Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Real Meaning of Sustainability, Part XIa

Part Xia: Synopsis of the 2006 Aceh Village Survey: Conflict, Reconstruction and Aceh Timur

 For the past few days I have been curled up with a copy of the Kenkamatan (District) Development Program’s 156-page Aceh Village Survey, conducted in 2006 and published in 2007. Although I highly recommend some parts as a cure-all for insomnia, I have to say that as a research document, it’s quite easy to follow and through with regard to its topics’ scope. The research team consisted of members from World Bank (the donor)’s Social Development Unit, the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Tunas Aceh Research Institute (TARI) and enlisted many Indonesian field workers to administer questionnaires to residents from all sub-districts—no small feat in itself.

As you remember, I was interested to see if information gathered from individuals included personal thoughts or feelings about where they and their families were now and where they saw themselves in the future. Sort of a psychosocial question, I know, but one that I think is as important as, say, a question about what an individual thinks is the greatest “need” in a community and then can pick from a list of 3 to 4 very general things.

While the survey came close a couple of times to touching on this subjective information, it obviously had bigger economic and socio/political fish to fry in 2006.

But Aceh Timur is mentioned specifically several times in the document, sometimes in quite interesting ways, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In a nutshell, the researchers wanted to find out how the residents of the province were doing after the tsunami and after the signing of the Peace Accord in 2005. They also wanted to find out the extent of the physical damage according to those who lived where the damage happened. Unlike other large-scale initiatives, this report gave equal weight to areas and populations that were affected by conflict as opposed to the tsunami, and noted that many areas such as Aceh Jaya had been devastated by both. But they posited that each disaster resulted in different needs, and different attention was paid to those needs. The report was created, remember, after most of the tsunami relief money had been allocated. I sensed an eagerness, if not a bias, to emphasize that even though tsunami victims had been reasonably well-attended by both their government and foreign aid agencies, conflict-affected areas fared far worse.

 And Aceh Timur, as we always knew, was one of those areas.

 22,300 people were interviewed, with an emphasis placed on an equal number of women, men, youth, farmers, elders, religious and traditional leaders. Education representatives and government officials were also included, as well as students and health professionals. The six assessment sections included a Social Assessment, which I was eager to read. But we will have to discuss that in Part II.

Something I am going to have to ask the World Bank about is this statement because I don’t believe the figures are accurate:

On average, conflict caused 19.5 percent of damage, natural disasters 38.6 percent, and lack of maintenance 41.9 percent of the total damage reported (a ratio of about 1:2:2).

I don’t know what that means, exactly.

 “Lack of maintenance” could be anything, from pre-tsunami conditions to continued lack of maintenance during the conflict, which the report seems to at times forget was 30 years long. It was a generation long. It’s not my feeling that people were afraid to return to their homes. It’s that they had nothing to return to. And no way to get there: roads that were in horrible condition before the conflict had just disappeared.  Travel was also dangerous because GAM and TNI controlled the roads and you had to pay one side or the other side to use them.  Believe me, no one smelled like a rose in this conflict. When I first went to Aceh after the tsunami until well after the Peace Accord, there were curfews; people were being killed, kidnapped and subjected to all types of violence on both sides.  It really didn’t matter about the condition of the road.  People weren’t afraid to return home.  They were just afraid.

I also think that the tsunami did cause more physical damage. I AM NOT SO SURE ABOUT THIS BUT ON THE WHOLE I AGREE.  It also caused much emotional damage, but the conflict was 30 years long, and all that time people suffered im[prisonment, torture, loss of family members, ceaselessly for thirty years.   Constant bombardment and destruction and emotional crippling for thirty years. You can’t look at that in terms of percentages. This report, like Steven Shewfelt’s thesis, really underplays the severe trauma experienced by this population by spending very little time talking to people about mental health issues because the first responses they give is that “everything’s fine.”  A population that is consistently demoralized day in and day out and given no support by the entity that is supposed to look after it IS affected, even if it says it is not. Very few NGOs address this, and none did at the time, as far as I know.  Even today, the government puts very little into preparing and supporting social workers, even on the mainland. Mental health issues are seen as the luxury of an elite class. Tens of millions of dollars poured in to assists victims of the tsunami, many of whom were corrupt and abused the funds, while conflict victims received nothing, and then were cast aside by GAM, the very movement they supported.

Further on, the report states that Aceh Jaya and Aceh Timur have the highest damaged infrastructure (Aceh Timur 73% and Aceh Jaya 80%); Aceh Timur, Bener Meriah, and Nagan Raya show the highest overall conflict-related damage. Only 10.1% of the damage has been repaired. [my italics]. This is not surprising, since these were conflict affected zones and out of public scrutiny, it did not hurt the government’s image to keep ignoring these areas.

The report goes on to state that “Several districts reported high levels of infrastructure damage. The areas that reported the highest levels of infrastructure damage due to conflict are Aceh Timur, Bener Meriah, and Nagan Raya.”  [As an aside, I also  know that Sawang  and North Aceh had a lot of damage and they didn't give up till long after the peace accord was signed .In fact they could still be fighting in the jungles—did any of the resports or researchers pursue that possibility?  There used to be Al Qaeda training camps in Aceh—do we know if there are still there?  I wonder how much of the conflict is really over.]

So Aceh Timur had both severe agricultural AND infrastructure damage, but this was never addressed by either the recovery agencies or government departments. Poor Aceh Jaya was “fortunate” in that although there was much fighting in the highlands that caused incredible destruction, the poor district was also the hardest hit by the tsunami, so it was able to receive significant aid for “tsunami relief.” However, every nearly happy ending in Aceh has a sinister twist: very few families or people in need ever received that aid—the vast majority of it, despite infrastructure and housing improvements, was squandered by corrupt officials and international hucksters—the district had one of the highest rates of corruption during the reconstruction.

The report states that the second most expensive reconstruction effort, behind housing, was what was needed “ to return land to productive use, followed by repairs to, or replacement of, roads. Aceh Utara, Pidie, Bireuen, Aceh Timur, and Aceh Besar have the highest shares of total costs needed for reconstruction/replacement of infrastructure.” [Another aside: of those houses that were built, the majority were so poorly constructed that they collapsed within a year.]

And yet no road reconstruction has happened in Aceh Timur. Much reconstruction has happened in neighboring Aceh Tamiang . . . because of the need for heavy machinery to get to the palm oil plantations that aren’t supposed to be expanding..
One of the things that I’d like to speak with Steven Shewfelt about is the complexity involved in reporting on “IDPs” in Aceh Timur before and after the tsunami and the conflict. This report also spends a great deal of time discussing people who were displaced by their villages during both events, and the relative ease/difficulty of returning. This report and Steven’s dissertation seem to both conclude that ex-combatants returning to their communities did not elicit any specific negative feelings on the part of the community, but I don’t think that this is really the point, or the question to ask. I think that displacement from the conflict and return to “places of origin” is difficult to assess. Some Acehnese just could not physically get home—either there was no way, or there was no home left. Most, however, did have some family and returned to some part of the area that had belonged to their ancestors.

The report states that “in villages that are hosting both conflict and tsunami IDPs, conflict IDPs are perceived to be considerably worse off economically than are tsunami IDPs.” While I agree with the last statement, there’s something about how people have been moved about in Indonesia that isn’t really touched upon by either Steven’s assessment of post-conflict IDPs and this report.

The Transmigration program, initiated under the Dutch and continued by Jakarta, had as its stated purpose the transferring of landless poor in urban areas to less populated areas of the country,to alleviate poverty by providing land and new opportunities to generate income for poor landless settlers. It would also benefit the nation as a whole by increasing the utilization of the natural resources of the less-populous islands.”

The majority of people in this program are Javanese, and a majority of this group were moved to Aceh—a big mistake.. “Many Indonesians viewed this action “as a part of an effort by the Java-based Indonesian Government to extend greater economic and political control over other regions, by moving in people with closer ties to Java and loyalty to the Indonesian state.” That’s just not true. Maybe many Indonesians did believe this but I am sure this was not the government’s plan or they would have sent a completely different type of settler from Java. Those who arrived were poor, uneducated, with no applicable skills and who did not even speak the language. It’s hard to see them as capable of wielding any economic or political control when they couldn’t even read the street signs.

But the Javanese are very resourceful, and extremely hard workers, and I’m sure that this created extremely negative feelings on the part of many Acehnese.

About 25% of the population we work with in Simpang Jernih sub-district is Javanese. Part of the little survey we’re going to ask JMD’s field staff to implement includes questions on where everyone came from, how long they’ve been there, and maybe some more personal questions about how they think their government treats them.

The report states that “While a return to conflict appears remote, the lingering residue of the conflict and the potential for renewed conflict remain real.” This is true although perhaps not for the reasons outlined in the report. In areas such as Aceh Timur, ex-combatants still feel and behave as ex-combatants because they have not been given any reason by the provincial government (or GAM) to feel that they have been included in either decision making processes or compensation initiatives. The Aceh Reintegration Board (BRA, Badan Reintegrasi Aceh ) was established in 2006, and was overseen by Indonesia's national development planning agency, BAPPENAS. The compensation program that was developed and initiated was flawed, partial, and incomplete (as was, unfortunately, East Timor’s compensation program also.). BRA folded. Some ex-combatants (the former governor, for example) received political positions and government stipends. But many received bupkus. The question of “reintegration,” then, for many living hand to mouth in the hinterlands with fewer actual rights than non-combatants, seemed, and still seems, laughable. But if you want to read the idealistic version of this program, go to the Conciliation Resources Page, on “the Challenges of Reintegration in Aceh” by Lina Frodin.

Hint: there are many articles on Aceh’s peace process on this site; the most recent, however, is 2008. Kind of tells you how it’s going, doesn’t it? Or how quickly international interest wanes, and national interest is only too happy to let sleeping ex-combatants lie . . . in the mud and the hills of the places nobody goes. But many ex-combatants have told me, and others, that they are re-arming themselves and one day will rise again.

Communities realize that the successful implementation of the Helsinki MoU is crucial to their lives and prosperity in the next few years. I have a problem with the Village Survey’s assumption that the rural poor, the rural starving, the rural marginalized are interested in any part of the MoU, successfully implemented or otherwise that did not have to do with the government’s promise to give them money, land and training. Existing efforts to support the post-conflict peacebuilding process should therefore continue,” says the report. When did they start? “Such efforts should include ongoing socialization regarding developments in the peace process, improving the availability of public services and explaining how these can benefit communities, equipping local leaders with accurate and up-to-date information on reintegration programs, and boosting ongoing efforts to improve security.” And all this, without keeping the promise of money, land and training, would help smallholders in Aceh Timur and other marginalized communities HOW???

One of the things JMD wrestles with on a daily basis is making it viscerally important for people living in the forest to love and respect it, and have all their social and economic actions stem from that love and respect. That’s why we need to work really hard with our cocoa farmers to help them realize a very quick profit and a substantial increase in production, because that is the bottom line and no amount of didactic conservation-speak is going to make someone take 2 months to prevent erosion because it’s good for the forest. They MAY do it because they’ve been shown that this produces money in their pockets and food for the kids. So “ongoing socialization” can be roughly translated as, well, blah, blah, blah.

That’s enough for one day.

Bottom line: lots of good information about how Aceh fared with respect to conflict and tsunami damage, and how little has been done to repair that damage.
[this post was revised slightly on 8/30/13]


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