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Indonesian Earthquake Survivors Still Lack Shelter as Rainy Season Approaches

Nearly five months after a deadly earthquake struck Indonesia's Java Island, thousands of homeless survivors still struggle to rebuild their lives. Delays in the reconstruction effort and an inadequate response from the donor community have left many fending for themselves. And now quake victims are facing new threats as Indonesia's rainy season approaches.

Workers in Central Java rebuild a house with salvaged bricks. Four months ago a 6.3 magnitude earthquake tore through this area, reducing nearly 300,000 houses to ruins. Five thousand people died in the quake, which flattened entire villages.

But reconstruction has been slow, and a least 100,000 families are still living in tents as the season of torrential rains approaches.

The government vowed to distribute reconstruction money soon after the disaster, but funds only began to trickle into villagers' hands this month.

Soryantoro, a 25-year old construction contractor from one of the hardest-hit areas of the quake zone, is building bamboo houses for an aid agency. He says the government should be ashamed of the delay in distributing funds. He says it seems the central government does not care about a small place like Bantul. Soryantoro says the people of Bantul are frustrated and disappointed that the government has not learned the lessons of Aceh.

Indonesia's Aceh province lost more than 160,000 people to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Reconstruction efforts there have drawn accusations of inefficiency and poor coordination. But the government says it has learned from Aceh.

Budi Atmaji Adiputro of the Coordinating Agency for National Disaster Relief says the government was slower to distribute aid for the Yogyakarta earthquake because it took two months to ensure the money would be used efficiently, and to develop earthquake-proof designs and hire skilled labor.

"We build the houses with the standard of public works, so it of course takes time," he said.

But international aid workers say the government has been indecisive about its reconstruction strategy. Pete Mansfield is an advisor for the United Nations Development Program, or U.N.D.P., in Yogyakarta. He says delays have aggravated the need for shelter.

"And it's really this emerging gap as a result of the lack of clarity concerning the permanent reconstruction effort that has let to a rather late game being played," said Mansfield. "So from a shelter perspective, yes we are working against a timeline as the rains come, and if you think of it in practical terms, people are living and working and conducting their lives outdoors at the moment while the weather is good. As soon as it starts raining, the usable space in most of the villages is going to drop by about 80 percent."

Even with work going at a breakneck pace, however, 50,000 people will remain without adequate housing into 2007.

Aid agencies also say the initial donor response did not match the scale of the disaster. The U.N.D.P. is appealing to the World Bank and the international community for more money to close the gap.

Some organizations are trying to get around the lack of funds by building cheaper temporary houses for families that have not received money.

Jules Korsten, head of the International Organization for Migration in Yogyakarta, says his agency is building 200 temporary units - or t-shelters - a day, and hopes to complete 12,000 units by the end of the year.

"They're not going to have enough funds this year to provide the amount that is promised for each household. So would could happen you have 15 households, and that they only get money for seven or eight households so then we would deliver the t-shelter for those other seven until that money arrives next year," said Korsten. "So at least people have something over their head."

Korsten points to "donor fatigue" to explain the shortage of funds. There have been several major disasters in the past few years around the world that needed aid, and donors are tiring of the effort. He says some donors also are not satisfied with how recovery funds were spent in Aceh.

Many aid agencies are preparing to leave the area as funding dries up, and there are worries this could create a health crisis if many medical groups leave.

Health statistics already reflect the strain of outdoor living. The rate of acute respiratory infection in Bantul is five to six times higher than normal. As the wet season approaches, health officials expect that number to rise. Dengue fever and malaria also thrive in rainy conditions.

The lack of shelter is taking a special toll on children. Schools have shortened their hours because of the blazing heat in temporary classrooms. Aid groups say school is not only important to children's future job prospects; it also plays a key role in helping them recover from emotional trauma.

Back among the ruins in the Bantul district, Soryantoro's workers lift a bamboo roof frame for a new temporary school building.

Soryantoro says he wants to finish as many shelters as possible, and often works into the night. He says he even disobeys the orders of the aid agencies if he has to. For example, if the organization orders 200 shelters in one week, he will make 300 instead.

Soryantoro says there is no time to work slowly - he feels like he is racing against the rain.