Banda Aceh (AsiaNews) "Let us pray for the victims and honour those who have survived" and work to rebuild the future, said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on the day that commemorates the first anniversary since a seaquake destroyed the coastline and much of the interior of the province of Ache, Sumatra Island. The area was the closest to the epicentre of the underwater earthquake that provoked the mass surge known as a tsunami.
Relatives, survivors, top army and government officials met just outside of the city of Banda Aceh, at Ule Lheu, site of a mass grave where now a monument to tsunami victims stands.
Together with some children from Aceh, Susilo threw flowers whilst those present observed a minute of silence.
The president called on Indonesians, who suffered the most (168,000 dead), to pray for the victims. He asked survivors to overcome last year's sorrow and be optimistic so as to rebuild an even better Aceh. At Lhok Nga, he shared a meal with orphans from Aceh.
A year after the tragedy the new tsunami early warning system with alarm sirens was also inaugurated. And in the Great Baiturrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh, thousands of people gathered for prayers led by Muhammad Arifin Ilham, who came from Jakarta for that purpose.
In a report to the nation, the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency said that by the end of 2006, 78,000 homes for survivors will be built. Another 120,000 must also be built for Aceh and Nias Island.
"The Aceh-Nias agency will provide 40,000 homes, the rest will come from foreign NGOs," says Heru Prasetyo, a donor international liaison officer.
Technical problems explain why reconstruction plans in Aceh have been moving too slowly, he said. There are in fact shortages in building materials such as bricks and lumber. So much so that Mr Prasetyo urged NGOs to bring in their own materiel.
Infrastructure is another major headache. "Roads between Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, the only ones that exist, can support only five tonne loads. We cannot bring in materiel that exceeds this figure," he added.
Various local NGOs have criticised the slow pace of the Aceh-Nias agency. Urban Poor Consortium Coordinator Wardah Hafidz said that the Aceh-Nias agency has done too little for the reconstruction process. She points out that thousands of homeless people are still living in tents across Aceh.
According to William Sahbandar, head of the Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency, it will take nine to ten years before the island can be fully rebuilt. "Infrastructure reconstruction per se needs four to five years. In Poio, another four to five years will be needed to rehabilitate society to its pre-2004 situation," he said.
The reconstruction bill for Nias Island is estimated to reach US$ 10 billion.
The alarm was raised by the head of a government agency for post-tsunami programmes. But he has been accused of not employing local people for works.
Hard-hitting claims have been levelled at the government agency that manages rehabilitation funds for Aceh and Nias: executives get dizzying wages while field projects are abandoned half-way through for "lack of money".