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One Year After The Indian Ocean Tsunami, Habitat For Humanity Reflects On Progress And Challenges Of Reconstruction

December 16, 2005

BANGKOK, 16th December, 2005: One year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, Habitat for Humanity looks back on the challenges and successes of a daunting effort and forward to the completion of its goal of improved housing for an estimated 35,000 families affected by the disaster.

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In a special report released today, the organization provides details on the progress it has achieved as well as the lessons learned in responding to one of the most destructive natural disasters in history.

When the earthquake and tsunami hit in December of 2004, Habitat for Humanity had regular programs in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, four of the countries that suffered most in loss of lives and property. In response to Habitat’s commitment to rebuild in these countries, donors pledged US$54 million to support the efforts.

“The outpouring of support we received from around the world gave us the ability to develop a long-term response that would not just restore, but improve, permanent homes for thousands of those whose lives were devastated by the tsunami,” said Steve Weir, Habitat’s vice president for Asia-Pacific programs.

“By working with partner organizations and directly with affected families, we are rebuilding communities and providing opportunities for children and families to thrive long into the future.”

By the end of December, Habitat will have built, repaired and renovated approximately 6,000 permanent houses in the four countries: work is on-going on one third of them.

With the tsunami, the Operation Home Delivery program in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and now the October earthquake in Pakistan, providing permanent shelter in the aftermath of disaster has become a major focus of Habitat’s on-going work.

Habitat for Humanity’s program for tsunami-affected families built on experience of responding after other disasters such as hurricanes Mitch in Latin America and Andrew in the United States as well as post-conflict rebuilding in Afghanistan and East Timor.

Reconstructing permanent houses after a disaster can only begin when rescue and relief efforts have been completed.

And each disaster presents new challenges. In the aftermath of the tsunami, materials were often in short supply or offered at inflated prices. Quality was another concern: bricks were poorly fired and block insufficiently cured. Skilled labor was often hard to find or needed extra training and supervision to build to an acceptable standard. In addition, much of the work has had to be carried out in the rainy season and in isolated communities. In Indonesia, for example, Habitat and partner organizations ran a coastal barge to deliver materials to the west coast as roads were impassable.

The new report shows how Habitat for Humanity has applied long-held principles and developed innovative programs to meet these and other challenges, getting people in dozens of communities across the four countries back into permanent homes, back on their feet and on with their lives.

“Our approach from the beginning was to rebuild in partnership with the communities affected, just as we do in our regular programming,” said Weir. “In this way we are not just building houses, we are building relationships that will have long-lasting impact.”

Through a network of Habitat resource centers, the organization has provided employment and training in construction and materials fabrication. Many workers who lost their livelihoods in the tsunami now face the future with new skills and an income.

In addition, the resource centers have been the nexus for technical assistance to other organizations in such areas as engineering, architecture and project management. In India, where the bulk of Habitat’s work to date has been in repairs and renovations, a program is set to begin to offer house-by-house assessments and recommendations for disaster mitigation as part of comprehensive programs to rebuild communities.

Volunteers are a hallmark of Habitat programs. Volunteer programs have been adapted in innovative ways to meet the needs of disaster operations. Immediately after the tsunami, Habitat affiliates in India and Sri Lanka mobilized volunteers to join the relief effort. They recovered bodies, cleaned wells and put up tents. Later, volunteer teams of skilled construction workers from around the world, willing to work in challenging conditions, came in to begin the first renovations, repairs and new-house construction. As field conditions stabilized, international Global Village teams and corporate groups joined. Individual volunteers have included specialists in architecture, engineering, logistics and project management.

To date more than 100 international volunteer teams, involving more than 1,000 individuals, have been in action and dozens more are scheduled for 2006.

Habitat’s target is to assist an estimated 35,000 families affected by the disaster by the time the program is completed at the end of 2007. An estimated 20,000 families will have received direct assistance with permanent housing, and 10,000-15,000 others will have benefited from housing-related livelihood and training programs, and technical services including disaster mitigation.

About Habitat for Humanity International
Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry that welcomes to its work all people dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Habitat is based in Americus, Georgia, USA. Since 1976, Habitat has built more than 200,000 houses providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for one million people.