December 13, 2005

Fifth of tsunami survivors have homes

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Only one-fifth of the 1.8 million
people made homeless by last December's tsunami will be in
permanent homes by the end of this year, British-based aid
group Oxfam International said on Wednesday.

In the three worst-affected countries -- Indonesia, Sri
Lanka and India -- the total need was for 308,000 homes, the
equivalent of rehousing the entire population of Philadelphia,
Oxfam said in a report ahead of the anniversary of the December
26 catastrophe.

At least 231,452 people were killed or remain missing after
the 9.15 magnitude undersea earthquake off the northern tip of
Sumatra and the unprecedented tsunami it spawned.

Hundreds of aid agencies descended on the disaster zone and
provided emergency shelters and health care for the survivors
of one of the worst natural calamities in memory, preventing a
second wave of deaths from disease.

"The emergency response was rightly commended for helping
to save and improve thousands of lives, but the rebuilding of
communities will take much longer," Jeremy Hobbs, Director of
Oxfam International, said in the report.

Some of the obstacles were impossible to avoid, such as the
fact that in Aceh land that housed at least 120,000 people has
been submerged permanently.


Other delays should have been avoided, the report said.

Governments have been slow to allocate land for rebuilding
and issued unclear guidelines about coastal exclusion zones
where no building was to take place.

For the first three months in Indonesia, aid agencies in
Aceh were uncertain about whether they would be allowed to stay
in the region after March and therefore unable to plan
effectively ahead.

Aid groups, for their part, lacked experience in providing

"Few humanitarian agencies had ever faced need on this
scale, spread over such a wide area," Oxfam said.

Widespread poverty in Indian Ocean fishing communities
compounded the problems. "The majority of people who suffered
lived on the margins, on the edge of both the sea and of
society," the Oxfam report said.

The need to consult communities fully, and severe problems
in finding building materials, were also causing delays. Ruined
roads and ports have restricted access to devastated areas in
Aceh, where the price of timber has tripled since the tsunami.

The report also noted that problems in linking livelihoods
and shelters was slowing the process as well: displaced people
do not want live in places where no work can be found.

"The reality is that rebuilding at speed involves a
difficult balancing act. People want houses quickly but they
also want to be consulted and the houses to be of top quality,"
Hobbs said.

"In some cases, the rebuilding process may actually have
been too fast. Trying to establish a compromise between the two
requirements is a hard call," he said.

Building permanent housing was a slow business even in rich
countries, Oxfam said.

Thousands of families remain in temporary accommodation
more than a year after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida. And it took
seven years for Kobe, Japan to recover from an earthquake that
left 300,000 homeless.

Nevertheless, governments and aid groups erred in not
telling tsunami survivors in need of new homes just how long
they might expect to wait -- and why.