Monday, December 19, 2005

'Spit back by the sea'

This Associated Press Dispatch (via the Las Vegas Sun) shows the disspiriting downside of aid as a means to empowerment. Again the lead says it all: "It has been a year since the tsunami laid waste to the isolated Indonesian province of Aceh, but tens of thousands of people still live in a vast archipelago of shanty towns made of scrap wood spit back by the sea." The reporter calls the aid effort "an invasion of good intentions and almost no oversight." Which I guess is why tens of thousands are still living in scrap houses.

Legalisms got in the way: "Only a tiny percentage of people who lost their homes turned out to hold title to their land. Often, their families had lived on the land for generations as renters or squatters, or their ownership papers had been lost in the tsunami. Compounding this were issues ranging from a shortage of timber to poor planning. As a result, thousands of survivors were left in tents and shanty towns that began slowly falling apart as Sumatra's brutal heat gave way to the rainy season."

The reporter doesn't ask about one thing I've heard: that traditional fishing villages are being denied the right to rebuilt on coastal land, while developers of tourist hotels are being given the green light. Certainly fears about the destructive possibility of another tsunami are real. But fishing villages need to be next to the water. This unequal and, indeed, colonialist re-allocation of land may be one of the biggest impediments to rebuilding the communities that were smashed in the tsunami.

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