Thursday, January 8, 2015

JMD and Aceh the focus of 3 tsunami anniversary stories in the Portuguese press

In November I wrote about a Portuguese journalist, Andreia Nogueira, from the news agency LUSA, who traveled to Aceh to cover the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 tsunami and ensuing peace accord.  She was hosted by JMD staff, who drove her to various communities in the province to speak with survivors, local officials, and recipients of some of the earliest projects JMD completed during those first years after the tsunami.
I’d spoken to her before she made the trip, as she was very interested in my thoughts about how effective the reconstruction efforts had been, and if the reintegration of the ex-GAM combatants had been successful.  At last—a journalist after my own heart!
Three of her pieces were published this week, in Noticias ao Minuto, Sapo Noticias, and Journal i, and she pulled no punches when reporting on the state of Aceh after reconstruction in terms of basic needs, economic gain, and peace/security issues.

The January 7 article, Peace gained after the Indonesian tsunami may be at risk covered the failure of the provincial government to provide compensation to the majority of GAM fighters that was promised in the 2005 MoU.  This allocation was later reiterated in an agreement with the Multi-Donor Fund that would channel specific relief funds to ex-combatants though the BRA—funds that were never delivered.  She even mentioned our white paper to Bill Clinton, bless her heart, which filled him in, at his request in 2012, on the state of Aceh’s security with respect to GAM.  While the article seems to portray the ex-combatants in a bit of a more consistently thuggish light than I think is fair, it’s a pretty interesting take on the state of the province as seen from the point of view of those who, as they see it, gave up their struggle for the good of a nearly-destroyed province, only to have their “reward” be further marginalization and less of a political voice than before.

Indonésia Paz conquistada após tsunami pode estar em risco

Portugal e o Mundo ao Minuto
Quarta, 07 de Janeiro de 2015, 14:43:31

A December 23rd article touched upon the plight of local NGOs in Aceh and reiterated what I have been saying here: that local NGOs were either left out of the reconstruction process or gutted to provide staff for international NGOs, who sometimes took up to 80% of donated funds back to their respective countries in terms of salaries and administrative costs.

This article quite faithfully recalls JMD’s first year in Aceh, when I helped start the agency, and the corruption and unfairness some of us saw at the government and international level with regard to disbursement (and use) of the funds. Andreia also managed to speak with current provincial governor Zaini Abdullah, who acknowledged that there is "still much work to do", "especially in education and economy."

ONG em busca de fundos e louros prejudicam reconstrução - fundação
NGOs seek funds and support for reconstruction

The story that first caught Andreia’s eye when she was researching post-tsunami activities Aceh prior to her visit was that of the great number of houses that were constructed for survivors that were designed by people who had no concept of the climate,  geography, or culture of Acehnese citizens and so created colonies of buildings that still stand vacant today.  In a 5-year documentary of JMD done by ABC (Australia Broadcasting Company) I am heard confessing that I, too, began by constructing houses that I thought people would like, but fortunately I was living in the community and listening to what people wanted, and they very quickly told me that what they could live in, and what donor agencies thought they should live in, were two very different things. Andreia and JMD staff traveled to Lamno and were met by JMD’s ABC project coordinator  Rosie, who was one of our  first beneficiaries, and who is quoted at length in this article.  Another community member reports that thanks to JMD, the community was also involved in housing construction, earning wages, and was the first community to leave its temporary housing and move into the ir new homes. 
Andreia also managed to ask Governor Zaini about the housing situation,to which he responded, "We have to do a study on it to really find out if there is a problem and then . . . take all measures to ensure that [people] can live in a better houses."

Tsunami/10 anos. Habitantes de Aceh ainda aguardam por casas prometidas
Tsunami / 10 years after: People of Aceh still awaiting promised houses

So to all Portuguese speakers interested in helping Aceh to move past the issues compounded in part by the reconstruction, support its rural and marginalized populations, and preserve its vital natural resources, we say Obrigada.

And an abraco to Andreia Nogueira of LUSA, who had the courage to write about these things.

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