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Six months after tsunami, Aceh rebuilds slowly

Many projects were held up waiting for the Indonesian government's approval.

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No time was wasted in the days following the Dec. 26 tsunami that leveled Indian Ocean coastal villages. Navies turned around their ships, aid workers hopped on planes, and millions of ordinary people opened their wallets.

Six months and some $1.8 billion later, the massive effort in Indonesia has helped clear the debris and provide food and temporary shelter. Some 100,000 people have returned to their homes or host families in Aceh Province. But that's only one-fifth of those made homeless in the worst-hit province - and the rebuilding of roads, harbors, and schools has only just begun.

The scale of the work ahead remains daunting, and aid workers in Indonesia and other tsunami-hit countries complain that bureaucratic inertia, politics, and in some cases, graft and corruption, are slowing efforts to rebuild cities, villages, and livelihoods. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the outspoken director of Indonesia's official tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation agency, shares these frustrations and wants to rekindle a sense of urgency.

"I'm not satisfied with the pace [of reconstruction] because things are still slow," Kuntoro told the Monitor, adding that when he arrived in May "there hadn't been any improvement" since the initial relief work.

After his May appointment Kuntoro immediately slammed what he called the "shocking" complacency of the country's bureaucrats. Kuntoro, a former minister with a record of quickening stale bureaucracies, has vowed to get reconstruction moving during his tenure at the $5 billion agency that has a five-year mandate.

To be sure, the scale of the Dec. 26 disaster means there are no benchmarks to gauge the pace of recovery against. Kuntoro in later public comments said that bureaucrats and legislators realized the emergency in Aceh, but said that the administrative machinery was designed to work in a "normal" situation and is still cleaning up the remains of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

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