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Habitat Marks Serving 2,000th Tsunami-affected Family In Sri Lanka

Amid Conflict In The Northeast, Habitat Continues To Build And Repair

COLOMBO, 1st August 2007: Thirty months after the Indian Ocean tsunami crashed on the shores of Sri Lanka, Habitat for Humanity’s rebuilding program on the island is still going strong. Celebrations were recently held for a major milestone – the 2,000th home.

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(Top) Mohamed Bishul Hafi and his family can rest easy now that they have a safe and decent house, the 2,000th built by HFH Sri Lanka.
(Bottom) The shack was home for Hafi’s family of eight after the tsunami destroyed their former house.

The celebration was held in Samagiwatte village, Dangedera town, Galle in the southeast.

In accordance with local traditions, a pot of milk was boiled for prosperity and an oil lamp was lit to launch a new chapter in the life of Mohamed Bishul Hafi and his family.

His family had a narrow escape. When the tsunami struck, Hafi, a gem cutter, now 39-years-old, and his wife Sithy Nismiya, and six children were not at home. And, although the family lived about one kilometer inland from the sea, the swelling of the neighboring canal sent 1.7-meter high waves across Samagiwatte, creating widespread destruction. For the past 30 months, the Hafi family had been living in a cramped shack. While their new home was not as spacious as their 74 square meter (about 800 square feet) former house, it embodied hope of a better future for the whole family. The shack is now used to store their meager possessions.

Sri Lanka’s official Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA) says of tsunami reconstruction work: “The major part of restoration of normalcy in life involved getting back to own houses. The importance is heightened by the social symbolic value attached to the house.” This sentiment well describes the Hafi family who have taken the first step toward normalcy as they settle into their new Habitat home.

Hafi’s home is typical of the 28 sq. m. core houses that Habitat builds in Sri Lanka for tsunami-affected families. The house comprises two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and an attached toilet. Construction materials used include clay tiles for the roof, cement blocks for walls and cement for the floor.

Habitat encourages tsunami-affected families to work on their own homes, as with any regular Habitat program. Later on, the families have the option of extending their core houses by another 23 sq. m. using Habitat’s Save & Build housing microfinance model.

Since February 2005, HFH Sri Lanka has been rebuilding and repairing homes for families in some of the worst affected districts of the island, including Trincomalee in the northeast, Batticaloa in the east and Galle. More than 1,700 families have permanent housing thanks to Habitat and its partners. Rebuilding lives continues even amid conflict in the northeast of the country. Currently, there is a move toward more house repairs that will extend the use of available funds.

While HFH Sri Lanka rebuilds lives through the provision of safe and permanent homes, its partner organizations seek to build up the communities in other ways. For instance, World Concern has built wells to provide Habitat communities with safe drinking water. The non-profit organization also helped communities to revive their means of livelihood through the provision of sewing machines, fabric for clothes-making, carpentry tools, fishing gear, and so on.

In Habitat housing projects undertaken with German chemical company BASF/Finlays, Assemblies of God and Christian Aid, more than 550 houses were provided with solar lighting. In other projects, partner Christian Aid provided gravel roads where sandy ground previously made it impossible for vehicles to pass.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka began in 1994 and has served more than 6,800 families through the construction of new houses, rehabilitation and repairs of homes.

In the four main tsunami-affected countries – Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Thailand – Habitat programs have benefited more than 11,000 families with some US$46 million spent as of the end of June. Overall, plans are in place and resources are in hand to help some 21,000 families find permanent housing by the end of 2008.