Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Poor construction of tsunami victim’s homes

It is embarassing, considering the attention this got early, and the amount of money supposedly spent on tsunami reconstruction, but the Financial Times is reporting poor construction of tsunami victim’s homes.

BRR has terminated contracts with dozens of contractors because of shoddy work. Save the Children has been involved in the most embarrassing housing quality scandal. Of 708 houses it was building, 64 had to be replaced, 507 repaired and of the 137 under construction when the crisis was uncovered in March, many needed overhaul. Eric Morris, the UN co-ordinator in Aceh, said: “The issue of quality control has not been what we wanted it to be. There needs to be a shift away from the focus on quantity and more on quality.”

BRR estimates that 120,000 houses will need to be built for the 500,000 people made homeless in the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami. Almost 170,000 people were killed or went missing in Indonesia.

Mr Dercon said it would be a challenge to maintain standards because the more difficult construction, in remote and small hamlets, has yet to begin.

Many of the future problems will involve wood, according to Ilham Sinabela of WWF, co-ordinator of the organisations monitoring timber, because of poor quality or inadequate treatment.

“We have seen wooden pillars already starting to bend and crack – just a few months after they were built,” he said. “It’s going to be as little as one year [before many houses will need major work] because that’s when the frames will start warping.”

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the BRR chief, agrees with timber experts that agencies building houses could avoid these problems if they did greater due diligence of their timber’s origin rather than relying on documentation from the forestry ministry, which he said can easily be forged. [John Aglionby, Financial Times]


Samaritan's Purse in Panga, of course, was totally focused on quantity. While they build largely with concrete and not wood, the wood they did use often came from illegal sources. They've since been thrown out of Sumatra, but if their USAID contract there was unfulfilled or incomplete (violating SPHERE standards, they didn't redo septic systems, etc), then we should go back and do it right, with less of an evangelical/rabid right-wing agenda, with more of a commitment to understand and involve local input and control. Indonesia's Former Minister for the Environment, Emil Salim, spoke pretty clearly about the need for traditional housing in Aceh's reconstruction, but the USAID financed SP project stamped out featureless concrete block houses that might have made good bunkers in some Central Asian industrial complex, but may not have been durable or longlasting considering the seismicity and climate of Aceh.

At a minimum, USAID and other appropriate agencies (DoJ?, USFWS? USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service?) should revisit Panga and conduct physical surveys and interveiews with beneficiaries there, and maybe rebuild or finish building the promised houses, but more importantly, address the post-conflict economic integration that will result in lasting peace. Without a doubt there was some fraud, but there was much more damaging incompetence, arrogance, and profiteering disguised as charity.

Without Federal intervention, it might still be possible for Minnesotans to continue to contribute useful materials, technology and training that will help Aceh. We've got pressure-treated wood and other building supplies, maybe wind or solar power knowhow for rebuilding decentralized, community-scale electricity requirements. They've got coffee and rubber, an amazing climate, good food and an interesting set of languages and cultures. Perhaps some sort of coffee for wood, mosquito control problem for mosquito control exercise kind of experience that both Minnesotans and Acehnese could profit from.

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