Subject: BBC: East Timor's lessons for tsunami recovery


East Timor's lessons for tsunami recovery

By David Loyn Developing World Correspondent in East Timor

The international development community faces its biggest challenge in living memory in rebuilding the countries devastated by the tsunami.

Indonesia alone will need $4.5bn (£2.4bn).

The World Bank will take the leading role, acting as a clearing house for money raised by many government donors, as well as attempting to co-ordinate non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the ground.

This has proved to be a particularly difficult task in the early days, since there are several hundred NGOs operating, many of them not experienced in such situations, and not responsive to international direction.

Some NGOs have been given tasks in refugee camps, only to find that an independent charity has set up ahead of them.

These problems will reduce once the initial emergency phase is over, and focus turns to reconstruction, although the "emergency" phase has continued much longer in the Aceh region of Indonesia, the place worst affected by the tsunami.

Major health problems have been averted so far, but health continues to be the most urgent priority while hundreds of bodies are still being discovered every day.

The water supply in Banda Aceh remains a significant health concern despite efforts by the Australian army and a number of international NGOs to provide clean water supplies.

But in the long term, the world faces an unprecedented problem: how to turn the overwhelming generosity in the weeks after the tsunami into meaningful reconstruction.

Billions of dollars are available to be spent now, but the countries affected cannot absorb them constructively.

They will need billions over the next five years, but the terms of much of the funding which is pouring in now requires it to be spent now.

The Indonesia country director of the World Bank, Andrew Steer, says the bank is trying to find innovative solutions to this problem, believing that people who put their hands in their pockets in the weeks after Christmas would be happy for the money to go to rebuild livelihoods as well as saving lives, along the lines of the old Malaysian proverb: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; give him a rod and he eats for life."

Mr Steer says: "Clearly the amount of money now is much more than required in the first six months. Investments will need to take place over the next four or five years."

The World Bank has previously had experience in major reconstruction in the Indonesian archipelago as part of the management of East Timor in the years since independence in 1999.

There are significant differences between the two, most notably that in Aceh the government is intact, while in East Timor it was destroyed, but many of the development dilemmas are the same.

Patchy record

And in Aceh, as in East Timor, the World Bank is putting in place a multi-donor trust fund to manage the disbursement of development funds.

Six years on, the UN is pulling out of East Timor, with a considerable amount of political capital resting on the necessity to declare it a success.

But the development picture is patchy. There is power in the capital, clean water in many more places, and several hundred schools have been renovated.

The willingness of the World Bank to work at the micro-level has meant that some markets are being renovated, and small amounts of credit are available to market traders.

The local head of the World Bank, Elizabeth Huybens, says that co-ordination was essential.

"Even for money outside the trust fund, in every sector there was co-ordination. Goals were set and they included the NGOs who were active," she said.

But the international community cannot be proud of East Timor, given the appalling roads into the interior, and the continuing poverty of most of its people. It remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

In a new university in Dili, the capital of East Timor, currently-based in a tin-roofed shed, the economics professor is sceptical of World Bank claims of success.

Professor Lucas da Costa, a former guerrilla fighter, says the World Bank failed in its aims as it "did not understand who we are, our culture or our necessities".

Professor da Costa says that East Timor should have much more to show for the money which the international community has spent there.


The dangers of failure in Aceh are even starker than they are in East Timor.

It is one of the most corrupt places in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and separatist rebels and the Indonesian military have both been guilty of serious human rights abuses, according to international observers.

The new government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is trying to change things, realising that Aceh is the test case of its promise to improve transparency and tackle corruption.

But the Indonesian military has clashed with Acehnese GAM rebels even during the tsunami rescue operation.

The World Bank tries to put on a different profile nowadays.

Its development agenda is delivered by men and women who work in modest offices and dress casually, like Scott Guggenheim, an expert on Indonesia. He is only too aware of the risks of failure in Aceh.

"Emergency planning does not lend itself to high quality local participation. The challenge for the donors is to get the Acehnese running this process.

"If it's going to be mega-planning designed by a bunch of technocrats, you're going to get one set of city plans laid down in nice big grids, and the real consideration is going to be given by people in Jakarta, the military and high paid consultants.

"Then the Acehnese will feel treated like sheep, and they are not a people who like to be treated like sheep."

When he was asked if reconstruction failure would mean that the separatist war would get worse, his answer is simple: "There is no question about that."

So the stakes are high. A new government in one of the most corrupt countries in the world needs to prove itself, while separatist fighters are waiting in the wings if they and the World Bank get it wrong.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/02/09 21:04:26 GMT

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