Democracy Arsenal

« Iraqi Women Re-veiled/More on Hersh | Main | Framing: Cure-all or Hype? »

July 20, 2005

How to Build Back Better: Working on Tsunami Recovery Efforts in Indonesia
Posted by Anita Sharma

Thanks Heather, for that warm introduction, and hello to everyone at Democracy Arsenal! I’ll do my best to fill Heather’s shoes while she and her family journey on America’s highway en route to a reunion and a fun-filled summer vacation! Ahh summer vacation, I can’t much recall what that feels like right now because I left the nation’s capitol on a frigid, but sunny, February afternoon and have been in the warm tropics of Indonesia since then. And you’ll have to forgive me if it takes a little while to get back to U.S. foreign policy as I’ve been working fully on a tsunami relief project with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

As Heather said, I’ve been in DC for some time, and like many of our bloggers, contributed to the Kerry-Edwards campaign. I also worked in Iraq and Jordan with IOM as “major hostilities” finished,” and Saddam fell, beginning in March 2003 until the United Nations headquarters was blown up in August 2003. I stayed in Jordan until the beginning of 2004 when I resumed my job at the Woodrow Wilson Center and became fully involved with the campaign. We all know how the elections turned out, and that, combined with being in Australia the day after the tsunami and experiencing the outpouring of relief support, prompted a major job and location change.

For five months I’ve been in Indonesia, trying to help repair the devastation of coastal Aceh caused by the tsunami. When I first arrived the magnitude of the problem seemed overwhelming. Although trite, the best analogy I gave people back home was to think of a nuclear bomb and how entire areas were completely leveled. The massive 9.3 earthquake caused a tsunami originating in the Indian Ocean just off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The subsequent tsunami devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand and other countries with waves up to 30 m (100 feet). Anywhere from 200,000 to 310,000 people died as a result of the tsunami, with more than 130,000 people killed in Aceh alone. Although I arrived after most of the bodies that hadn’t been swept out to sea had been collected, the destruction and the needs of the more than 500,000 people displaced were palpable. To put that number in context, half a million people is a population roughly equivalent to the cities of Baltimore, Islamabad, Oslo, or Beirut.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, IOM provided life-saving relief items and health care. Our reconstruction activities are now in earnest as we, like so many other aid organizations, are working to in the words of UN Tsunami Special Envoy President Bill Clinton, to “build back better.” As we attempt to rebuild communities by providing shelter, meet health needs and promote livelihood activities, the question is not whether we can do this, but how. Interestingly in this disaster response, the challenge is not financial. Recently released figures from the UN put total worldwide pledges at about 6.7 billion dollars. (Of this, about 1.9 billion dollars in pledges have been converted into commitments.) Private donations, mostly through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Red Cross, U.N. relief agencies and all other channels, amounted to an additional 4 billion dollars. Taken together, the estimated total is over 10.7 billion dollars! Though it seems like a lot, and it is, how these agencies work together, and with the Indonesia government, is critical.

One thing I spend a lot of time thinking and working on is how to get people out of tents, make-shift homes, or host families and into homes of their own. The disaster damaged or destroyed approximately 116,880 homes. While reconstruction work has now started, sufficient numbers of homes will not be rebuilt or repaired in the next few months. The concern right now is how can the international aid agencies, with so much money in their coffers turn, to their donors (in many cases individuals like you and me who saw the aftermath on TV and opened their pocketbooks) and admit that one year after the disaster people may still be living in awful conditions? Sometimes I wonder who the aid agencies are most concerned about—the Acehnese living in squalor or the journalists who will report back on the dearth of rebuilding, and the resulting wave of criticism of “why haven’t you done more?” I’ll get back to why and the difficulties associated with our work in the next posting.

Another recent development, and why it’s fascinating to be here at the moment, is the potential for peace in Aceh. If the agreement, to be signed on August 15, goes through, it may end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts where more than 12,000 people died since 1976. According to negotiators, the agreement calls for Indonesian troops to largely withdraw from the province and for the rebels to demobilize by the end of the year. Brokered by Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who chaired the talks, the memorandum of understanding covers issues such as human rights, amnesty and security arrangements. While international aid has been permitted to the tsunami hit areas of Aceh, access to the hinterland and economic development in the province has been hampered by restricted access and continual fighting between the GAM and Indonesian military.

The peace deal, if successful, is likely to smooth the way for reconstruction efforts throughout the province. Interestingly I could potentially be working to assist not only the tsunami survivors, but also those who have lived through three decades of war. Of course, there are skeptics. Several times the warring sides came close to peace but this time there is additional grounds for optimism. The cloud of the tsunami may have a silver lining in that after years of martial law, and then emergency rule, Aceh was forced to open its doors to outside help and the international attention to the province has shone a spotlight on the brutal, but much ignored, conflict.

Since we began work in Aceh, everyone has said that for recovery and reconstruction to be effective, fighting in the region must end. It will be quite amazing if this actually does come to pass.

I realize that my post has run on a bit long without me being provocative or particularly insightful. I wanted to first give you my thoughts on the scope of the problem and what it’s like being at the center (though I am myself but one of the multitude of aid workers) of such a complex and crucial set of issues. I do hope to use the air-time graciously given to me by Heather to get deeper into the challenges of reconstruction: like building fast versus sustainability; how coordinating aid agencies is like herding cats (in this case many fat cats with big pockets); the changing political landscape of Indonesia, its own battles with terrorism; the evolving U.S.-Indonesia relationship and the perception of America by young Indonesians. Again, apologies for the long posting and I welcome your thoughts!


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How to Build Back Better: Working on Tsunami Recovery Efforts in Indonesia:


The concern right now is how can the international aid agencies, with so much money in their coffers turn, to their donors (in many cases individuals like you and me who saw the aftermath on TV and opened their pocketbooks) and admit that one year after the disaster people may still be living in awful conditions?

In the Netherlands there is a website about the money collected via the public and how it is spent by the various organisations. Internationally there is a financial trackingpage too (via reliefweb's financial tracking system).

We had documentaries on the tv too, about the problems with streamlining the aid between all the organisations. Organisations from different countries trying to rebuild in the same village, whilst a neighbouring village has not seen anybody yet and things like that. People don't always realize how much talking and planning is necessary beforehand.

I think on the whole you and your collegues are doing a great and difficult job. And I am crossing my fingers about Aceh.

Do you like cheap eve isk?

If you have mabinogi gold, you can get more. If you gave cheap mabinogi to me, I still have my idea to achieve.

I hope i can get angels gold in low price,
Yesterday i buy angels gold for my friend.

I prefer the
cheap shaiya gold in the game. In fact, the
buy shaiya gold is expensive.

Once I played Aion, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have aion kina. He gave me some aion online kina.

Once I played Aion, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have aion kina

Flyers printed by China printing is very good quality and good prices.
Plastic products made by injection molding services with low costs and supeior quality
Shoring scaffolding for construction is a very useful tool.

Thank you for your sharing.! seslichat seslisohbet

Thank you for your sharing! I like i very much!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use