Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

Nias students protested Wednesday outside the North Sumatra Legislative Council in Medan over the pace of reconstruction on the earthquake-devastated island.

Members of the Nias Students Alliance criticized the provincial government for failing to draw up a reconstruction blueprint for Nias two years after the island was struck by a massive quake.

Protest coordinator Darnis Harita said the government was not serious about rebuilding Nias, pointing to the lack of an official reconstruction plan as proof.

He said reconstruction on the island would only be complicated by the lack of a blueprint, and claimed that numerous villages on Nias had yet to see any reconstruction activity.

“We estimate that around 50 percent of villages affected by the earthquake in Nias have not been rebuilt,” Harita told The Jakarta Post.

Harita, who comes from Teluk Dalam district in South Nias regency, said many quake survivors were still living in makeshift shelters.

“Thousands of refugees are still holed up in tents because they have not been provided with houses. They have lived the last two years without being certain of their fate,” said Harita, adding that some 200 Nias quake survivors were still taking shelter in Medan.

The earthquake that hit Nias on March 28, 2005, killed hundreds and forced around 70,000 people from their homes. Total losses on the island were estimated at around Rp 4 trillion (about US$450 million).

Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR) spokesman Emanuel Migo acknowledged Wednesday that some Nias quake survivors were still living in tents and temporary barracks.

He said the agency had built 6,332 permanent houses as of February this year, of the total 15,000 houses it hopes to complete by 2009.

He said that in addition to the BRR, a number of non-governmental organizations also were building houses for survivors.

“We have also received pledges from various agencies, including from the World Bank for 5,000 houses and the Canadian Red Cross for 2,500 houses. So we hope the problems will be overcome this year,” said Migo.

Asked about a draft for reconstruction on Nias, Migo said the central government, through National Development Planning Board chairman Paskah Suzetta, had promised to complete a blueprint in two months at the latest.

“The Bappenas chairman conveyed this promise in Jakarta recently. We hope the blueprint can be completed on time,” he said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also working to improve the lives of children and their families affected by the disaster.

It has built 41 semi-permanent schools for 9,000 elementary school students. More than 140,000 elementary school students have received school materials, such as books, paper and pencils.

However, two years after the earthquake, much of the island’s infrastructure is still damaged, and the lack of accessibility and low capacity of local contractors continue to slow the reconstruction process.

“We have only started our work,” head of the UNICEF Nias sub-office, Raoul de Torcy, said in a statement. “This is our chance to make the lives of the people better than they used to be even before the earthquake. UNICEF has a long-term commitment to the people of Nias, and we will not leave before our work is accomplished.”

Source: The Jakarta Post, 30 March 2007

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