed provincial administration is able to take over.

Aceh was the area worst-affected by the Dec 26 tsunamis. According to Farhan, the disaster destroyed about 10 to 20 percent of the province and reconstruction work there could cost up to US$4 billion. The government has said that the emergency situation in Aceh is over, and that rehabilitation and reconstruction work can soon start.

Legislator Akhmad Farhan said the operation of the BOA could provide the government with an opportunity to reconcile with Acehnese insurgents. The province has been locked in a decades-long conflict between the Indonesian Military and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has sought sovereignty for the resource-rich province.

"Such an opportunity, therefore, raises the need to appoint the right members and to place the social aspects (of the reconstruction work) above those of the bureaucracy," he said.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Indonesia: UNHCR tailoring shelter solutions to meet Aceh needs

Geneva, Feb 4 (UNHCR) - UNHCR is tailoring shelter solutions to meet the different circumstances of tsunami victims in Indonesia's Aceh province. The main aim is to get people back into their own homes as soon as possible by rebuilding, extending or constructing new homes. Consultations with the displaced people on what they want and where they want to live are of prime importance.

"The displaced are in different situations and locations. Some are staying with relatives, some have houses that can be repaired, and others have homes and land that have been washed away. Trying to respond to all these various sets of needs is the challenge," UNHCR's Asia Pacific bureau director Janet Lim said Friday in Geneva after a mission to the tsunami-affected region. "The refugee agency's response must be appropriate to the needs of the displaced," Lim added.

At Kreung Sabe on Aceh's devastated west coast 8 km south of Calang, UNHCR is involved in a pilot project with the government and other agencies, to respond to the recovery needs of the local population. The fishing village was totally destroyed by the December 26 tsunami and earthquake, with an estimated 50 percent of the population swept away, leaving 4,000 people displaced. But fisher families that survived the giant waves are intent on restarting their lives in the same place. They have made it clear the village is their home territory, they know the land and the sea, and they definitely do not want to relocate.

"The villagers keep talking about ground zero - they are determined to go back and rebuild as soon as possible and they don't want to go into camps," said Lim.

Respecting the villagers' wishes, the proposed rebuilding plan will take into account permanent shelter but also essential community infrastructures such as mosques, health, water, sanitation and education facilities. Special attention will be given to the needs of vulnerable groups including separated children, single-parent families and the elderly. UNHCR has sent a senior physical planner to the village to help with site design.

"If this works as well as we hope, then it's something we could replicate in other places along the west coast, if it suits the needs of the population," Lim said.

As the project is still in its infancy, UNHCR erected some 500 tents over the last week in Kreung Sabe as temporary housing for the displaced while they get on with rebuilding their lives. The agency has ferried in 7.5 tonnes of relief supplies into Kreung Sabe using Super Puma helicopters, generously provided by the Swiss government.

While rebuilding plans are going ahead in some towns, other isolated areas of the west coast, such as Keude Panga 20 km south of UNHCR's operational base in Calang, have received little relief aid and still need emergency help. During the week the Swiss helicopters airlifted in eight tonnes of relief supplies including tents, blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses for an estimated 2,000 displaced people. The village is cut is cut off from the towns of Calang and Meulaboh because of destroyed bridges and roads.

In Meulaboh, further down the coast, to get displaced people out of often squalid surroundings in temporary shelters, the refugee agency is designing and building tented camps to be run by Indonesian civilian authorities. UNHCR is expanding the recently opened Lehan camp site (Perum Nas Lapang) which was designed to accommodate 112 families comfortably in accordance with international standards. However, the Indonesian authorities moved into the camp a total of 135 families previously staying with host families. In order to accommodate the extra families, UNHCR is working to expand the site for an additional 56 tents. UNHCR, which has been working closely with the Indonesian authorities on shelter, has advised the government to respect the population capacity limits of the camp design.

There is still not a complete picture of the total shelter needs on the west coast, but the refugee agency - which is, unusually, involved in this natural disaster relief operation at the request of the UN Secretary-General - is focusing on providing shelter solutions appropriate to the needs of the local population.

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