Monday, May 12, 2008

Reconstruction to Development: Nias, Indonesia

Right now the world’s attention is on the devastating cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. Reports show that over 1.5 million people have been impacted and nations from around the world, including New Zealand have all responded with immediate pledges of aid but what happens after that immediate aid effort? What happens when the hype dies down? How do communities rebuild and move forward? What can we learn from other disasters?

Nias is a remote rural island cluster, made up of 130 islands in the northwest of Indonesia. While we often hear about the 2004 Asian tsunami damage in nearby Aceh, the unprecedented damage also had a long term impact on the people of Nias, who were struck by a major earthquake only three months after the tsunami. The earthquake destroyed nearly all the infrastructure - 50 percent of the houses were damaged and 90 percent of schools were destroyed.

William Sabandar, a former NZAID scholarship student, was appointed by the Indonesian government to lead the reconstruction efforts in this island community of 700,000. He recently spoke to a group of NZAID staff and other stakeholders about the reconstruction process as they transition towards a development phase.

Poverty indicators before the earthquake showed that 31.6 percent of people lived in poverty. Afterwards this number rose to 50 percent. While the disaster itself was devastating, a more complex issue of development is also in play.

“It’s easy to forget that Nias was chronically poor before the disasters struck and with those two events, many years of development were lost. We’ve seen that it’s hard enough co-ordinating a timely and effective response in rich countries like the US (post Katrina) let alone in an isolated island in the Indian Ocean with poor infrastructure, scattered settlements and high levels of poverty,” says NZAID’s Mike Hartfield.

According to William Sabandar, you can’t look at reconstruction in isolation. “You can’t simply build houses, when you need to build settlements, you can’t simply build a hospital, we need to build a health care system.”

Disaster risk reduction and poverty elimination are at the heart of the reconstruction work and much progress has been made. 730 schools have been built, with plans for another 32 schools remaining. 22,606 houses have been built and the remaining houses should be finished by the end of the year. The houses have been built by the community rather than getting external construction workers and the results have been positive - the money is going to the community, social capital is strengthened and quality is assured.

One of the challenges remains that while schools and hospitals have now been built, the systems need to be maintained and managed in a sustainable way. The focus will move back to development in 2009 and the transition process itself must be carefully designed and planned. In Nias management will pass back to the local government who have played an active role in the process so far.

Equipping local government in areas of governance, financial management, budgeting and in particular disaster risk reduction will be critical for future development. “The people of Nias need to be prepared and all agencies must be working in the same direction,” concludes William.

NZAID supports the ongoing reconstruction of Nias through the Indonesia bilateral programme.

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