Andrew Steer: 'The second anniversary of the tsunami will count more'

From a speech on tsunami recovery, by the World Bank's country director for Indonesia, given in Washington DC
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The Independent Online

The scale of the tragedy was unparalleled, of course, even for those of us who had worked in other disaster reconstructions. With 167,000 dead or missing along an 800-kilometre strip of coastline, the task of rebuilding seemed, and was, overwhelming.

If funds are used efficiently to restore communities and livelihoods quickly, then this type of response could become a model for future disasters. But if reconstruction is seen to be inefficient or delayed by bureaucratic bottlenecks, cynicism will set in and it may be decades before such generosity will be seen again.

A year on, what have we learned?

Bureaucracy: Doing things at normal speed would leave people in tents for years. Strong measures may be needed to cut through red tape.

Co-ordination and partnership: Holding meetings to share information is not enough. There must be disciplined coordination and joint decision-making.

Passion: Reconstruction in a devastated environment is for the strong-hearted. It is messy, frustrating and extremely difficult. Never in my career have I seen greater commitment to get the job done, month after month.

Resilience: We are mere guests in Aceh. The main players are those whose home it is. We have staff members who lost spouses, children, and homes, yet insisted in getting back to work immediately. Of the 500,000 who were displaced in Aceh, 320,000 of them no longer count themselves as displaced. They received help to be sure, but it was with their own initiative that they have picked up their lives.

About $1bn was spent on relief in the first half of 2005, and nearly $1bn on reconstruction in the second half. The real work of reconstruction - perhaps $2- 3bn worth - will take place in 2006, and an equivalent amount in 2007.

Its thus much too early to tell whether the recovery will be rated a success or a failure. If we apply the lessons of the past year, and redouble our efforts, Aceh's reconstruction could introduce a new, better way of doing business in such recoveries. The second anniversary will be the one that counts.