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Lessons From Tsunami And Other Natural Disasters Presented At UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum In Vancouver

Habitat for Humanity- Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre Research Advocates Comprehensive Shelter Framework Strategy For Disaster Response

SINGAPORE, 26th June 2006 – At the recent biennial UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum, Habitat for Humanity International and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre asserts that community-based disaster response (CBDR) is by itself insufficient as an effective shelter intervention.

Community-based disaster response: A Habitat for Humanity volunteer team working alongside home partners in the Banda Aceh community of Tibang. The team worked together to mix cement, dig septic tanks, help with the roofing support and lay bricks.

“Inappropriate intervention strategies have delayed the progress of families trying to move from relief to recovery and long-term development.” said Steve Weir, Asia-Pacific vice-president for Habitat for Humanity International. “The response in each of the impacted countries has been a donor free-for-all often characterized by donor competition and poor coordination leading to steep cost escalations and delayed reconstruction. At the one-year anniversary of the tsunami in Aceh alone 190,000 people were still living in tents, barracks or in overcrowded temporary housing with friends and extended family.”

An effective comprehensive shelter framework must include two additional key strategies: On-site Reconstruction and Strategic Donor Coordination along with Community Based Disaster Response. The proposed three-pronged comprehensive shelter framework strategy is supported by research on three large-scale efforts to rehouse those affected by disasters: the UN-led distribution of shelter kits in Timor Leste in 1999 and multiple approaches in post-tsunami Aceh in 2005 and 2006 including those by Habitat for Humanity.

A paper with these case studies and the resulting comprehensive shelter framework was authored and presented by Steve Weir, Charlie Ayco, director for Habitat for Humanity International and Earl Kessler from the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre advisory committee at the third session of the World Urban Forum (WUFIII) taking place in Vancouver, Canada with its main theme, “Our Future: Sustainable Cities: Turning Ideas into Action”. The research was one of twelve papers sponsored by the International Housing Coalition in an effort to put housing back on the world’s agenda.

In brief, On-site Reconstruction returns families to their own land to initiate recovery and reconstruction. It is key to the economic recovery of families and communities. Relocating families to barracks and tent camps for long periods not only encourages dependence slowing the recovery process, but often leads to increased health risks and family abuse in crowded camp conditions that lack the privacy and dignity of their own home.

In the post-tsunami environment, housing providers faced a competitive climate where the scarcity of materials and local production capacity resulted in unnecessary hoarding causing prices to more than double in the early months. In many easily accessible locations donors scrambled to “outbid” each other in order to secure a community and demonstrate responsiveness to their donors.  This has led to serious neglect of more remote communities. Strategic Donor Coordination calls for the coordination of donor reconstruction activities in geography, product and methodology. More families can be served at a more reasonable cost if there is a coordinated, collaborative non-competitive environment.

Community-based Disaster Response continues to be the preferred strategy for engaging local community leadership. It requires a high level of participation from a community to work alongside its partners, making decisions and engaging local resources. This has proven to accelerate the transition from relief to recovery for the community as they begin to focus forward to the hope of the future rather than backward toward their loss.

The Shelter Framework as a Sustainable Approach

The paper states “On-site temporary housing set up from provisional materials – plastic sheeting or scavenged materials – is the first step to recovery. It is a short phase of a larger program based on an on-site reconstruction approach in partnership with affected families. An on-site redevelopment action plan addresses rebuilding as a means of healing the trauma of disaster and abuse as it reconstructs the local built environment, encourages social participation and establishes the framework for the economy to restart.”

Economic Growth and Employment

The paper reviews two specific response strategies and their effectiveness within the proposed Shelter Framework and concludes that “Habitat Resource Centers and Shelter Kit construction mobilize community resources absorbing skilled and unskilled labor in assembling shelter kits and rebuilding houses, community infrastructure and facilities. The HRCs facilitate the production of construction materials by small, local business through targeted micro-finance lending, enabling a consistent stream of products and skilled labor to the local building market.”

Impact results from Timor Leste Survey

A Habitat Poverty Index Survey of nearly 683 families from the Aileu and Dili districts in Timor Leste found no statistically significant difference between families that received a shelter kit and those who already lived in adequate housing at the time of the kit distribution in the areas of total deprivation, child mortality and malnutrition. “These findings suggest that a US$264 shelter kit program enabled families to reach the same level of poverty reduction as those with adequate housing at the time of independence. Why would we not increase the number of families assisted tenfold rather than increase the cost of assistance per family tenfold?” remarks Steve Weir.