The tsunami recovery in Aceh has been the largest humanitarian undertaking in history, one replete with many challenges and lessons for the aid agencies involved, given the massive scale of destruction.

While it’s obvious that a lot of money has been invested in Banda Aceh and the surrounding area by various foreign governments and NGOs, it’s not entirely surprising that there’s also been a lack of coordination amongst the various organizations and NGOs, not to speak of a degree of financial waste, when it comes to reconstruction efforts.

From their initial relief efforts, NGOs often found themselves under pressure from donors to invest a lot of money quickly into whatever undertaking would “help the situation”. In other words the NGOs felt obligated to produce some quick results to show off to their donors early in the game. So, unfortunately, even without a great deal of regional coordination or infrastructure, many just started spending.

Today (2006), a visitor to Aceh province will see rows upon rows of new, still uninhabited, permanent housing in various stages of completion. Similarly, the vast majority of fishing boats that were built for and/or provided to Aceh fishermen are not being used today, for slightly different reasons. The latter is one example of money spent too fast without a real plan or research and therefore wasted.

In the case of many of these unused fishing boasts, it turns out that most of the boats were built too quick and too small, and/or simply not what is needed for deep-water fishing.

Likewise, many fiberglass boats that were donated were too light and have either been damaged and/or are unsafe to take into the deeper water and thus are left unused. A fiberglass boat with a gasoline engine is simply not sea worthy enough to go into the deeper water to pull in large amounts of fish, and so is not cost-effective for a poor fisherman to operate as far as fuel costs, given the fact that the amount of fish he’d catch close to shore would be minimal.

To quote a 2006 study funded by The Asia Foundation pertaining to Aceh tsunami funding, “Any aid that is offered by aid providers is happily accepted, no matter whether the aid will actually be useful or not.... When there was an offer of 60 small boats, ….the members discussed this collectively, and decided to politely decline the offer. Their reason was that the operating cost for the small boats would be high, and the revenue they earned would not be enough to cover the costs. …Unfortunately the aid agency was unwilling to revise its program. The community did not change its decision, since they realized that if they’d accepted the boats, they would just go to waste.” (Excerpt from second Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Appraisal Report.)

Because of this phenomenon where aid agencies seem loath to listen to the advice of the beneficiaries as to what is most needed, locals suggested that somewhere in the area of a staggering 80% of the boats donated to the fishing communities after the tsunami are not being used!

With this in mind, it is encouraging to note that all the boats that Family Care built are still in use in various fishing villages two years later, and among the 20% of boats that are in use by the fisher population, generating a livelihood.

As a footnote, the builder who was chosen to produce these boats for Family Care explained that each one took 21 days to build, based on a design that the UN-FAO and others also successfully replicated.

Whereas many other NGOs were pushing to build a smaller type of boat, in about 5 days each, but these have all since been damaged and can be seen beached in various places either damaged and/or otherwise non operational.

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Other articles in this series:
Aceh Tsunami Insights, from Family Care Foundation
More on Waste involved with Tsunami Rebuilding
Family Care Foundation Tsunami Rebuilding in Aceh Province
The Need to Communicate with Local Beneficiaries