Habitat CEO visited devastated areas during Asian tour
ATLANTA and BANGKOK (July 14, 2008) – Habitat for Humanity International and Chinese government officials are working on a pilot project to launch a long-term and sustained Habitat reconstruction effort to rebuild homes and lives following the May 12 earthquake that devastated huge swaths of southwestern China.
One hundred families in a community northeast of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, are set to benefit from the pilot.
Habitat for Humanity International’s CEO Jonathan Reckford met families and officials in Jingyang, the proposed site of the first pilot project, and other earthquake-torn communities during a recent visit to Sichuan.
“The devastation is some of the worst I have seen,” said Reckford. “The stories of lost family members, neighbors, and classmates are heartbreaking, but I was struck by the resilience of the people.”
Habitat has launched an initial US$5 million appeal campaign for reconstruction and will focus on more remote areas of the mountainous province.
Jingyang will be the first of a series of pilot projects to assist 1,000 families and to build the capacity to help thousands more.
Jingyang is predominantly an agricultural district with 10 towns, each surrounded by many villages.
The earthquake killed 680 people in Jingyang, where more than 70,000 buildings collapsed or were damaged. Some 60,000 families – one-third of the population – are homeless, and are now housed in tents or makeshift shelters. Some 60,000 children are without a permanent school.
The May earthquake and the aftershocks affected an area equivalent in size to Iraq and killed more than 69,000 people, most of them in Sichuan province. An estimated 15 million people were displaced, of whom one-third – about 5 million – are homeless. The Chinese government is rushing to build 1 million temporary homes by August.
Rebuilding permanent homes is expected to take at least three years. It is hoped four-fifths of families will be able to rebuild within their existing communities.
But in rebuilding, Reckford noted: “It is important to build houses that are earthquake-safe. Most of the houses we have seen were built with hollow cement blocks and heavy timber roof-support beams that collapsed from the force of the earthquake.
“Going forward, Habitat will design and build homes that can better withstand the force of potential future earthquakes.”
Reckford was in China as part of a six-country Asian tour. In addition to China, he visited Habitat for Humanity projects and partners in Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, South Korea
Reckford began his tour in Bangladesh with a visit to a project where Habitat and partner Christian Aid Ministries have completed 136 of 280 basic, transitional homes planned for families affected by Cyclone Sidr in November 2007. He also spoke at a conference in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on creating effective, large-scale housing solutions in partnership with the millions of families in South Asia who live in urban slums.
Later, in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, he toured Habitat Australia-funded projects and met local government and World Bank representatives. Habitat Cambodia recently received a US$400,000 grant administered by the World Bank for a pilot project in Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia, which should provide secure land tenure for more than 400 families.
In South Korea, Reckford visited Asan, the main site of Habitat’s 2001 Jimmy Carter Work Project, which helped intensify building efforts there. The site has been extended to accommodate 160 families, up from the original 88 in 2001. The final two, two-story structures are currently under construction and the last eight families should move in later this year. The Asan site, south of the Korean capital of Seoul, also has community centers and classrooms for after-hours schooling.
In Thailand, Reckford met local staff. Later, in Japan, he spoke to Habitat campus chapter members and students, and met local staff.
About Habitat for Humanity International
Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry that welcomes to its work all people dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 250,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1 million people. For more information, visit www.habitat.org .