Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Three Months After The Catastrophic Earthquake & Tsunami (9 of 13)

The Jakarta Post
Saturday, March 26, 2005

Acehnese want foreign volunteers to stay
By Nani Afrida, Banda Aceh

Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh on Dec. 26, many Acehnese dread the departure of foreign aid workers, as they are not yet confident of making it on their own.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab, who heads the relief effort, previously set a deadline for non-relevant foreign aid groups to leave the province by March 26, as reconstruction work would then start.

However, this month the government extended the deadline for all foreign humanitarian aid agencies to continue their relief work in Aceh by up to 60 days, with April 27 set as the deadline for agencies to register, as well as to outline their plans and the details of their financial support.

"We still need foreigners' assistance," Ramlah, a 45-year-old Acehnese man, who has been staying in Lamkruet village, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

He said displaced people lacked a reliable clean water supply and enough doctors, as well as other assistance.

"They, the foreigners, treat us better than the government has done," Ramlah said.

He said he had been cared for in a makeshift hospital, set up in tents by foreign medical teams, and compared to community health centers or Zainoel Abidin General Hospital there had been much less red tape.

Many survivors are not convinced of the government's capabilities in assisting Aceh.

"When the Australian army was overseeing the clean water supply, the water was really good. But now, it's being run by the Indonesian Red Cross, it smells of chlorine," complained 37-year-old Nazariah, a Lamlagang village resident, who regularly collects water from the setup in Jembatan Pante Pirak area, Banda Aceh.

Some survivors at Lhok Nga's camp 85 had seen the foreigners as their protectors. They felt that the foreigners' presence meant Indonesian Military soldiers could not just "do as they liked" while searching for Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels.

Government efforts to assist tsunami survivors have taken many forms, but having endured conflict in the province for years, many Acehnese are more willing to trust foreigners.

"We like the foreign volunteers, they help us -- and Aceh -- with all their hearts," said a man living in a displaced persons camp.

Head of Lamteungoh village in Peukan Bada district, Baharuddin, requested that the foreign volunteers stay, and that financial aid be directly distributed to the people, not through the government. "We still need your (foreign volunteers) help, don't leave us," he said.

Such calls were recognized by United Nations (UN) special envoy Erskine Bowles, who pledged that the UN would not leave until reconstruction of the tsunami-hit areas was complete.

The UN deputy special envoy for tsunami recovery, who arrived in Aceh on Thursday before leaving on Friday, toured the devastated west coast area via helicopter, meeting survivors as well as foreign aid workers.

Bowles said he could understand the government's decision on the presence of foreign volunteers or agencies in Aceh.

"It makes sense that all foreigners can stay until April 26, 2005. In a month's time, the government will register those agencies that have good working programs," he said.

He said he would monitor the distribution of relief funds in Aceh to ensure transparency and accountability, so that the money would reach those most in need.

Bowles praised the enormous progress made over the last three months, saying that the UN and donor countries had not lost their enthusiasm to help.

"Yes, there have been glitches; yes, there have been mistakes; yes, we have taken two steps back, four steps forward -- that is going to happen in a disaster of this magnitude. But we have accomplished a great deal."

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