Deconstructing Aceh’s Reconstruction
On Sunday 26 December 2004, just a minute or so before 8.00am local time, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred 30km below sea level at 3.307°N 95.947°E. The earthquake lasted for ten minutes and was the world’s fourth largest earthquake since 1900, with the fault rupture extending over a length of 1200km at the junction of the Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates. The descending Indo-Australian plate pulled down the Eurasian plate and then released its edge, which rebounded, lifting the ocean floor with it. The resulting tsunami directly affected 11 countries, killing up to 300,000 people and displacing over one million more. The closest land mass to the epicentre was the province of Aceh, or Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Aceh experienced the full force of the tsunami. Within 45 minutes of the earthquake, the tsunami reached land at the
capital of Aceh, Banda Aceh. The force of the tsunami caused immediate destruction and death. Sweeping all before its path, the rising ocean razed natural and human-made structures. Within minutes, over 800km of coast was flattened. No warning systems were in place, and local populations were caught completely unprepared for the tsunami, which ranged in height between three and 12 metres throughout the coastal region. The loss of human life and damage to the natural habitat was enormous. It is estimated that 130,000 people in Aceh were killed (some reports estimated 170,000 deaths) – three times as many women as men – and another 500,000 people were displaced (UNDP, 2006). In addition to the human devastation, the physical geography was changed, with much of the land being dragged into the sea, and shorelines displaced hundreds of metres inland. Dwellings and the physical infrastructure were destroyed. More than 250,000 houses were totally or partially damaged. Community infrastructure such as drinking water supplies, facilities for handling wastewater, refuse disposal, drainage, roads, schools, clinics, meeting halls and mosques were damaged.
Over half a million cubic metres of debris, including timber, bricks and mud, replaced houses, roads and farmlands, disrupting accessibility and most aspects of daily life. The UNDP estimated the cost of recovery in Aceh to be US$5 billion – almost equal to its entire annual GDP. The Indonesian government declared the earthquake-and tsunami-affected parts of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam to constitute a disaster area, and appointed the National Coordinating Board for Disaster Management (BAKORNAS PBP) to implement the emergency response. In addition, the international community also responded to this emergency. The scale of the devastation and ensuing human suffering prompted an
unparalleled outpouring of global sympathy, leading to unprecedented donor commitments of over US$13 billion to assist the reconstruction effort (World Bank, 2007; Telford et al, 2006). Support was received from 133 countries, and over 16,000 foreign military troops provided additional support in what was one of the largest non-military missions for over 50 years (BRR, 2006). The level of financial support that was pledged and the promises made by international agencies raised global expectations of an effective and speedy recovery. The scale of the destruction created so-called greenfield sites for reconstruction, providing unmatched opportunities for holistic reconstruction practices. The international community, including bilateral donor governments, multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and international non-government organizations (NGOs), could apply the lessons learnt from previous humanitarian interventions. If a positive could be found in the disaster wrought by the tsunami, it was that the lives of survivors would be significantly improved through intelligent international assistance. Within days, an international relief effort was in operation, with over 60 international NGOs providing assistance (growing to more than 200 within weeks) alongside many Indonesian NGOs which were also providing assistance. Short-term relief efforts soon evolved into longer-term reconstruction and development activities. Indonesia’s President declared an end to the Aceh emergency response
phase at the end of March 2005, and the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) assumed responsibility for developing a rehabilitation and reconstruction plan for Aceh (and also Nias, which experienced a separate earthquake on 28 March 2005). A master plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction was set in law in April, 2005 by Presidential decree. The following day the President announced the establishment of the Agency of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for the Region and Community of Aceh and Nias (BRR), whose task it was to coordinate the reconstruction effort to ensure that a ‘reliable, dignified, prosperous and democratic Aceh
and Nias’ was established (BRR, 2007; www.e-aceh-nias.org/about_brr/ profile.aspx). Sufficient time has now passed to begin assessing the effectiveness of the
response and subsequent reconstruction efforts following this disaster. While there is a developing body of literature on the failures and successes of the reconstruction process, the existing evaluations tend to be either official reports concerning matters of donor funding expenditure, infrastructure and material development and general statistical analyses, or reports and articles written and produced by NGOs themselves that discuss their own specific programmes. For example, the World Bank has prepared many reports on reconstruction expenditure. It has estimated that 58 per cent of the allocations had been dispersed by June 2007, with significant disbursements still required, particularly in the housing and transport sectors (World Bank, 2007). The Indonesian government has been concerned that, notwithstanding the huge allocation of funds to housing, there remains significant unmet need for housing, with a shortage of 20,000 houses in November 2007 and most housing projects ceasing in April 2008 (Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, 2007). (For reports written by NGOs themselves, see Oxfam International, 2006; UNDP, 2006; Caritas Australia, 2005; Brennan and Rimba, 2005; Doocy et al, 2006). These evaluations demonstrate how perspectives on the success or otherwise of the reconstruction efforts are largely dependent upon who is providing the assessment and the criteria used. Rather than focus on the bald (and often inconsistent) statistically based
overviews of aid delivered, this volume explores different experiences and assessments of the post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh from the perspective of different players. The book reflects on the settings of Aceh reconstruction; the roles and experiences of different players in the reconstruction; what, according to different viewpoints, went right or wrong, and why; and what can be learned from the different experiences and perceptions and future challenges for Aceh.