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Victims Struggle to Rebuild Weeks After Indonesia Quake


Hundreds of thousands of people in central Indonesia still spend each night under plastic tarps - more than six weeks after their homes were destroyed in an earthquake. The government hopes to house about 1.2 million displaced people before the heavy rains return in November. But reconstruction cannot begin until officials ensure new buildings will withstand another earthquake in this disaster-prone region - such as the one that struck only on Monday July 17, causing a deadly tsunami. Michael Coren recently visited Yogyakarta, which was hardest-hit by the May 27 quake, and has this report on the recovery process.

In the Bantul district outside Yogyakarta, piles of bricks and splintered beams line the roads. Scraps of clothes, packets of noodles and shattered bedroom furniture tell of life before the 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the densely populated island of Java in May.

At least 5800 people died in the quake and 50,000 were injured - a far smaller toll than that inflicted on Indonesia's Aceh province by the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. But the tremors here toppled more than 150,000 homes, leaving 1.2 million people without housing - a far greater number than in Aceh. And hundreds of thousands of other homes need major repairs.

Here in the hardest-hit area of Bantul, Surawan, a 56-year-old teacher, has spent weeks repairing their shattered home for his wife and two children. Strips of bamboo form unfinished walls. Squares of battered plastic and canvas serve as a roof.

Surawan says he is rebuilding with anything he can find. Although he is unsure how his home will look or how long it will last, this is the best he can do.

The World Bank says it is the need to rebuild and repair all those homes that has made the May earthquake one of the most costly in the developing world in a decade. The World Bank and the Indonesian government estimate full reconstruction will cost $4 billion - at least $700 million for housing alone.

That is a heavy burden for the Indonesian government, which also is coping with the effects of the tsunami and a 2005 earthquake on the island of Nias.

Help from overseas has poured in - volunteers, medical supplies, water and tool kits. Christine McCormick is the emergency coordinator for the relief group Save the Children.

"Things to a certain extent have improved," she said. "If you go around Yogya (Yogyakarta), you can see people are doing their best to get back to normal, rebuild their homes, getting on with earning a living. But there's still a lot that needs to be done."

The survivors are scattered across hundreds of square kilometers of rice paddies, forest and isolated villages.

"Mainly people are living close to their homes or what's left of their homes … and living in whatever they can make into some sort of shelter," she said.

George Soraya, a senior official at the World Bank, says blame for the disaster's price tag can be laid on the doorstep of the houses themselves.

"The earthquake was as damaging but it should not have created that much if the houses were of a good quality," he said.

Families in Central Java often build homes simply by stacking bricks atop layers of dirt. When the ground began to shake on May 27, the unsupported walls gave way almost instantly.

The government plans to subsidize new homes and enforce neglected building codes - so that new structures will survive future quakes. However, donations and government funds have been slow to arrive to fund the housing reconstruction.

Few believe government assistance will arrive from Jakarta soon. Muhammed Sulaiman, public works director for the city of Yogyakarta, echoed concerns from aid agencies that national rebuilding efforts have stalled for financial and bureaucratic reasons, as the government struggles to cope with the cost of three disasters.

"All I know is that it's not enough. It's a very small amount that is ready. This money is not sufficient for all the needs," he said.

The government and the victims of the quake decided not to repeat the practice seen in Aceh, where homeless people were quickly placed in temporary barracks often far from their homes. Instead, most people independently formed rough shelters near their destroyed homes, and now wait for aid to rebuild. Many recovery workers say they may wait for months before construction begins.

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