Cyclone Nargis, a Category 3 storm, hit Myanmar (Burma) on May 2, 2008. High winds, heavy rain and flood waters affected more than two million people, killing an estimated 78,000 and displacing 500,000 from their homes. Nargis was the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar and the most devastating cyclone to strike Asia since 1991.
Destruction of houses was widespread, especially in the Irrawady delta area. Haing-gyi Island on the country’s southwest coast was the hardest-hit area. The towns of Bogaly, Labutta and Patnaw, along with many small villages in the delta area, were almost completely destroyed. Approximately 800,000 houses were affected by the cyclone, with about 450,000 houses totally destroyed and about 350,000 more lightly damaged.
In 2008, international NGO World Concern started an integrated multi-sector disaster recovery program in 30 villages in Labutta township, in the devastated Ayeyarwady Delta region, about 200 kilometers southwest of the former capital Yangon. Habitat for Humanity became one of World Concern’s partners in a phased program to facilitate early recovery and restore access to food, water, shelter, livelihoods, income and healthcare.
By the end of January 2009, Habitat completed the construction of 280 homes in three villages. Houses were constructed with a combination of timber and locally-available materials and protected by a corrugated iron roof. The houses are elevated to help protect them against flooding.
Habitat also helped supervise the construction of jetties and the repair of roads through a cash-for-work program for affected families funded by World Concern. The first phase of shelter reconstruction took place in the villages of Aima, Aung Hlaing Kone and Ah Mat Gyi. Access to these remote communities is gained by a five- to seven-hour boat ride from Labutta on the southern tip of the devastated delta.
By the time phase two was completed, in April 2011, Habitat’s involvement had assisted an estimated 7,000 families, or about 26,000 people in 52 villages.
Habitat for Humanity uses a community-based program methodology that relies on the local Peace and Development Council to take an integral role in construction. Led by the village head, the council selects families to be helped and prepares the site for construction. Construction teams provide labor and oversee the actual home construction. Habitat provides technical supervision, skill transfers, materials and logistics.
In Aima, Habitat for Humanity also piloted an initiative to distribute two rechargeable LED lamps to each of 110 families and installed a community solar recharger. Solar lighting is an affordable technology which costs less than US$30 per family to deploy. If used for up to six hours every night, a recharged lamp lasts for three nights. The families drop off their lamps at the solar recharging station in the morning and pick them up again in the afternoon.
As part of the program, six multi-purpose “safety” buildings were built as a shelter from future cyclones, flooding or other disasters. Each was designed to protect up to 300 people.
Read more about Habitat’s response to the Cyclone Nargis in the Habitat for Humanity Disaster Response Shelter Catalogue .