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90 days post tsunami, Habitat increases building efforts

90 days post tsunami, Habitat for Humanity increasing building capacity

BANGKOK, Thailand (March 28, 2005) – Three months after a devastating tsunami left nearly 300,000 people dead or missing and left many more homeless in South and Southeast Asia, Habitat for Humanity is moving forward with projects to provide simple, decent houses for at least 25,000 affected families in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Habitat was working in all four countries before the disaster, but is scaling up to efficiently and speedily provide significant numbers of permanent houses.

Habitat is putting in place infrastructure to support a minimum two-year reconstruction program that later will be transformed into long-term housing solutions. Teams of volunteers are already on the ground helping impacted families. Corporations, institutions and individuals continue to donate money and gifts-in-kind to fund Habitat’s plans.

“We are committed to moving families out of camps and into permanent housing as quickly as possible,” said Steve Weir, vice president for Habitat’s Asia-Pacific region. “We are aiming to help reconstruct communities as well as homes, so we are partnering with other organizations which specialize in developing livelihoods so that we can concentrate on what we do best, building proper homes.”

A key piece of Habitat’s rebuilding plan is a network of 10 “Disaster Response Technical Centers,” which help build construction capacity, said Weir, adding that, “we’ll leverage them to make an even greater impact in the future.”

Centers are operating in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, in Phangnga, Thailand, and in Kanyakumara, India. Others, including three in Aceh province Indonesia and Galle, Sri Lanka, are due to open in the next month or so.

Habitat construction experts working in the centers teach homeowners and other community members basic building and construction skills, and well as skills to help them create new livelihoods. The centers coordinate volunteers and produce blocks, tiles and other building materials. Their mobile units take production right to the construction site. After the tsunami rebuilding phase ends, the centers will continue as more conventional Habitat “building and training centers,” an important community economic resource.

“Disaster Response Technical Centers are designed to be flexible with each center emphasizing different activities depending on local needs,” Weir said. “We particularly want to equip people to help themselves, to build their own houses. That will enable more families to get out of temporary shelter and into proper homes more quickly.”

Teams of skilled construction volunteers from around the world, known as “First Builders,” are already working alongside local volunteers, staff and soon-to-be homeowners in Sri Lanka. In Thailand, “First Builder” teams are making concrete roof tiles, making repairs and setting in place assets to build hundreds of houses. Early “First Builder” teams have come from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States to lend a hand.

“An important part of ‘First Builders’ is to bring people with expertise who are self-sufficient and who can cope with living and working in difficult conditions,” said Weir. “They are already making a difference and dozens of teams are scheduled for the coming months.”

Later, when conditions allow, Habitat for Humanity will encourage visits by more conventional Habitat “Global Village” volunteer teams to assist in reconstruction.

Governments in the affected countries are encouraging the rebuilding of entire communities – schools, roads, utilities, community centers and infrastructure. Habitat is responding by partnering with other organizations, with Habitat providing the housing component, and others providing income-generation, community and infrastructure projects. In Kanyakumara, India, for example, Habitat is working closely with the Discipleship Center.

Nearly US$39 million has been raised to fund Habitat’s tsunami recovery effort. This is significantly more than the US$25 million originally targeted. Donors in North America and the Asia-Pacific region each have donated some US$15 million of the total. Fund raising is continuing and a further US$4 million in possible donations has already been identified. Habitat’s new fund raising target is US$50 million, which would allow many more families to be helped.

Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing. By the end of 2005, Habitat will have built its 200,000th house and more than one million people will be living in Habitat homes they helped build and are buying through no-profit, zero-interest mortgages. For more information, see www.hfhap.org and www.habitat.org