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Expediting Homes for Tsunami Victims

Dave Hodgkin, a consultant to the aid group Fauna & Flora International, shows Acehnese villagers a design of a home.
Dave Hodgkin, a consultant to the aid group Fauna & Flora International, shows Acehnese villagers a design of a home. (Photos By Ellen Nakashima -- The Washington Post)

Another port has been reopened for passenger ferries on the western side of the capital. But cargo ships still cannot land at the Ulee Lheue port, also to the west. Instead, the U.N. World Food Program and other relief agencies are using special landing craft that can pull up to shore, lower a ramp and unload.

Still, a landing craft must travel up to 18 hours from Ulee Lheue to Calang down the Sumatran west coast, a trip that used to take only 3 1/2 hours on the West Coast Highway before the tsunami battered it and dumped large chunks into the sea.

The United States is spending $245 million to repair the highway, the largest infrastructure project in Aceh and the most complex. Land has shifted in many parts of the island, and in some areas 500 yards of beach are submerged or washed away. "The road now in many places is next to the ocean and has to be relocated," said William Frej, the Indonesia director of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The road will be rebuilt up to five miles inland, he said. USAID officials hope it will be finished by 2008.

The only hitch is that some villagers, eager to be settled, are rebuilding close to the shore, near their old fishing grounds. But Frej said he thought many would ultimately move.

"The road is unquestionably the economic backbone of Aceh," he said. "I would suspect that many of the villages, when the road is completed, will be relocated much closer to the road."

Zainal Abidin, 55, who lost his wife and three of their six children in the tsunami, lives about 150 yards from the sea in Leupung on the west coast. He does not want to move. He went back to the site of his old village and has lived in a tent for almost a year.

Now, he said, "all I want is to have a house in my old place."

But a relief agency that has promised houses for the village is clearing fields near a hill inland. The leader of the village says only about half the people are willing to move.

Another challenge is obtaining land titles for an estimated 300,000 people affected by the tsunami. The BRR, with the help of large donors led by the World Bank, will help people secure their property rights and establish a land database. Holding a land deed will also help those who need loan collateral to start a business, said Eddy Purwanto, a BRR official.

"The idea is to reconstruct ownership," he said, "but also to get them out of the cycle of poverty."

Officials said that one of the most difficult challenges is managing expectations. After the tsunami, with record donations pouring in and 500,000 people in need of shelter, hopes were raised that houses would be built quickly.

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