1.5 million homeless people still living in tents last year's tsunami

Nearly 1.5 million people made homeless by last year's tsunami are still living in tents, barracks and other temporary shelters, a British aid organization said Wednesday. In Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, the countries hardest hit by the killer waves, land rights issues, a shortage of construction materials and government indecision initially slowed efforts to get survivors out of emergency shelters.

Roads and ports also were swept away by the Dec. 26 waves, making it hard to get to some of the most devastated areas, Oxfam International said in a year-end report on recovery efforts.

As result, only 20 percent of the 1.8 million people displaced by the waves are in permanent housing, it said. While most of the others are staying with host families, tens of thousands still live in tent camps.

"The emergency response was rightly commended for helping to save and improve thousands of lives," Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, said in the report. "But the rebuilding of communities will take much longer."

The tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean left at least 216,000 people dead or missing in 12 countries, the majority in Indonesia's Aceh province.

Foreign government and private donors pledged more than US$7 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation and thousands of international aid workers poured into the region to help.

While they succeeded in setting up emergency shelters quickly, saving thousands of lives, many did not have the experience or expertise to carry out mass projects to construct homes, Oxfam said.

"Few humanitarian agencies had ever faced need on this scale, spread over such a wide area," said the group, which has helped provide clean water and sanitation to survivors, clear agricultural land and revive livelihoods.

Some of the things that stalled efforts to get people out of tents, barracks and the homes of family and friends were unavoidable, Oxfam said, noting that land in Aceh that once housed 120,000 people was permanently submerged under the water.

Communities also needed to provide input about the types of houses they wanted.

"The reality is that rebuilding at speed involves a difficult balancing act: people want houses quickly but they also want to be consulted and the houses to be of top quality," said Hobbs. "In some cases the rebuilding process may actually have been too fast." But other delays should have been avoided, the group said in its report, noting that governments were slow to allocate new and appropriate land for rebuilding and there was often little clarity over coastal buffer zones. And survivors should have been told early on how long it would take to get them into permanent homes, Oxfam said, reports the AP. I.L.

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