Shoddy Construction and Unfulfilled Promises Prompt Growing Disillusionment in Aceh

Communities in Aceh complain that extravagant promises made by international aid groups are largely at odds with actual reconstruction performance. Only $1.5 billion of $8.5 billion in post-tsunami pledges has so far been disbursed. Much of that amount has not been spent well, as a scathing July 2006 evaluation report endorsed by UN Special Tsunami Envoy Bill Clinton notes.

Many of the aid agencies pouring into Aceh after the tsunami displayed arrogance and ignorance, were staffed by incompetent workers, and suffered from high rates of turnover. Many groups were intent on propagating their presence but paid insufficient attention to proper accounting.

House reconstruction is the main source of complaints. Just 25,000 houses, out of a projected 120,000 that are needed, have been completed so far. Not only is the pace of construction disappointing, so is the quality of the houses. Save the Children, for instance, was forced to suspend building activities in order to investigate what went wrong. Oxfam fired 10 staff members due to gross misconduct.

Supply of timber for housing remains a sore issue. Concerns over accelerating the already unsustainable pace of deforestation in Aceh led the government’s reconstruction agency to all but prohibit the use of wood from the province. Aid agencies have struggled to secure adequate supplies from other sources.

Tsunami survivors have been most pleased with the performance of the Turkish Red Crescent Society. The agency has built houses of greater quality than other aid groups and its staff appears to be more qualified.

Jane Perlez, “Aid Groups Are Criticized Over Tsunami Reconstruction,” New York Times, 27 July 2006.
For the evaluation report, see: John Telford and John Cosgrave, Joint Evaluation of the International Response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Synthesis Report, Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, London, July 2006.