Fishing families in Aceh who survived the 2004 tsunami that struck the northern tip of Indonesia and washed away every home in their village, and most of the land, face the prospect of seeing their community devastated a second time.
Months after new quake-proof homes on stilts were built, almost half could be torn down to make way for a coastal highway billed as the U.S. government’s signature project for tsunami reconstruction.
Even as the 118 homes in the village of Kuala Bubon were being designed and built, plans were being laid for the road from Banda Aceh to Meulaboh, west Aceh, funded to the tune of £125m by USAid, the American government’s international relief and development agency.
But the highway route that will scythe through the village could see the demolition of up to 50 of the houses that were built with £750,000 of money donated by Christian Aid in the U.K. and Lutheran churches in the U.S. Absurd
“It’s so absurd,” said Rebecca Young, tsunami liaison officer for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Aceh. “Funds from American churches were used to build these houses. Now American taxpayers’ money is going to knock them down for a road the people don’t really want. But USAid said it is not going to bend.”
Locals had finally begun piecing their lives back together after 219 of 928 villagers were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed 168,000 lives in Aceh alone. Villagers, helped by the Yakkum Emergency Union (YEU), a non-governmental organisation, wrote to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, saying: “In general, we do not reject this road construction” and just wanted it rerouted to empty land 30 metres to the north.
Indonesia’s national commission on human rights is reviewing villagers’ grievances and is due to visit the site soon. But USAid maintains the road must stick to the route selected by Jakarta after it bought the land in 2005, making any houses built on the land after that illegal.
BPN, Indonesia’s national land board, estimates 50 houses will be lost to the road, while YEU says at least 22 homes are to be razed to make way for the four-lane road and bridge that will tower over the surviving properties on either side.
Villagers admit they agreed to the plan when they were shown the route by USAid planners last year. But opponents say officials used old aerial photographs that failed to show that two-thirds of village land had been washed away.