First Homes Built in Myanmar For Survivors of Cyclone Nargis

Partnership With World Concern Plans 400 Homes By January in First Phase

BANGKOK, 16th September 2008: Habitat for Humanity and partner World Concern are on-the-ground rebuilding homes for survivors of Cyclone Nargis which swept through the heavily populated Ayeryarwaddy delta in May.

The first transitional homes are being built in a village in Pyin Alan Tract, or district, near the southwestern delta town of Laputta. In addition, planning is under way for a series of community buildings where residents can seek protection from bad weather.

Starting out: Exteriors and interiors of one of the coconut-framed pilot homes in Aima village, in Myanmar’s Ayeryarwaddy delta. The design is being modified for the next set of houses.

Community involvement in Aima: Widows and the landless were among about 80 families (top) to attend a community meeting where the first batch of homeowners was selected, and were examining house plans (above).

Gone: (Clockwise from bottom left) A school building that was leveled by the cyclone in Aima. A small church that has been converted into a school where classes from three different sections are being held, attended by some 240 children in the community. The site of where a new school was being built until the cyclone and funds stopped work. With World Concern and Habitat’s assistance, this could be rebuilt using salvaged coconut trees.

The raised transitional homes use readily available coconut wood-frame structures built on precast concrete footings, with walls and floors made of bamboo matting and roofs of corrugated galvanized iron sheeting. The homes measure 270 sq. ft. and are braced and structured.

Traditionally, families in the delta live in vulnerable bamboo-based structures that are not fully secured or weather proof.

“We have materials in place for the first 20 of 80 homes to be built,” said Charlie Ayco, Habitat for Humanity’s program development director for Asia-Pacific. “Working with World Concern we aim to build 400 homes in several villages by January 2009 before hopefully scaling up.”

Involving members of the affected community is an important part of Habitat’s approach in rebuilding after natural disasters. The design for first two pilot houses in Aima village was modified after input from villagers. The location of the entrance door was moved for culture reasons and the orientation of the building was changed because of sea breezes.

The pilot houses cost about US600 each, though this cost is expected to fall as the program continues.

The houses are of a type known as “transitional” homes. These provide more safety and security after a disaster than tents. Later, they can be strengthened and extended, and even taken apart so the materials are reused in new permanent structures. The pilot homes have guttering to harvest rain water for drinking.

“Some families were concerned about the use of coconut lumber since they were used to building with bamboos. Habitat advisers explained that choosing the ‘right’ coconut wood, when treated, was a good material for house construction,” Ayco added.

The safe community buildings or “Houses of Refuge” are planned for Aima, Aung Hlaing and Char Thar Gone villages. These community structures will be designed to minimize loss of life in future storms by providing wind- and flood-resistant buildings where community members can take shelter during a flood or cyclone. In normal times, these buildings can be used as health clinics or schools.

Habitat for Humanity is supporting World Concern by providing technical advisers and other support for construction. Currently materials are being purchased in Laputta and shipped up to five hours away to the villages. Because of the remoteness of many of the communities, World Concern has acquired speedboats to ferry people and materials.

The need for permits to travel between the capital Yangon and Laputta, and for travelling between Laputta and affected communities is a restriction.

Habitat is investigating plans to provide mobile sawmill services as happened in Habitat projects to rebuild after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. A travelling sawmill is taken to a community and used to cut and shape salvaged wood and timber for walls and floors.

Families are encouraged to work on their houses, but most of the work is being under taken by paid workers. An estimated workforce of 20 carpenters and 30 others is needed for the first 20 homes. In addition a project manager and the first of two site managers have been hired. A book keeper and a logistics person are needed to support the work.

The first part of the partnership should see 400 homes built in up to 14 villages by early 2009 and the creation of at least three safe community buildings. This could be extended to building 3,000-4,000 houses around Laputta and assisting and training families to improve their own homes to protect them against rains and floods.

Habitat has worked with World Concern in various parts of Asia, notably in reconstruction projects after the 2004 tsunami.

World Concern has been working in Myanmar since 1995 to improve community health, increase access to water supply, provide micro-finance opportunities, increase awareness of HIV, care for persons living with HIV and AIDS and improve food security through sustainable agriculture development. It has more than 200 staff in the country. The organization has a memorandum of understanding with the government for its development programming, as well as long-established local partners approved to work in the regions worst affected by the cyclone.

Since the cyclone, World Concern, working through its established network of local partners, has provided food, shelter supplies, clothing, medical care and water purification for nearly 60,000 children, men and women.