Hurricane response in Nicaragua -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Hurricane response in Nicaragua

By Belkis Santiesteban and Stephanie Banas

Auhya Pihny is an indigenous Miskito community in the North Atlantic Region of Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean. With 1,356 inhabitants living in severe poverty—thanks partly to three centuries of government neglect and social discrimination—this rural community was one of the most significantly affected when Hurricane Felix hit the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua in September 2007.

Only four homes and three functional latrines were left standing in Auhya Pihny in the wake of the storm. The residents had no choice but to use the outdoors for relief, thus increasing the risk of illness, parasites and infections.

Infirmity and environmental damage in turn affected the community’s traditional means of survival: agriculture, timber and fishing. The resulting post-disaster circumstances were unsustainable and getting worse exponentially.

Habitat for Humanity International’s Disaster Response department, together with Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua and the American Nicaraguan Foundation (Fundación Americana Nicaragüense), prioritized the response toward the community’s most immediate need: shelter.

The goal for the initial recovery effort, “Rebuilding Hope in Auhya Pihny,” was to rebuild the original 150 homes that had been destroyed by the storm. The new houses, which sit on stilts in order to protect against flooding and use local timber that was downed in the hurricane, were completed in September of 2008—just one year after the storm.

Still, financing for the initial stage of recovery did not cover solutions to the community’s secondary issues: wastewater treatment and environmental degradation due to the lack of functional latrines—fundamental elements for the guarantee of adequate living conditions and a healthy environment.

In addition, overcrowding is still an issue in Auhya Pihny, where the reconstruction of the original 150 homes did not fully resolve the problem of a disproportionate number of housing units to people. As families expand, it is custom for new Auhya Pihny generations to live close to their nuclear family, and even before the disaster hit several generations were living in exceedingly cramped spaces under a shared roof.

After the initial rebuilding, the challenge shifted toward seeking funding and support to resolve these overcrowding issues.

The resulting project, called “Reconstruction of Auhya Pihny” and funded by Cargill International and Habitat, administers additional post-disaster solutions in two phases.

The first phase includes the construction of 150 new latrines, an integrated potable water and waste management system, and a public education campaign focusing on new and efficient personal and community hygiene practices. Habitar, a local nonprofit organization, provides technical support through the latrine design and a water and sanitation feasibility study.

To resolve the issue of overcrowding, an additional 80 homes, with respective latrines, will be built in the second phase of the project.

In the development of disaster recovery efforts in Auhya Pihny, a key factor of success has been the fundamental, central role of the local community. In both the design and implementation phases, the opinions, convictions and insight of the centuries-old Auhya Pihny culture helped shape the outcome.

Belkis Santiesteban is communications coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua. Stephanie Banas is a writer and editor for Habitat for Humanity’s Latin America/Caribbean office.