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More than 3 weeks on, Aceh quake victims left to fend for themselves

Jakarta Globe - July 27, 2013

Nurdin Hasan, Ketol, Central Aceh – The sound of a hammer banging on tin echoes through this small village hemmed in by hills. Perched atop a ladder, 65-year-old Diarah Kardi pounds nails through the roof of a rickety wooden structure.

"This used to be a storage shed. But it got badly damaged during the earthquake," he tells the Jakarta Globe.

This is where he plans to move his family and his daughter's family after their homes, built of bricks and mortar, collapsed as a result of the magnitude 6.2 quake that struck this region on July 2.

An estimated 90 percent of all the buildings in Ketol subdistrict were damaged in the disaster. For more than three weeks now, the families have lived beneath a tarpaulin tent erected near the ruins of their homes.

And as accustomed as they are to the powerful quakes that routinely rock this part of the world, they have run out of patience waiting for the government to either help them rebuild their homes or move them into decent temporary housing.

Further down the road, 78-year-old Suud and his wife, Salamah, 60, have already built a small wooden shelter using material salvaged from the debris of their own home.

For the couple, this is the fourth time they have had to rebuild their home since 2000. An arson attack by a now-disbanded guerrilla group and a brace of earthquakes were the previous culprits.

"We didn't want to stay too long in the temporary refuge," Salamah says. "It was so crowded there. Things got worse whenever it rained. We have our eight-month-old grandchild with us; that's why we decided to move back as soon as we could. At least now, when it rains, we're not cold and wet anymore."

Khairul Asmara, the deputy chief of Central Aceh district, acknowledges that no reconstruction work has started, but says his office is doing its best in trying to speed up the process.

"We've set a target of commencing the rebuilding project after Ramadan," he tells the Globe. Ramadan this year is expected to end on Aug. 7 or 8.

"We don't want to leave the people out in the temporary shelters and tents for too long. So we hope to get started immediately after Idul Fitri," he adds, referring to the holiday that marks the end of the Islamic holy month.

"Besides, a lot of people have already taken the initiative to rebuild on their own with whatever material they can find."

Khairul says the district administration will pay for the repairs, but it will be up to the residents themselves to do the work.

Residents whose homes are deemed badly damaged will receive up to Rp 40 million ($3,880). Owners of homes that have sustained moderate or minor damage will each get Rp 20 million and Rp 10 million, respectively.

The authorities have received reports of more than 5,500 homes in the worst-hit category, 2,750 with moderate damage and 5,600 in need of minor repair. Khairul says these figures are currently being verified by officials on the ground.

"Once that's done, we'll put the residents into groups," he says.

"There will be 10 to 15 households per group, and the money will be transferred to each group in two stages. Then it will be up to them to decide on how they want to rebuild their homes."

He insists the district administration will not be directly involved in the endeavor, but will only play a monitoring role, and has called for nongovernmental and development organizations to also keep an eye on the process.

However, Khairul says the funds promised by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he visited the stricken area a week after the disaster will not be enough for all the affected families.

"We've told the governor and the provincial legislature that we need more money to rebuild the homes. They say they'll try, but I don't know how much more we'll get," he says.

Kardi and Suud both agree that Rp 40 million apiece will not be enough for them, saying it will take at least twice that amount to rebuild their homes.

"But if that's all that they're going to give us, then I'm thankful for it," Suud says. "I won't make a big fuss about it because this is a test from God. So it the government wants to help, then I'm grateful."