Oxfam: More than 25,000 Landless Families in Aceh Still Waiting for New Land and Homes

By Oxfam

More than 25,000 poor and landless families in Aceh, Indonesia, have yet to be re-housed nearly two years after the tsunami washed away their homes and destroyed their land, international relief and development agency Oxfam warned today.

In a new report, “The Tsunami Two Years On: Land Rights in Aceh,” Oxfam urged the Indonesian government to find a fair and just way of re-housing the landless.

The rebuilding of Aceh is the largest reconstruction project in the developing world. While much has been accomplished to date, land rights issues are proving to be a major obstacle.

Many of those without title to land, such as renters and squatters, are languishing in government barracks, where living conditions are cramped and often unhygienic.

“Aceh has made enormous strides toward recovering from the tsunami,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “But two years after the tsunami struck, the poorest Acehnese – squatters, renters, and women – are still facing a crisis over when and where they will be resettled.”

“The lack of a clear policy for landless people has led to a huge amount of uncertainty and delay. There’s a risk these people will end up in the slums of the future, despite the generous donations given after the tsunami.”

Aceh, the northernmost province of Sumatra, was the region worst affected by the tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004. More than 167,000 people died there in the disaster, 600,000 were made homeless, and 141,000 houses were destroyed. So far, more than a third of the houses needed have been built.

Oxfam’s new report highlights some of the difficulties that must be tackled:

  • the waves damaged or destroyed most of the land titles in the province;
  • most people lost all their identification documents and subsequently their ability to clearly establish land ownership;
  • the tsunami reformed the coastline, and much land was submerged; as much as 15% of western Aceh’s agricultural land could be permanently lost, and
  • trees and paths that once defined plots of land were washed away by the waves.

“Rebuilding homes without knowing who owns the land could create problems in the future,” said Offenheiser. “But establishing titles can be a desperately difficult and slow process. Oxfam has been working with many villages in Aceh to help people decide how to reallocate land so everyone has a place to live.”

Around 10,000 families living on property they owned before the tsunami now need resettling because their land was ruined or submerged. The Indonesian government has bought 700 hectares of land for them but progress is slow: only 700 of the planned houses have been built and occupied.

Oxfam is advocating for the Indonesian government to adopt and effectively implement a range of new policies that would offer more protection for renters, squatters, and other landless groups.

The agency is calling for:

  • a commitment by the Indonesian government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to find a long-term solution to the barracks problem;
  • better cooperation between the Indonesian government and NGOs in Aceh to create a range of options for renters and squatters;
  • the restoration of rental agreements; and
  • where possible, a process of resettlement carried out on a village-by-village basis with the agreement of all community members.

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