Two years after the foundations of Aceh were shaken to the core by an undersea earthquake, then pummeled by an unforgiving wave, the province is confronting dual demands: to rebuild homes and roads while delivering on the promise of a peace accord signed after three decades of separatist fighting.
That accord is already delivering tangible political rewards to the rebels, just as many residents are seeing new homes rise in washed-away neighborhoods. Maintaining momentum on both fronts is essential, aid workers say, warning that to deal with tsunami relief in isolation is to ignore the complexities of reconstruction in a province torn by bitter fighting fueled by competition for rich natural resources.
"There is a convergence between tsunami recovery and conflict recovery.... (Without) a sustainable peace in Aceh, if you consider the aid as an investment in its future, you will not get a good return on your investment. It's also a question of equity, having some balance. There are victims of both tragedies," says Eric Morris, the UN's recovery coordinator for Aceh.
Acehnese overwhelmingly seem to welcome the foreign-aid presence. Stricken communities are seeing the world's pledges of support turn into new schools, houses, hospitals, and mosques, with the pace of rebuilding picking up considerably in the past year. Along Aceh's coastline and offshore island, some 50,000 permanent houses have gone up over the past two years.
The Dec. 26, 2004, quake also shook Aceh's political foundations. By the following summer, leaders of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, signed a landmark peace accord in Finland. …The mobilization of international support for Aceh after the tsunami was a catalyst in the peace talks, as donors quickly realized that the conflict was harming recovery efforts. The scale of the devastation also sapped the fighting spirit of the two sides.
Political stability is crucial to Aceh's economic future. Economists are already warning of a bursting of the foreign-aid bubble and the need to make the leap from charity handouts to sustainable jobs, particularly in the key agriculture and fishing sectors. Aid agencies want more micro-credit efforts to enhance livelihood programs and spur entrepreneurship.
[Excerpts of an article by Simon Montlake in The Christian Science Monitor]