Disaster Survivors in Indonesia and Pakistan Protest Corruption and Slow Reconstruction Progress

In Kashmir and northern Pakistan, survivors marked the one-year anniversary of the massive 2005 earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people. In Indonesia’s Aceh province, it has been 21 months since the devastating tsunami of December 2004. These areas are geographically remote from each other, and they were hit by very different calamities. But in both regions, the survivors are reaching the end of their patience with the slow and inadequate reconstruction efforts. In Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, thousands of protesters said they were not receiving sufficient assistance from the state Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency. And they accused government reconstruction officials of corrupt practices. In Banda Aceh, hundreds of protesters—many still living in temporary barracks—accused the reconstruction agency BRR of a sluggish pace in providing housing for tsunami survivors. The depth of their ire showed when the demonstration turned violent and FORAK, a forum of people from temporary shelters, took over BRR offices and temporarily held the agency chairman, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, and a number of other senior officials hostage. In several tsunami-affected countries, both state agencies and private aid groups stand accused of corruption, poor planning, unfulfilled promises, and incompetence. Termite-infested, leaky shelters without water and electricity had to be torn down in Indonesia or were judged uninhabitable in India. Boats donated to fishermen in Sri Lanka and Aceh are often not seaworthy or inappropriate in design. In Aceh alone, 40 percent of the 7,000 donated boats were unusable according to the World Bank.

In Aceh, construction on a planned highway along the southwest coast has yet to begin. The road was intended as a splashy goodwill measure financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. But questions of appropriate scale and design, lack of cultural sensitivity, difficulties with securing the land and right of way required, and bureaucratic obstacles have postponed actual work.