Binsar Bakkara  /  AP
Fishermen reel in their nets after landing at Lampulo Port in Banda Aceh on Thursday. The Indonesian region was the worst hit by the earthquake and tsunami that struck on Dec. 26, 2004.
By Reporter
NBC News
updated 3/25/2005 7:42:07 AM ET 2005-03-25T12:42:07

Three months after the tsunami struck, the people of Aceh, Indonesia, are struggling to put their lives together, according to the nation's officials.

Where homes once stood, children once played and businesses once thrived, more than 200,000 people have been buried and 100,000 more are still missing, presumed dead.

Despite the global outpouring of aid and support for Indonesia and the other nations affected by the disaster, the recovery is a mammoth challenge for the respective governments.

For Indonesia, the worst-hit country, the government has launched an aggressive effort to rebuild the devastated areas in Aceh province.

“We are now trying to make the blueprint for the future,” says Riaz Saehu, Secretary of the Indonesian Consulate General in Washington, D.C.  The Indonesian government has just released a plan to rebuild the area over the next five years using $5 billion in donations. 

The first part was the "Emergency Phase,"  while Saehu said the ‘Rehabilitation Phase’ will begin on Saturday -- the three-month anniversary -- and is scheduled to last for at least the next two years.  The last part, called the "Reconstruction Phase," will take up to five years to complete.

Fight for land
One of the most pressing issues is the relocation of the 800,000 people living in converted buildings and newly built temporary shelters since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the waves it spawned struck on Dec. 26, 2004.

While the government initially hoped to create and rebuild communities in areas farther inland, there does not seem to be a general consensus on whether this will be the best option, said Sahadatun Donatirin, Vice Counsel for Press and Protocol at Indonesian Consulate General in New York.

Some of the residents of Aceh do not agree with the government's decision to relocate them because of their ties to their old community, he noted. And for the many people who owned land and homes, it is not easy for them to walk away.

This part of the problem becomes complicated legally because many of the documents that detail ownership and land boundaries were also lost during the disaster.

"Most of the people would like to go back to their old home but the government is trying to discuss this with them," Saehu said.

"It is a very delicate situation because there is land that is owned by people who have passed away and now we have to carefully define who owns what, although we no longer have documents to prove ownership."

Saehu estimates that nearly 80 percent of Aceh's infrastructure, including the local government offices, were damaged.  As a result, all the personal documents and government documents are all gone.

And according to Saehu, though all the data are lost, the residents of Aceh are not willing to accept the government’s notion that it is time to start over.

"They don’t understand that it’s all lost, and this is our problem now,” he said.  In the eyes of the living survivors, they still have claims to their land and have little interest in giving up what they have worked for, Saehu explained.

War with the sea
Meantime, for a people whose lives depended on the bountiful ocean, the struggle over land is matched by a mental war over the sea.

“There are so many traumas on the island. The kids are having such a hard time,” Donatirin said.  The diplomat explained that the children on the island are suffer from post-traumatic disorder and many have developed a fear of the water as a result.

But it’s not only specific to children, says Abdul Zainuddin, an Indonesian based in the New York consulate who visited his family shortly after the tragedy.  “Even older people are afraid of the water and the beach.  It’s just not the way it used to be.  Some people get scared when they hear running water in the same room as they are.”      

The Indonesian government, aware of fear about another disaster, have pledged to spend up to 50 percent of its $5 billion to rebuild Aceh city’s infrastructure.  Part of this money will be to build sea walls to reduce the impact of any future tsunamis.

Dealing with the impact and aftereffects of the tsunami has impacted all of the island's 4.5 million residents, Saehu said.  But the rebuilding efforts have just begun and there is a long road ahead.

Saehu said the government is working closely with the residents every step of the way by keeping them informed of procedures and decisions. "Because this is not just about the government, this is about everyone."

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