Monday, March 28, 2005

Three Months After The Catastrophic Earthquake & Tsunami (6 of 13)

Rebuilding Aceh with the Acehnese
March 14, 2005 -

At a recent discussion (January 6th) on the reconstruction of Aceh organised by Radio 68H, the formation of the Special Authority Body (Badan Otoritas Khusus) with the agreement of the government and the DPR (Lower House) was raised by the author. The current government's forthcoming five year term will cover the key aspects of the reconstruction of Aceh. The complexity of the reconstruction - not least due to the sheer volume of funds needed - will require comprehensive and unified support; multi-sector coordination; and the involvement of a range of parties from all levels (local, national and international).

There are questions to be asked about the efficiency of the Natural Disaster Response unit at Bakornas given that this body will only be handling the immediate emergency response. This is of particular concern as this role is not consistent with the need to have a unified body to handle the reconstruction process in its entirety. But it seems that there are concerns about Bakornas, led by VP Yusuf Kalla, adding momentum to that doubt, and turning the issue into a political hot potato.

Special Authority Body for Aceh
The key is to articulate clearly the structure and design of this body. In any organisational structure or form there will be risks that may challenge the achievement of stated aims. But even if the organisational structure is complex this is not in itself a reason to fail. Risk can be averted with good institutional design and close supervision at every level of responsibility. The government will be consolidating BOK over the coming two to three months.

Over this period every aspect must be closely watched in order to prevent a structure developing that allows corruption to flourish. It's better to keep working to find a way to avoid potential problems.

I imagine the new body can become an institution that will lift the Acehnese to the same levels of well-being as the rest of the nation, not simply as a body that merely accommodates the people of Aceh. If there is a credible governor, he will be able to lead the institution in collaboration with other Acehnese leaders. As the ex-officio head of this development body he will be endowed with the same level of authority as a minister. The body can incorporate anyone whose support is needed. Given that the current Governor of NAD, Abdullah Puteh, has been recently convicted of misuse of public funds and fraud, the Acehnese need a leader with credibility and support, at the same time as ensuring discussions include a wide range of parties and stakeholders.

With BOK being portrayed as 'owned' by the Acehnese, its credibility - as well as its impact - has to be maximised by working closely with the Acehnese. This is critical in both design and day to day implementation. There is a perception that the engagement of the Acehnese people has been weakened by the disaster, and that therefore everything has to be organised by outsiders first, to get things up and running. This was the original thought when the question of Acehnese ownership of and involvement in the process came up, but this line of reasoning must not be manipulated in order to postpone or diminish their involvement.

The aim of developing is not just to see the objectives as ends in themselves, but also to develop feelings of ownership with the beneficiaries, and to strengthen their socio-cultural capital. The population's role working with the institution will be a very positive one if the body is able to manage itself well, and prevent corruption and other abuses. These needs require that a general system of cooperation and the specific steps this requires must be clearly marked out from the outset.

We can see the true scope of the initiative and energy shown by people far outside Aceh that wish to help. When we talk about the role of the people its potential must be estimated.
BOK Aceh has a duty to form a transparent way of working that can be tracked, achieved, made accessible by a variety of initiatives and approaches, and ultimately achieving fair distribution.

The Body is also expected to provide and promote services that can operate in synergy with cooperative initiatives and approaches. There is a duty to construct a social market to put Aceh in touch with the outside world, to unite them with the obvious initiatives and needs of Aceh.

Developing people, not just homes
The government is planning to construct barracks in 24 different locations for some 30,000 refugees. There are a number of parties wishing to assist with the building of free housing for disaster victims in new locations.
But buildings valued at hundreds of billions of rupiah are a huge waste of money, and they uproot the Acehnese people from their lands and home communities. A short term approach such as this will only generate longer term problems and fresh victims.

It also looks disturbingly like the opportunity has already passed to include facilitating the economic and psychological rehabilitation of the tsunami victims into the recovery process. The chance for people to build their own homes, for example, is already receding.
The provision of housing has also opened up a new pathway for corruption by increasing the use of contractors that - with excuses about the emergency nature of the situation - have received contracts without submitting to a tender process.

The movement of victims from their home lands and communities to barracks will undoubtedly increase complications arising from issues of land rights and ownership, particularly given the likelihood of illegal occupations since victims fled and abandoned their homes. The eradication of visual land markers, as well as the loss of title deeds and other documentation will make disputes with land squatters very difficult to resolve. Illegal land occupations may involve the government, where private parties have bribed officials. Additionally, the movement of people from their own communities to barracks that do not necessarily correspond to their personal and geographical origins may further exacerbate inefficiency in the wake of the tsunami.

The latest report said that only a few of the 24 designated locations were ready. I don't hold information about the specifics of these new receiving centres. Maybe this sort of information isn't deemed to be important as the strategy is seen as a stop-gap. But it is very doubtful that the initial timeframe projected for completion will be met. Prefabricated housing isn't as fast to put up as people imagine, because the factory or contractor that is newly involved will make the required components after the order is clarified. Transport costs were not calculated in initial projections. And there are, furthermore, questions around mark-ups by contractors.

How long will the refugees have to wait for the barracks to be constructed, all the while being mere passive observers? Why isn't there support for the Acehnese to build their own houses on the sites of their old, destroyed homes?

If the government were to support the self-build, participative approach they would have to prepare building materials and trade tools, as well as wages that would be paid in instalments. But building materials damaged in the disaster can - and should be - recycled. Strategies such as these have been proved to speed up reconstruction and ensure less waste because what is built has guaranteed occupancy and permanence. There will also be greater diversity in accordance with the needs of people in any given location, with attendant sensitivity to location-specific conditions. At the same time, there are efficiency benefits where people feel ownership over their home, community and city.

This was the experience of Kutch in the state of Gujurat, India after the mammoth earthquake of January 2001 that claimed almost 20,000 lives, and destroyed 338,000 homes. Sandeep Virmani from Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan discussed the experience with the Emergency Humanitarian Commission for Aceh and North Sumatra's Reconstruction Team on January 16th.

The Kutch experience shaped the strategy on the East coast of India in the wake of the tsunami. By the second half of January there were already some 2000 families building houses in line with the self-help model. By choosing a model that had been shown to be appropriate to people's needs it was implemented swiftly, precluding time-wasting on debate or around competing interests. No developers or contractors exist that can match this timeliness. Because there are tens of thousands - or, in the case of Aceh, hundreds of thousands - of victims that are able to build their own houses, they should be helped with the provision of materials, tools and other forms of support.

There are a number of benefits in using this self-help approach. Firstly, as the houses are built on sites chosen by the victims there is a greater likelihood that it will be a permanent dwelling. There is also a smaller chance that there will be wastage of materials, or that impermanent dwellings will come to form slums. Additionally, with resettlement on their own land there will be reduced incidence of land ownership disputes.

Gujurat also showed us that building activities allow people to feel they have a useful role in the recovery process. Many of the Acehnese tsunami victims have made it clear that they do not want to be organised by others. Rebuilding their own homes facilitates their desire to redevelop their social capital. The expertise and skills required would be enriched by this process and would be a source of future self-sufficiency. Those that build others' houses can also receive a suitable payment for doing so.

We now know that some 600,000 Acehnese have lost their homes. If even one quarter of that figure are adults then there are 150,000 people that can actively contribute to building their own homes. The issue is whether this can be rolled out, and whether momentum on this course can be sustained until the finish.

The first step is to organise people into building groups. Local leaders and institutions - whether grassroots or elite - must engage with the project. At the moment the government, together with donors and NGOs must coordinate the distribution of aid, whatever the development approach taken. But with the self-help model, there is a different kind of aid distribution.

In this model there is a greater need for building materials and tools than for cash or prefabricated housing. The level of coordination needed is undoubtedly high but it is a worthwhile exercise in the longer run, as the abilities and capital developed will be an asset to draw on should another disaster come.

In villages or kampungs people generally have the know-how to build their own houses. Conversely, in cities this knowledge has often been lost so support would be needed. Training centres, as well as depots holding and distributing building materials, can be rapidly established to fill these gaps. Deploying people skilled in these areas can ensure that technical and quality advice is given without interfering with people's autonomy. Voluntary delivery can achieved with good, clear management.

The nature of the approach to rebuilding taken will determine the size of costs incurred. The costs of involving the people in rebuilding their homes will have different outcomes to those requiring contracted builders with the people merely acting as passive observers.

There remains a further mystery for me as someone endeavouring to calculate the precise costs of reconstruction. There are a number of predictions that have to be made, that are inherently difficult, and that don't seem to have been addressed yet. For example, how can we estimate the cost of cement in four months time if we don't even know yet how sufficient quantities will be transported to hard to reach locations? Moreover, these estimates will have to be projected over the five to ten year period that the reconstruction period is estimated to require.

But these questions all build upon a further, more basic yet question as to what is included in our understanding of 'reconstruction'? Is it only rebuilding the physical aspects that were destroyed by the quake and tsunami? Where does social, cultural and economic reconstruction - including that of institutions - fit into the process? Have calculations about the restoration of the arts and cultural fora of Aceh been made or even considered? Additionally, have these estimates included planning processes and stages to ensure that actions are timely and robust?

There are two key elements to physical construction within the reconstruction process if we look at what choosing self-help rebuilding programs has to offer. Firstly, the strategy would encourage collective effort and inter-territorial cooperation of incalculable value. This could even include small scale infrastructure contributions such as rebuilding small roads at the community level.

The second benefit derives from the knowledge that, whether doing it themselves or in groups, people have their own strategies for reducing the cost of building themselves a home. The question of cost thus becomes increasingly relative as they have the advantage of being able to use their own labour. This has not been taken into account in the overall estimates and calculations of disaster recovery.

If the government really means to take a reconstruction route that seriously involves people, the dynamics of all arrangements must have breadth. This option requires huge flexibility, with clear recognition that this be maximised and sustained as far as possible. We can see, in the example of schools, how this can work. School buildings are generally built by the government, but they have also been cooperatively built by the people with funding supplied by the government.

But even with self-help rebuilding programs, there are already questions around whether the government has included operational and longer-term costs in the reconstruction figures. Have they, for example, included running costs such as staff wages, compiling libraries and other critical resources into their budgets for 'rebuilding' schools - or are the numbers simply about the physical needs?

Again, I don't know what the answer is. Largely because since the disaster the media has repeatedly chosen to focus on the projected costs of the reconstruction, without analysing those costs and alternatives such as bottom-up reconstruction by the people. There has been little said about what could be done by the people themselves to make the 'plan' into a comprehensive, participative redevelopment process. [cc]

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