Greater impact through partnerships -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Greater impact through partnerships

By Scott Peterson

Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in May 2008, paved the way for Habitat to forge partnerships in new arenas.

After the cyclone, Habitat’s Asia/Pacific area office joined the UN Emergency Shelter Cluster and Logistics Cluster meetings held in Bangkok and Yangon. The cluster movement was founded by the United Nations less than a decade ago, with a view to create a voluntary coordination gathering—organized into sectors such as shelter, health, logistics, education, and water/sanitation—to bring efficiency to disaster relief and response through nongovernmental organizations.

Given Habitat’s expertise and focus on shelter, the UN clusters provide opportunities for building a closer relationship with relief and response agencies in concert with Habitat’s own capacity.

Habitat’s partnership with World Concern first began in strife-torn eastern Sri Lanka and tsunami-hit southern Thailand, but Cyclone Nargis enabled both organizations to expand into new areas in Myanmar. World Concern has been working in Myanmar since 1995, but it was not established in the devastated Ayeryawaddy delta nor experienced in implementing the construction of a large number of cyclone-resistant shelters and refuges.

Despite its expertise in housing, Habitat could not respond unilaterally to the cyclone without a pre-established legal basis for its presence in Myanmar. The partnership between Habitat and World Concern in Myanmar, thus, was a natural fit in the provision of technical skills, resources and project design.

To date, more than 280 transitional shelter houses have been constructed in three villages in Myanmar, with 156 more under construction in two new communities. Community infrastructure projects such as jetty and fresh-water storage tanks have also recently been completed with the support and supervision of Habitat staff and World Concern.

Drainage basins, low-tech desalination solutions, rechargeable lamp distribution with community solar-cell recharging stations, and safe shelters are being implemented in a holistic approach to improve the lives of home partner families and help break the cycle of chronic loss of life and property to flooding and natural disasters.

Funding is being sought from more donors to roll out a second phase of the project, focusing on disaster response and development, with hopes that up to 3,000 additional families can eventually be served in the delta through transitional shelter housing.

Discussions are under way about how to adapt this successful spirit of cooperation to other programs throughout the Asia/Pacific region.

The progress of the Habitat-World Concern partnership in Myanmar reflects the longer-term view of transition that has been adopted in Bangladesh’s cyclone response project and is under consideration in Habitat’s flood response in India’s Bihar region and southeastern Nepal.

Habitat’s partners range from corporations, governments and humanitarian agency donors to local community-based organizations, home partners and technical specialists.

In Habitat’s post-tsunami reconstruction in Indonesia, partnerships with local suppliers even created viable business enterprises. The suppliers, prescreened by Habitat, were empowered by skills, training and machinery provided by Habitat to produce quality bricks, blocks, wooden door frames, windows and so forth. Their relationships with Habitat enabled them to continue as stand-alone enterprises owned by the workers.

At the individual level, people who have been trained as masons or carpenters, for example, could also command higher wages.

Among the four tsunami-affected countries in which Habitat rebuilt lives and homes, India has seen the most efficient delivery of homes, given its focus from the onset on building strong working partnerships with local NGOs to implement the intervention. To date, India has built nearly 10,000 houses for tsunami-affected families and provided disaster preparedness and mitigation training to more than 9,000 people.

After Cyclone Sidr slammed into Bangladesh, donor funds were not sufficient to include a latrine or clean water facilities in the transitional core shelters that Habitat built for affected families. With funding support from UNICEF and HFH Great Britain, 480 families living in transitional core shelters will now have latrines to improve their health and quality of life.

In the Bihar region of India and southeastern Nepal, London-based international charity WaterAid is in discussions with Habitat over water and sanitation response, which similarly could not be supported by other more traditional emergency relief funding providers.

In this way, Habitat looks beyond the traditional model both internally and externally, with a view toward solutions that address poverty reduction in a much broader way than the single-sector shelter approach adopted by many disaster relief providers.

Scott Peterson is disaster response adviser in Habitat for Humanity’s Asia/Pacific area office.