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Progress and Problems in Banda Aceh, Indonesia One Year After Tsunami Devastation

Former rebels in Indonesia's Aceh province have formally disbanded their armed wing -- as part of a peace accord to end 30 years of conflict in northern Sumatra. Dissolution of the armed wing comes days after Indonesia's military started the final phase of troop withdrawals from Aceh. The peace agreement calls for the military to leave Aceh at the same time as the militants hand over their weapons to international monitors. The truce was signed last August, to help the province recover from last December's devastating tsunami. VOA's Patsy Widakuswara recently traveled to Aceh province and filed this report on recovery efforts there.

Rahmadani, two-months-old, is upset that her nap has been cut short. Her mother Suarni has more reasons to be angry. Her daughter was born in a tent ten months after the tsunami swallowed her home in Banda Aceh.

"I wish the government would pay attention to us instead of just looking after the rebels,” Suarni says. “At least the rebels still have homes. We have been living in a tent for a year!"

Suarni and Rahmadani are among the 120,000 Acehnese still living in tents and barracks. But Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency, says that progress is being made.

"The number of houses built is already remarkable,” he says. “It is around 16,200. And the number of houses under construction is 13,200."

Every month 5,000 new homes are built. But this is still not fast enough. Agencies that build homes, such as International Organization for Migration, say that the scope and scale of the disaster is so huge that progress is often slow and painful.

Paul Dillon, I.O.M.'s spokesperson, told us, "First of all, most of the people died. This is the unfortunate reality. Most of the people who lived in those areas, they died in the tsunami. There is nobody to rebuild. The equivalent of 600 square kilometers was completely erased from the map."

The waves destroyed more than a 100,000 small businesses. And even though the Aceh market is lively again, partly due to the government's microcredit program, the local economy has not fully recovered.

An elementary school in Kuta Pasir has lost its building, 150 students and seven teachers. They are now studying in a makeshift structure. But the kids are happy. They are excited to be moving to their new school across the street. Headmistress Irawati thanks God that the people of Lampung donated money for the school.

"In all my 33 years of teaching, I have never taught in such a big and beautiful school. This must be God's blessing," she says.

Irawati and her students are lucky. Of the 2,000 schools destroyed, only half have been rebuilt. And of the 122 medical facilities, only 38 have been restored, such as the small clinic in the suburbs of Banda Aceh.

The Indonesian government and international community also need to care for those who are most devastated -- thousands of fishermen making a living on the 800 kilometers of Acehnese coastline. Four thousand seven hundred fishing boats were lost and only 3,000 have been replaced. Only a quarter of the 20,000 hectares of fish and shrimp ponds have been repaired.

Yes, there is progress in Aceh, but there is still much more to be done.