Nias begs for more world attention

Wednesday, December 7, 2005
By nias

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Almost a year after two devastating natural disasters struck Nias Island in North Sumatra, some 4,000 families are still living in makeshift shelters and thousands of students are studying under tents, desperately waiting for aid from donor countries.

Most refugees have lost relatives, their houses and their jobs because of the double disasters, and are reliant on help from volunteers and activists from foreign non-governmental organizations and the Nias-Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR) that have been supplying their daily needs.

Thousands of students have been attending classes in temporary camps because school buildings have yet to be rebuilt.

"It's ironic that the situation on the island is still far from normal 10 months after the earthquake. Don't compare it with the relatively better conditions in Aceh," William Sabandar, BRR representative in Gunung Sitoli, Nias, told The Jakarta Post after a BRR Nias Island stakeholder meeting here on Tuesday.

Nias was as devastated as Aceh following the Dec. 26 tsunami. But the island was further devastated when another major earthquake shook it three months later.

According to Sabandar, only 200 new houses have been built out of the 13,000 the BRR plans to construct. About 50,000 houses also need to be renovated.

"By April 2006, a total of 1,000 houses will be built and the construction of the remaining 12,000 will follow in accordance with the pledges of donor countries. We are in need of Rp 1.1 trillion (US$110 million) for the house construction and rehabilitation project," he said.

UNICEF has pledged to help finance the construction of 160 new school buildings and foreign NGOs have promised financial aid to put up 100 school buildings, while BRR has committed to constructing 60 school buildings.

A total of 770 school buildings and hundreds of churches and mosques were severely damaged during the disasters.

Subandar said that besides financial shortages, difficult access due to the devastated infrastructure had hampered BRR in supplying construction materials to the worst-hit areas.

"Some 19 projects worth Rp 431 billion to rehabilitate damaged roads, bridges, hospitals, public health centers and schools are still underway. We hope the projects can be completed within two years," he said.

Separately, BRR chief Kuntoro Mangkusubroto confirmed that the reconstruction and rehabilitation work in Nias was far slower than in Aceh because of a shortage of finance.

While there has been criticism, progress has been achieved in Aceh because 96 percent of donor countries' donations had been used in the province, but Nias had remained untouched, he said.

"After the tsunami devastated Aceh and Nias last year, donor countries and the government committed to providing only 4 percent of their total donations to Nias. No new commitment was given following the March 18 earthquake that left 40,000 people homeless and almost 1,000 school buildings, churches and mosques damaged," he said.

The government and donor countries have so far committed themselves to providing $2.1 billion of the $7.1 billion in total donations to Nias within four years.

Following the devastating quake, Kuntoro said, BRR has asked donor countries and the government to allocate between 12 percent and 17 percent of total donations for Nias because of the extensive damage and the vast amount of reconstruction needed.

Attending Tuesday's meeting were representatives of the World Bank, UN, foreign NGOs, foreign ambassadors and North Sumatra deputy governor Rudolf Pardede.

"Donor countries and BRR agree to prioritize road and bridge reconstruction projects to give easier access to the supply of construction materials to worst-hit remote areas on the island," Kuntoro said.

Besides the World Bank, UN and foreign NGOs, Germany, Sweden and China have expressed their commitment to providing financial aid to Nias.

Another meeting of stakeholders is scheduled for Jan. 17 in Gunung Sitoli.

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