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HFH Thailand Reconstruction in the Stricken South

February 16, 2005

by Esther Lake in Phang Nga

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Phang Nga: 16th February 2005: Habitat has set up a base in Phang Nga, southern Thailand, to coordinate disaster response. The center will deal with a five-fold plan for consultation, house repair, new builds, setting up a Disaster Response Technical Center and training people in building skills.

Geoffrey Wheeler, Director of the Center for Vocational Building Technology based in Udon Thani, is now based in Phang Nga, working as director of the new HFH center. First steps have been taken to implement each of the five disaster response initiatives. Consultation is being carried out with the aid of “We Love Thailand,” an alliance of NGOs working in the area. The consortium has been holding meetings in the villages to determine reconstruction needs. A meeting was held on February 11 in Thap Lamu village to determine the scale of repair work and ascertain which houses are unfit for living in and need rebuilding. HFH will now take over the work of repairing homes in Thap Lamu.

An HFH First Builder team is scheduled to arrive in mid March, Meanwhile, volunteers, including a team from Ford Motor Company, will carry out surveys and repair work. HFH expects to soon be able to commence new builds for villagers from Ban Nam Khem, on a new site – although land ownership issues are complicating the process. Many Ban Nam Khem villagers lived in tightly packed wooden shacks along the shore – in an area that is now reduced to rubble. Most of these villagers had no deeds for their homes.

Villagers are scattered amongst several displaced persons camps, including the army-run Pru Tealw camp, which has also taken people from other nearby villages. Land has been allocated near the Pru Tealw temporary housing for HFH to build 112 houses in a coordinated project, where other NGOs will also build houses and where “We Love Thailand” will provide a community center. These will be permanent newly built homes, and will be fully supported by HFH.

The first seminar from the new HFH Disaster Response Technical Center has also taken place. Twelve villagers housed in a temporary camp near Khao Lak attended a roof-tile construction session at the camp on February 12. Villagers who suffered loss of property will receive government compensation of up to 20,000 baht. With the training they will be able to use the money to repair property.

HFH plans to make the centers permanent Building Training Centers, providing expertise for SME start-ups and general skills training. Seminars will soon be held in making interlocking compressed earth bricks using a block-making machine designed by Wheeler. These blocks lock together, needing no mortar between courses, only a vertical mortar grout. The bricks will be made from local natural soil with a 10% mix of PCB 40 cement, costing less than 50 U.S. cents. A 35 sq. m. house needs approximately 3,000 blocks. Interlocking bricks cost about the same as kiln bricks, but they are nearly 50% larger and are better value, with 1,500 fewer bricks needed than for a house made of kiln bricks. Kiln bricks are also very porous, so houses require external plastering, as well as mortar between brick courses.

Habitat’s Udon Thani affiliate has used the machine to build nearly a dozen homes. All products are locally sourced and asbestos free, and building materials are durable and simple to construct.

Phang Nga suffered huge loss of lives, property and livelihoods. Many houses and hotels were on the shores, with most local people employed in the now decimated fishing and tourism industries. More than 4,100 people died, over 2,100 are still missing, and almost 6,000 were injured in this province alone. The villages of Khao Lak, Bang Nieng, Laem Pakarang, Thap Lamu and Ban Nam Khem were particularly badly hit.