Seven Years On, No Respite For Tsunami Victims

Jun 18, 2011
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Tsunami victims in Aceh are still living in “temporary” accommodation, waiting to be rehoused.

979 Hayati, an IDP at the Bakoy camp, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. More than six years after the tsunami, she is still in need of permanent housing Photo: Arnaud Guiguitant

Hundreds of people in the city of Banda Aceh in the northwestern tip of Indonesia are still living in poor quality “temporary” accommodation more than six years after the devastating December 2004 tsunami.

"I am unable to start a new life – to start all over again. After nearly seven years, I am still living in post-disaster transition," said Hayati, who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name.

Today the 27-year-old and her six-year-old daughter await resettlement in a tiny room with a mattress, a rice cooker, a gas ring, a fan, but no running water.

The authorities say that of the 21,400 houses destroyed or damaged in Banda Aceh by the tsunami, all have been rebuilt and an additional 1,600 have also been constructed, allowing some families to have more space.

However, of the nearly half a million Indonesians the UN estimated were made homeless by the disaster, 170 families, or 800 people in Banda Aceh, are still living in sub-standard “temporary” housing put up immediately after the tsunami, according to a rough survey conducted by IRIN of the two remaining temporary settlements where they are living.

The U.S. Geological Survey says 227,898 people lost their lives in the disaster, and 2 million people in 14 countries throughout South Asia and East Africa were displaced.

Most of the still “homeless” in Banda Aceh are squeezed into sub-standard, now unsanitary shelters in the two camps – in the city’s Bakoy and Ulee-Lheu areas.

“When we moved here in 2006 we were told we would only be here for eight months,” said Buran, aged 36, standing outside his makeshift shelter made of plywood and corrugated iron in Ulee-Lheu. Twenty other families live in this settlement.

Built hastily after the disaster, many of the shelters have fallen into disrepair, and a stench of sewage permeates the air.

The plight of the residents is also being brought into focus by a decision to clear the camp for road construction in the coming weeks.

980 Buran, 36, and his family outside the the barracks of their home in Ulee-Lheu area. Close to 1,000 survivors of the 2004 tsunami have yet to receive permanent housing. Photo: Arnaud Guiguitant

Options turned down?

Though residents say they have nowhere to go, Rosdi, the government official in charge of Banda Aceh General Affairs Department, said the displaced were given options.

“The Ulee-Lheu people were offered brand new houses, which they turned down because of their remote location. We are trying to find other alternatives,” he said.

Nearly 200 displaced families in Bakoy, on the southwestern edge of the city, are also hoping to get rehoused.

This is where Hayati lives with her daughter. She said the Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias (BRR) promised her a new house in the Labui area, but then gave it to someone else.

Supervising the construction of 140,000 new houses in all of Aceh Province, the BRR said no refugees would remain in temporary shacks after June 2007. But the authorities are behind schedule, and also wary of bogus claims, head of Ingin Jaya sub-district Pak Abdullah told IRIN.

"Several non-tsunami victims are living in the camps, hoping to obtain free housing from the government. Each application has to be reviewed thoroughly before a house is allocated to prevent fraudulent and non-legitimate claims," he said.

In Bakoy, Bachtiar, 56, set up a tailor’s shop in the camp. He estimated 20% of the camp population came to Banda Aceh after the tsunami, including foreigners, poor and homeless people. "But they never experienced the tragedy,” he said.

He recently received a letter from the government requesting additional information proving the tsunami had affected him. “When is this going to end?” he said.

According to Zulkifli, a local official in charge of post-tsunami cases, the situation should soon improve. "The government and the Saudi Charity Campaign have just completed the construction of dozens of homes in Baitussalam and Darussalam districts. Once we are done with the examination of each and every case, the stricken of Bakoy will be rehoused.”

This article was first published in IRIN.