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Aceh quake reconstruction moves slowly

Many villages remain devastated as thousands sleep in tents during the rainy season

Aceh quake reconstruction moves slowly

Local people and police officers prepare for Friday prayer in front of a collapsed mosque in Pidie Jaya district in Aceh, Indonesia, Dec. 9, 2016. Hundreds of victims of the powerful quake that rocked Indonesia's Aceh province are being treated outdoors in emergency makeshift tents. (Photo: IANS) 

In the early hours of Dec. 7 last year, Muhammad Yusuf Ismail was asleep in his home in Kuta Pangwa, in Aceh province's Pidie Jaya district when the shaking started and his home began collapsing around him.

There were 10 people in the house, while most survived, his daughter with her seven months baby were crushed to death under the rubble as the walls caved in.

"The tremor was very hard and short — we felt as if the house was lifted into the air then slammed down."

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Realizing what had happened, Ismail rushed from the house, but injured his shoulder in the confusion and was hospitalized for several days. Now, he and his wife, Ramla, live in an emergency shelter.

Their village was one of the worst affected areas. The 6.5 magnitude quake caused widespread devastation across three districts, Pidie, Bireuen and Pidie Jaya, and killed 104 people, seriously injured 857 and damaged the homes of 45,000 others.

Mosques as well as schools, roads and commercial buildings were also damaged.

The Acehnese have lived in fear of another major earthquake since the one in December 2004 that triggered tsunami that swept across Southeast Asia killing at least 230,000 people and displacing more than half a million in six countries.

Fears of another major disaster were still alive, said Bahni Sulaiman, a resident of nearby Mee Pangwa village.

"A few minutes after the quake, everyone crowded into the street and ran towards a hill, located about 2 kilometers from the village," the 50-year-old teacher said.

"Everyone panicked," Sulaiman said.

This time though as the epicenter was on land, not at sea, another tsunami did not come.

"It is  very hard to accept the situation when, in a few minutes everything, was destroyed," said Darmiyati Rusli, a 42-year-old mother of four in Mee Pangwa village.



In response to the disaster, aid came from the central and provincial governments and NGOs, including Catholic Church institutions.

Central government is looking to build more than 2,200 new houses and expects to finish them by the end of February, but locals remain skeptical.

Finance Minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati said 1 trillion rupiah (US$75 million) has been set aside for reconstructing places of worship, schools, houses and roads that were damaged.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church through organizations such as Vivat International for Indonesia, Love Humanity Devotional Group and Caritas from Medan Archdiocese, have also been providing aid.

"For the church, in addition to the home-building program, we have focused on providing assistance to pregnant women and to infants," said Divine Word Father Paulus Rahmat.

Two months on, progress has been slow. Many villagers still live in makeshift accommodation. 

In Kuta Pangwa, the military are busy building homes. According to a local military spokesman Setyawan Muda, 400 soldiers are rebuilding 500 houses.

 "We were given a target of 40 days to complete this, or until this February," he said.



But reconstruction has been slow and blighted, with nightly rains teeming down as the wet season continues. Victims also claim there is widespread corruption and injustice in the delivery of aid.

"There are many houses severely damaged that should be looked at but many are not on the list," said Bustami Afan, 36, a resident of Mee Pangwa.

Anta Bungsu Rumpak, from the Humanitarian Volunteer Network, said damage assessments were incorrectly made.

"There are houses that were badly damaged but are listed as having minor damage," he said.

Reports of irregularities with grants and donations are emerging.

In one case local media allege that US$26,500 was received from a US$31,000 donation from the Regional Representatives Council.

Askhalani, coordinator of the Aceh's Anti-Corruption Movement, called it "very embarrassing."

"How come, when people are desperate there are those who reap personal gain. The death penalty should be a deterrent to them," said Askhalani, who like many Indonesians only uses one name.



Two months after the quake, people are desperate to return to a normal life.

In Pidie Jaya, restaurants and coffee shops are reopening for business, while farmers have started tending their crops again.

However, the trauma the quake brought remains.

"We still choose to sleep in tents, rather than in the house" said Darmiyati Rusli.

 Jamaludin Sulaiman, a resident of Tampui, Trenggadeng subdistrict, said the same.

"I do not dare enter my house. This was the first time we experienced a big quake, " he said.

"When the tsunami in 2004, there was shaking, but not as strong as this quake," he said.

Muhammad Yusuf Ismail remains haunted by what happened to his daughter and grandchild.

"I'll never forget my daughter's screams for help. I feel as though I failed to save her," Ismail said.

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