Rebuilding Aceh Post-Tsunami

By on 13 May, 2010


On 26 December 2004, a devastating tsunami, triggered by the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, hit Banda Aceh. The wave killed more than 186,000 people in Aceh, but the UN puts the overall casualty count at 229,866. Indonesian government figures cite 513,278 refugees in the weeks following the disaster. Whatever the final toll, it was this district, at the northern end of Indonesia, that bore the brunt of the wave and its aftermath.
One can only guess at the personal trauma, the suffering, and the thousands of impossibly tragic stories, associated with death on this scale.
What is less obvious is the impact that the wave has had on communities in the area, not only through their lost people, but through the loss of the knowledge base that binds any community together. The loss of this most basic information has set neighbour against neighbour, father against son, and added another layer of misery to life in Aceh.
And yet, if there can be a positive footnote to such a disaster, it might be found in the steps being taken to replace that knowledge. It is driving Indonesia, one of the most disorganised countries in the world, to leapfrog other developing nations in its use of modern systems for government. And although rebuilding is taking an unconscionably long time, it is happening.
There are two sides to the story. On the one hand, Aceh’s land records were destroyed by the wave. If the land titling system was chaotic before, it was nonexistent after the tsunami hit. This has obvious impacts on the ability of people to rebuild their lives. Without title, it may simply be impossible.
The other side of the problem flows from the fact that the economy of Aceh is based on fishing. The raw statistics about the disaster in Aceh obscure a fact that seems obvious in retrospect: The wave had its most deadly effect on the fishing villages dotted up and down the coast, where people live on the beach in lightweight timber and bamboo houses. About 40,000 people were lost here, taking with them much of the fishing knowledge of the area. Who can locate navigational hazards, underwater sea mounts, or the best fishing spots in the absence of so many skippers?
At its best, Indonesia’s land titling system is chaotic. It is based on both Dutch and Indonesian precedent. Cadastral maps and surveys support Western land laws; traditional or customary land laws do not. They are unique to each region and sometimes exist only in the eye of the beholder.
Stephen Barr, a New South Wales surveyor who travelled to Banda Aceh on a Surveyor General’s International Fellowship last year, observed the operation of this system first hand. He begins his report on the trip with a quote from The Jakarta Post.
The paper reported on 8 May 2007 that Jakarta governor Sutiyoso would ask the Supreme Court to hold back a private company’s plan to acquire 78 hectares of land in Meruya Selatan, West Jakarta, which was home to 5563 families. The paper editorialised: ‘Something is obviously wrong with the city’s land registration system if more than 5000 families, who have lived in the area for more than three decades, have to give up their homes so suddenly.’
In response to the dispute, which had become annoyingly public, the national land agency Badan Pertanahan Nasional (BPN) became involved. Its land dispute director, Bambang, said: ‘We have to admit that there has been a lot of overlap in the ownership of [land] certificates. Most of it occurred because a third party worked together with corrupt officials.’
In 2004, the World Bank estimated that there was about 80 million land parcels in Indonesia, of which less than 30 million are formally registered.
The World Bank has been involved in funding and supervising the expansion of the land titling system in Indonesia. The work itself is being undertaken by BPN, which is running a project called the Land Management and Policy Development Project (LMPDP).
In addition to this program, the World Bank has funded another project known as the Reconstruction of Aceh Land Administration System (RALAS) project. It is being implemented by the Indonesian government’s agency for reconstruction in Aceh and Nias (BRR).
BRR was established in the aftermath of the tsunami. Its mission, essentially, was to build 120,000 homes and associated infrastructure such as road, water, and power networks. As part of this, it needs to conduct survey work and re-issue land certificates.
In 2005, it established a Spatial Information and Mapping Centre (SIM-Centre) using ESRI software.
The SIM-Centre is actively building sustainable GIS capacity in the government. It has created an online data catalogue, and is training local personnel in GIS technology and creating a spatial data infrastructure. The aim is for the systems developed by BRR during its mandate of operation to be transferred to local government gradually from 2009.
More recently, BRR has purchased Autodesk’s Mapguide to deliver data online. ‘In the past, we could only distribute our extensive inventory of spatial data and maps offline or by providing hardcopy paper maps. This was costly, and also frustrating for the agencies and organisations waiting for the information,’ says Mulyanto Darmawan, the head of BRR’s geospatial task force.
During May 2006, the World Bank evaluated both projects. A mid-term review was conducted for LMPDP, which was two and half years through the program. RALAS was a special review.
The projects were very similar. Both used similar processes of survey and arbitration. The primary difference was that LMPDP extended the land titling system into fringe areas adjacent to urban areas all over Indonesia. RALAS was restricted to Aceh.
Their success in issuing titles was quite different. Barr says LMPDP issued a significantly higher percentage of titles than RALAS did in Aceh. One problem was that when the final Acehenese titles were released, they were actually different from those that had been agreed in the adjudication process.
World Bank staff, BPN staff and Barr himself attribute this to a mix of poor leadership, corruption and mistrust of the process by local land owners. Aceh has been in almost perpetual rebellion against Jakarta since colonial times, so this is not surprising.
Barr says another contributory issue may have been the number of women who were listed on titles. ‘As part of the ownership program, husbands were encouraged to put their wives on the title. The cultural and religious issues associated with women owning land raised interesting questions.’
Nevertheless, Acehenese women are the centre of economic life. Their interests turn out to be the interests of the whole community.
However, there would be no point in organising them if their menfolk could not bring home the fish. In an effort to replace the knowledge taken by the wave, workers at BRR’s SIM Centre – in association with the local fishermen’s parliament (Dewan Panglima Laot) – decided to invest in IT.
The parliament is a community group actively involved with the daily concerns of the whole fishing community. It includes provincial government representation and local mayors.
Discussion with the fishermen’s association in Banda Aceh (Panglima Laot Lhok Krueng Aceh) revealed that the primary threat to fishermen is the lack of accurate documented information about the location of underwater hazards, which results in damage to fishing nets.
For deep water fishing, the net is the most expensive item on board. It often costs twice the amount of the fishing boat. It requires considerable time and effort to repair or replace, and is the major factor in lost income.
As a result, BRR equipped larger fishing boats with Garmin sounders that contained data-loggers and GPS. The system collected information on the position, speed and course of the vessel, and ocean depth and temperature. As each voyage progressed, the system noted the amount of effort expended and the type of fishing gear used.
In exchange for receiving this sounding technology, captains and the owners of these vessels agreed to provide the data, and information on their catch to the researchers.
Data was downloaded from the sounding unit in standard Garmin data format before being imported into ESRI ArcGIS 9.0 for data visualisation and analysis.
Once this was complete, the data was fed back to boat skippers through the parliament. Current plans call for the scheme to be generalised throughout the region.
The Australian government committed $1 billion to the relief efforts in Aceh. There is no doubt that some of this has not been spent as wisely as it could. Bakosurtanal, the national mapping agency, recently completed an airborne survey of Aceh using Australian funds, but the data has been held in Jakarta for more than six months, while staff at BRR grit their teeth.
Nevertheless, much of the money is getting through. Titles are being awarded. Homes are being built, and lives are being stitched back together. Fishing boats once more put out to sea – a reminder that what the sea takes, it can also give back.
Jon Fairall is the editor of Position Magazine. This article is based in parts on reports from Stephen Barr, who travelled to Banda Aceh on a Surveyor General’s International Fellowship awarded in 2006, and on work among Aceh’s fisher folk by Aliman Selian at BRR’s SIM Centre.

Issue 32; December 2007 – January 2008

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