A few hundred tsunami survivors traded their cramped and dirty tents for government barracks with kitchens and latrines Tuesday in a sign that aid pouring into this province is shifting away from emergency relief toward more permanent reconstruction.
About 100,000 people in the shattered Aceh province have been living in tents in overcrowded camps, many built on ground still swampy from the tsunami since soon after the Dec. 26 disaster.
But 600 of them on Tuesday became the first to move to government-provided wooden barracks-style accommodations, said Totok Pri, a coordinator for Indonesia’s public works department.
Three buses filled with the survivors arrived in the camp on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, the devastated provincial capital, and began unpacking their meager belongings in the 10 homes.
“I can accept moving to the relocation center because the place looks like a house and not a tent,” said Mardiyah, 29-year-old survivor whose parents were killed. “I am no longer worried that I might get evicted.”
The new housing in Indonesia highlighted a larger shift in aid priorities among donor nations that rushed to help the nearly dozen nations affected by the tsunami, but more than six weeks later are focusing on longer-term reconstruction.
New aid, new focus
Overnight in Brussels, development ministers of the European Union decided to redirect aid efforts to reconstruction, and said the stricken nations would now have a larger degree of control over how to spend the funds.
The 25 EU nations have earmarked $420 million in emergency aid since the disaster, and the EU head office already promised another $455 million in reconstruction aid. Contributions from the member states are expected to add to that figure.
“The affected countries will have a leading role in the reconstruction,” Luxembourg Development Minister Jean Louis Schiltz said. He stressed that all aid would have to pass rigorous anti-corruption tests.
Although tens of thousands of people are still officially listed as missing, hopes of finding more survivors have faded and hundreds of bodies are still being pulled from the debris.
Isolated reunions among the thousands of survivors continue, however, delayed for weeks after the waves struck because of the chaos that ensued.
‘Thanks be to God’
An Indonesian mother and her 10-year-old son were reunited Tuesday when the boy, who had been too traumatized to communicate with aid workers, suddenly recognized his home during a drive through Banda Aceh.
Aid workers at the camp where the boy, Iwan, was staying decided to take him for a drive, more to entertain him than in any hope he might remember where he lived. They ended up driving into his neighborhood.
“Stop! Stop! that is the street that leads to my house,” he shouted.
His mother, Hayatun, meanwhile, had walked the streets for more than seven weeks searching for Iwan.
“Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God,” the boy’s mother, Hayatun Nafis cried, holding tightly onto Iwan and smelling his hair and hands. “Look at me my child, my darling.”