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Post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh: quantity versus quality
Simon Deprez and Eléonore Labattut

This study is an assessment of humanitarian house construction in Aceh following the tsunami of 2004. It includes a description of the projects carried out, a study of the level of appropriation of the houses by the beneficiaries and an appreciation of the consequences that this vast construction campaign will have on the region.

 Introduction: two architects appraise the quality of the reconstruction

According to the figures of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR) of Aceh and Nias [1], 140 300 houses have been built in Aceh in the last four years. This is the achievement of 127 International NGOs that have been involved in the reconstruction effort in Aceh, the northern province of the island of Sumatra, part of Indonesia, and the region most badly affected by the 2004 tsunami. Five years on, the last reconstruction programmes are coming to an end and the NGOs are pulling out. With an unprecedented event of this kind and the scale of the post-emergency reconstruction that has taken place, it seemed important to look at the quality and durability of the work that the international aid community had carried out. Never before had humanitarian programmes involved so much construction. In this respect, it seemed appropriate that two architects should give their opinion about these programmes. This article summarises the results of research carried out between mid-2008 and mid-2009, and deals with construction, but also other architectural issues such as fitness for habitation, appropriation and local integration.

The tsunami and the unprecedented mobilisation of international aid that followed made the news around the world, but less is known about the context in which the reconstruction took place. The tsunami brought a fragile period of peace [2] to Aceh following thirty years of conflict between the separatists of the GAM [3] and the national government. The population is still devastated after years of curfews, racketeering and indiscriminate repression, having been caught between the rebels and the national army and constantly suspected of supporting the opposing camp. The people of Aceh consider the tsunami to be the disaster which brought peace, but the development opportunities that it created seem to have been compromised by the numerous after-effects of the conflict. This raises the question of how well the international aid community took the reality of the context into account.


[1] BRR was a temporary body created by the Indonesian government on 16 April 2005. Its mandate was to coordinate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts following the tsunami in Aceh and Nias. In the last four years, the BRR coordinated more than 500 organisations, which ran more than 12 000 projects. The activities of the BRR officially ended on 16 April 2009.

[2] A peace agreement was signed on 15 August 2005.

[3] Acehnese separatist movement which fought the national government between 1976 and 2005.