Aussies and elephants pitch in but red tape hinders Aceh recovery

January 13, 2006

Hundreds of Australian academics travelled to the Indonesian province of Aceh to provide humanitarian aid after the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami, while the Australian Government pledged A$1 billion (£424 million) to help with reconstruction.

But academics who visited the province recently said little had been done and that most people were still living in tents on concrete slabs. "A year on and I doubt if many Australians would be too proud of what's happened,"

one lecturer said. "Australia promised aid, but we have not got very far in putting it where it needs to be. Indonesian bureaucracy is shocking and it gets in the way."

But Australian academics have continued to help the Indonesians. Brian Fairman, manager of aid and development at Melbourne's Victoria University, has been training Achenese to map the land so ownership disputes can be resolved.

Mr Fairman said that because the tsunami altered the landscape, the maps that survived were no longer relevant and arguments occurred over who owned particular plots of land.

He said: "I was asked to pass on skills in land mapping so people could parcel up the land and get on with their lives."

Queensland paediatrician John Pearn arrived in the province's capital, Banda Aceh, as a volunteer doctor. Amid the devastation he found working elephants a source of wonder and enjoyment.

Professor Pearn, who was with a Queensland civilian team of 24 doctors and nurses, said the mahouts came down from the hills of Sumatra with their elephants to help in the task of clearing away debris.

"It cheered everyone up to see these huge beasts working," Professor Pearn said. "They could often sense where bodies were and would stop. The mahout then knew a body was there that had to be dug out."

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