Tsunami aid pledges must be sustainable

January 20, 2005

Tsunami aid pledges must be sustainable

WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia

Tsunami aid pledges must be sustainable, affected communities should decide

A tragic disaster stuck Indian Ocean countries on the 26th of December 2004 and has resulted more than 160,000 people dead and missing. More than 1.5 million displaced people are in urgent need of basic items.

Hundreds of towns and villages and their environments are damaged, and thousands of children have been orphaned and the survivors struggle to revive their future and livelihoods.

The country most severely affected by this catastrophe is Indonesia where the northern parts of the island of Sumatra and the islands off its western coast were directly hit. The ecological destruction has not been assessed yet; however it is believed to have had a tremendous impact, especially in the coastal areas, rivers and the lowland areas, which are very important for people's livelihoods. Early reports from the affected areas indicate that industrial development in recent decades that destroyed mangrove forests and coral reefs, for instance in order to establish shrimp aquaculture, greatly exacerbated the impact of the tsunami.

In the midst of the terrible conditions, the United Nations, international governments, multilateral institutions, international communities and organizations have pledged huge levels of aid for the Tsunami affected countries in Asia. Indonesia has been pledged aid worth billions of US dollars in loans and funding. Some of international support has already taken place in Indonesia in the massive emergency relief works. Other donations and government money will also soon arrive for the reconstruction and disaster management phase.

We are delighted to see the global solidarity shown by the international community to the affected people in Asia , and particularly in Indonesia.

Proposal for international aid

We welcome the aid offered to Indonesia by countries both inside and outside the region. However, we propose that the aid should only be spent on the needs of survivors and in support of their livelihoods. Following the emergency relief phase, the international aid should be spent on recovery. Prioritized and well planned activities will avoid inappropriate help. The aid should facilitate Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) identify their aspirations to rebuild livelihoods. Rather than spending all the money on reconstruction and physical infrastructure, aid can help communities through creating a self-recovery program. The aid can mobilize practical expertise needed by communities to build up their livelihoods in a sustainable way, economically and ecologically.

The importance of civil society organizations involvement

Indonesian civil society was one of the first parties present offering relief in the disaster areas in the very first days after the earthquake and tsunami. While international media predicted that Sri Lanka would be the worst hit, the Indonesia civil society coalition had predicted that the victims in Aceh were much higher than most people thought. Such participation of civil society and local people has proven that their works are very valuable and should be supported. Despite the lack of resources they are working effectively to reach remote areas. They are working voluntarily, so the aid they receive is spent more efficiently. All international donors should consider the involvement of civil society, local groups and local communities in order to ensure their aid is delivered well.

Transparency and public control needed

All international financial contributions are a great help, however funding commitments must be coupled with guarantees that they actually help the affected communities to revive their livelihoods and their environment. It is essential that the planning processes to redesign and rebuild coastal villages do not get hijacked by local elite, to the detriment of the poor and marginalized. We call on the Indonesian government and donor countries to implement a participatory planning process, to involve local community groups, NGOs, and assure public control over all the processes.

Ecological design and materials use

Inappropriate development made the impact of the tsunami worse in areas where coral reefs and mangrove forests were destroyed. It is essential that reconstruction plans and activities do not repeat these patterns, or create other negative environmental impacts. All large reconstruction activities should prepare an environmental impact statement, covering both on site impacts and the impact of materials to be used. Last week, the Indonesian Minister for Forestry increased the annual allowable cut for Indonesia 's forests by 400 per cent, without any ecological justification. WALHI is deeply concerned that the demand for materials for rebuilding will put enormous added pressure on Indonesia 's forests and limestone areas. Wherever possible, ecological design should consider use of local materials that cause minimal environmental impact.Building designs should be socially appropriate – based on designs created with and approved by local communities, and ecologically appropriate – low energy use, responsible materials use, easy to cool with ventilation, etc.

Aid management must be improved.

Incoming volume aid seems not to be matched by outgoing capacity to transport to disaster areas. Aid management is indeed sluggish, despite the fact that all officials, volunteers and organizations are working hard. Government, with all parties involved, should enhance the coordination and improve broader public participation.

Debt cancellation

We support a call from hundreds of NGOs for debt cancellation of Tsunami affected countries, especially Indonesia as one of the biggest debtor countries in the world. Debt cancellation will allow the Indonesian government to spend the state budget for social expense for the longer term.

Early warning system & improving the environment

We also support the idea to put in place an early warning system to detect tsunamis. A comprehensive education on disaster management is very important for people especially in poor, disaster prone countries around the Indian and Pacific Oceans . Protection of the environment should be seen as part of future coastal protection.

Jakarta , 12 January 2005

WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia

For further information, please contact:

In Jakarta : Helvi Lystiani
Mobile : +62-811895329
In Europe : Longgena Ginting
Mobile : +31618846365