24 March 2005 The United Nations refugee agency is phasing out its emergency tsunami operations in Indonesia's Aceh province as the Government moves from relief to reconstruction, and expects to end by tomorrow what was an unprecedented programme for a body mandated normally to protect only those fleeing violence or persecution.
But such was the enormity of the December disaster, which killed more than 200,000 people and left up to 5 million more without basic services in a dozen Indian Ocean countries, that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was asked to join the UN emergency response in Aceh, the region most ravaged by the tsunami.
"UNHCR understands the Government's desire to review and rationalize the huge humanitarian effort in Aceh as it now prepares for the next important stage - long-term reconstruction," the agency said in a statement released today in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. "UNHCR remains ready to provide support in that stage if requested to do so by the Government."
Shortly after the tsunami struck, the agency quickly mounted a programme to help provide shelter and other assistance to some 100,000 people along Aceh's devastated west coast, deploying mobile teams to temporary field locations in Medan, Banda Aceh, Meulaboh, Calang and Lamno.
Swiss helicopters and sea transport provided by the Indonesian Army were used to transport lightweight tents, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, kitchen sets, blankets and locally produced plastic sleeping mats. UNHCR also developed a strategy to support early return and the provision of permanent housing units to the affected population in some of the smaller coastal communities.
At the request of the UN Country Team, UNHCR in January presented a six-month $60-million operational plan for Aceh, focusing primarily on shelter needs. About $33 million of the amount raised remains available, while $7 million has already been spent. If UNHCR is not requested to take part in the reconstruction phase, it will be consulting with its donors on the use of the unspent funds. Options could include reimbursement to donors or transfer to other agreed agencies.
"UNHCR is proud to have been a part of the UN response and to have been able to work alongside the people of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. It is also grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute so effectively to the Indonesian Government's overall response," the agency said.