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Money flows, but no quick fixes

Australia works with Indonesia in post-disaster reconstruction

From Grant Holloway, CNN Sydney

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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia's initial response to the December 26 tsunami was both rapid and generous. More than Aust. $1 billion ($770 million) in aid was pledged to Indonesia, the bulk of that through an ambitious joint development project with Jakarta.

The focus of the aid has been in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which suffered the most devastation and human loss of all the areas hit by the earthquake and subsequent deadly waves.

Six months since the Asian tsunami disaster, the Australian government says it is satisfied with the pace of the reconstruction effort.

This, despite media reports of slow progress and funds being tangled up in Indonesian red tape.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in recent media reports that Aust. $75 million has been spent by the government in emergency relief and another Aust $15 million spent by the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development.

On top of that, a further Aust. $78 million of donations to non-government aid agencies -- 25 percent of the total pledged -- has been spent in the region, Downer said in the media reports.

Recent visitors to Aceh say the devastation caused by the disaster -- which killed more than 128,000 Indonesians and displaced a half a million more -- is still painfully evident.

"We're talking about 180,000 houses that have to be rebuilt," World Vision Australia Chief Executive Tim Costello said Friday at the end of a weeklong visit to the region's capital Banda Aceh, according to Australian media reports.

"The size and scale of the debris is simply still unbelievable ... just clearing away so much after six months has been a Herculean effort."

Such wide-scale destruction has forced a sharp focus for reconstruction work. For Aceh, this means hospitals, training health workers, schools and the rebuilding of a working sea port.

In a recent speech this week, Australian Foreign Affairs Secretary Bruce Billson, recently returned from an assessment tour of Aceh, said the reconstruction of the port was "probably one of the most urgent tasks".

Apart from these obvious targets, some other simpler, but also important, rebuilding projects are being undertaken: village halls.

With infrastructure and local government facilities decimated, it is hoped new village halls will help restore the social fabric and help deliver services and assistance.

"And that's very important because we need these facilities, knowing that the approach that we are going to use to develop this area is a community-based participation approach," Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Coordinating Agency for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation said Friday.

So while the rebuilding progress in Aceh may appear slow, immediate relief had been delivered and the joint-development board's agenda is focused on the long term.

But, according to Billson, "it is a long and complex process and there are no quick fixes."

"Our Aust. $1 billion program is for five years, and I am confident that much can be achieved in that time."

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