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Aceh Housing Reconstruction Nears Completion

The agency in charge of rebuilding tsunami-stricken Aceh, Indonesia, says it is on track to finish building houses there next spring. The Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency is now shifting its focus to economic recovery. The head of the organization says significant challenges remain, including inadequate electricity and a lack of foreign investment. Trish Anderton reports from Jakarta.

More than half the roads destroyed by the 2004 tsunami have been rebuilt, airstrips and seaports are open for business again, and more than 500 new or renovated health facilities are in place throughout Aceh province. At a news conference in Jakarta, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency chief Kuntoro Mangunsubroto said almost all tsunami survivors have moved out of temporary housing.

"I'm glad to tell you, when it comes to housing, this month we just passed a little bit over 100,000 houses. And we are going to announce that our housing program will end in April 2008," said Mangunsubroto.

The 2004 tsunami claimed more than 160,000 lives in Aceh and left about half a million people homeless. Kuntoro says 3,000 to 4,000 people are still living in temporary barracks. They are former renters who are scheduled to receive houses and land of their own. Kuntoro says some of the existing houses need significant renovations because they were poorly built.

"A number of houses have not been occupied, a number of houses with poor quality, no drainage, [and] some houses [have] no electricity," he said.

Energy remains a significant challenge. Aceh was experiencing a power shortage even before the tsunami, and relies heavily on electricity imported from the neighboring province of North Sumatra. A coal-fired electric plant for Aceh is still in the planning stages, and Kuntoro is lobbying to revive a hydropower project that was put on hold in 2004.

Foreign investment is also in short supply. Kuntoro notes that at Banda Aceh's Malahayati harbor, almost all workers are unloading ships, rather than loading up goods for sale abroad.

"But, I can understand because the legal certainty is not there yet," he said. "Aceh as a special province has its own law but the law can't be implemented because the implementation regulation is not there yet."

The provincial government says it expects to put those regulations in place in December. Kuntoro thanked international donors, who he said had set a world record by delivering 89 percent of the aid they pledged to Aceh after the tsunami.

The reconstruction chief says his agency is now helping local bureaucrats learn to manage Aceh's new airports, roads and hospitals. He says that, despite the ongoing challenges, he sees no major obstacles to the agency turning over its work to Aceh's provincial government as planned in 2009.