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High spirits drive speedy recovery after Indonesian quake

by Staff Writers
Bantul, Indonesia (AFP) Jan 16, 2008
With every step he takes, Sukasdi feels a shard of pain shoot down his back, reminding him of the day two years ago that a powerful earthquake destroyed his home and broke his spine.

"I had to stay more than a month in hospital. I didn't know what had happened to my family and home, so I insisted on going home," says the wiry survivor who still moves slowly but speaks with a lively sparkle in his eye.

Already, the 40-year-old handicrafts maker has a new house and his business is thriving, like many in Bantul, the district worst ravaged by a 6.3-magnitude quake on Indonesia's main island of Java in May 2006.

More than 6,000 people were killed and around 280,000 homes damaged or destroyed in the dawn temblor that rattled the provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java.

Yet less than two years after the disaster, 90 percent of reconstruction is complete and businesses are up and running again thanks to the survivors' drive and a community spirit that saw them band together, people here say.

Sukasdi was at his home in Manding village, a handicrafts centre in Bantul, when the quake struck.

A brick wall collapsed breaking his back and arm as he saved the life of his two-year-old daughter. He spent months in a wheelchair.

With the little money he had saved, the father of two set up his business again in a makeshift bamboo shack next to the ruins of his home.

And he did not have to wait long before he received his first purchase order, with his regular clients sticking by him despite the hiccup in production.

"I wasn't well then, so I just made the designs and directed from my wheelchair," Sukasdi tells AFP, adding that now his family has moved back into an almost completed brick house where their old home used to be.

"Almost 85 percent of the businesses in Manding were destroyed after the quake, but now almost everyone has recovered," says neighbour Sarjimin, who leads a group of around 70 handicraft businesses.

Recovery after the quake, says Nia Sarinastiti from the World Bank office in Jakarta, was "quite fast".

"The spirit of working together among the community there is very strong. Our approach is community-driven so people feel more responsibility to their recovery work," she says.

The World Bank, which is providing some of the financial assistance for reconstruction, estimated total damage and losses from the quake at around 29.1 trillion rupiah (3.1 billion dollars).

-- Strong community spirit helps rebuild homes and lives --

Total financing for reconstruction was almost eight trillion rupiah -- around 80 percent of which was provided by the central government of the world's fourth most populous nation.

Rizon Pamardhi Utomo, an expert with the government agency overseeing the Java quake reconstruction, said the disaster was quite a different phenomenon compared to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Indonesia's Aceh province, at the tip of Sumatra island, bore the brunt of the disaster, which killed 168,000 people as massive walls of water obliterated vast swathes of coastline, wiping out entire villages and extended families.

About 120,000 homes are being built for survivors, with more than 100,000 completed.

"Unlike Aceh, the people here can be said to be quite lucky in the sense that they could still use materials from their destroyed homes to rebuild their houses," Utomo says, speaking during a tour organised by the body to showcase the speed of recovery here.

After the Java quake, materials could be reused, while social structures remained in place -- something Utomo says "is the main reason behind the rapid recovery of the quake victims here".

On average, each household contributed 27 million rupiah towards rebuilding on top of government assistance of 15-20 million rupiah for each home, he adds.

The strong cooperative spirit is evident across the region.

At one high school, the government provided funding to rebuild 13 classrooms, but managed to rebuild 18 as parents chipped in and old materials were reused, headmaster Emanuel Wigyosundoro says.

Under the reconstruction system, the government gave money directly to communities, which then chose how to spend it, with residents pitching in to help save cash where possible.

The school has transformed the foundations of a three-room building which collapsed at the school, leaving only one corner standing, into a monument of the ill-fated day, now mounted with a marble plaque.

One student was killed, six were injured and one staff member had her back broken.

"Most of the classrooms are functioning back to normal, but we still have to rebuild the student's science lab and handicraft workshop," the headmaster says. "We're hoping for some more aid for that."

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