An Applied Anthropological Perspective on Localizing Post-disaster Aid: Lessons from Post-tsunami Aceh, Indonesia
In cases where local leadership was cited as negative, it is often because donors and NGOs either side-stepped local leadership systems (Dixon and McGregor 2011), or misread traditional systems and over-invested in the village head as a way of ‘ensuring’ local involvement and endorsement. In Aceh, the village head is just one prominent figure embedded within a wider framework that allows for checks and balances. To fully utilize the strengths of local leadership it was necessary to also engage religious leaders such as the imam gampung (head of the local mosque), and other respected village elders such as the tuha peut, which oversee different livelihood sectors, and use of communal lands. The fact that these were not engaged at the village level by most NGOs, allowed too much of the success or failure of community-level efforts to be concentrated in the hands of the village head. The ways that many external organizations engaged with communities simplified a complex system of decision-making and left great scope for abuse by under-qualified or self-serving village heads, and very limited options for disaffected villagers to communicate issues with higher social or source of funding (donors and NGOs).
KeywordsPost-disaster reconstruction Aceh Applied anthropology Humanitarianism Aid governance
This paper results from countless field observations made over the course of the past decade in Aceh. During this time I benefited from collaboration with Yenny Rahmayati and the Aceh Heritage Community, as well as my more recent collaboration with the International Centre for Aceh and Indonesia Ocean Studies. Ezra Ho and Divya Hundlani at EOS assisted in the preparation of this manuscript. This research was supported in part by the National Research Foundation Singapore and the Singapore Ministry of Education under the Research Centres of Excellence initiative, and is EOS Research Contribution No. 166.
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