One Year after Cyclone Nargis and Sichuan Earthquake, Habitat for Humanity Rebuilding Projects are Well Underway in Myanmar and China

Patience and Careful Planning Mean Hundreds of New Homes for Survivors of May 2008 Natural Disasters with Plans for Hundreds of More Homes

BANGKOK, 6th May 2009: One year after Cyclone Nargis ripped through the Ayeyarwady delta in southwestern Myanmar and a huge earthquake devastated southwestern China, Habitat for Humanity is helping families and communities to rebuild their homes and lives.

A local family in front of their new, well ventilated Habitat home, Myanmar. Photo: World Concern.

Unloading timber for new houses in the Ayeyarwady delta under a cash-for-work scheme, Myanmar. Photo: World Concern.

Workers erecting the frame for a new earthquake-resilient Habitat home, Taizi village, Sichuan Photo: Mikel FlammMikel Flamm

Korean student volunteers at Taizi village, Sichuan. Photo: Mikel Flamm

Habitat has completed building 438 homes in five villages under the first phase of its partnership with Seattle-based World Concern. It also helped supervise the construction of jetties and repairs of roads through a cash-for-work program funded by World Concern for affected families.

The houses are cyclone-resilient structures built to exceed United Nations standards for strength and space. The strengthened timber-framed houses sit on lightweight concrete stilts. Walls and floors are made from woven bamboo, and roofs use galvanized iron sheets.

The government’s local Peace and Development Councils take an integral role in construction. Led by the head of a village, the council selects families to be helped and prepares the site for construction while construction teams provide labor and see to actual home construction. (Previously scattered families of farmers and fishermen are rehoused on sites along roadways or waterways, giving them easier access to services and markets.) Habitat provides technical supervision, skill transfers, materials and logistics.

More than 430 houses have been built in five poor, remote villages in Myanmar with a further 870 houses set to be built in 13 other villages.

In Sichuan, construction is underway on more than half of 800 scheduled new homes and other facilities planned for families in rural areas, and volunteer builders have started arriving to lend a hand.

“This double anniversary is an opportunity to remember the long-term task required to rebuild after the terrible destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis and the Sichuan earthquake,” said Rick Hathaway, Asia-Pacific vice president for Habitat for Humanity International.

“Rebuilding safe, permanent homes after such destructive natural disasters takes time, patience and careful planning. We are now seeing the first results of that patience and planning.”

“In the months and years to come, even as the news headlines fade, Habitat for Humanity is committed to serving more families whose lives were altered forever by the events of May 2008.”

In both Myanmar and China, Habitat for Humanity is applying experience and expertise gained in rebuilding after other natural disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in northwestern Pakistan.

Habitat is using different approaches and technologies in Myanmar and China. But there is one common strategy: encouraging families and community leaders to participate in the design and construction of their new homes and communities.

In Myanmar, Habitat for Humanity is working in partnership with international non-governmental organization World Concern. Habitat construction and technical specialists are providing shelter solutions as part of World Concern’s Cyclone Emergency Response and Recovery project. Many of the communities are very remote: a five- to seven-hour boat rides from the nearest supply center in Labutta town, on the southern tip of the devastated delta, itself 200 km. southwest of the capital Yangon.

Materials are now in place for construction of 120 additional homes. These will be the first of 873 houses to be built in 13 villages under a US1.3 million extension to the program.

With the approaching monsoon season, Habitat and World Concern are also working to distribute corrugated iron sheets and lumber to 500 vulnerable families in ten villages who, one year on, are still living in tarpaulin shelters. Once the monsoon season is over, these new materials can be reused for more permanent housing structures.

There are also plans to build at least three community cyclone-resistant storm shelters. In normal times these buildings will serve as community centers and schools but in severe weather, they will provide a secure shelter for residents. Habitat has come up with proposed designs for the shelters and is waiting for the go-ahead to start construction.

The first 56 of 253 houses under construction in Taizi village, Xiaoyudong township, are expected to be completed in the next two months. Habitat is targeting another 45 families in nearby Yangping village and 130 families in Zhongba village.

The new houses are based on a design from a local architectural college. They are relatively large – about 100 sq m. – but incorporate space for families to keep their animals or run “nong jia le” or “bed and breakfast” businesses in what is a popular local tourist area. As many people were killed or hurt when overweight concrete structures collapsed during the earthquake, the new homes are a combination of brick with wooden superstructures.

In February, HFH China started hosting volunteer teams in Sichuan. Since then there have been high profile visits by two celebrity teams, one with awarding-winning Hong Kong singer and actress Karen Mok and another with actor-director Daniel Wu. There have been four other build teams: two from international schools in Shanghai; one church team from Hong Kong and a team of South Korean university students supported by Korean steel group POSCO. Other teams are expected to visit in the coming months.

Primary donors for the US6 million Sichuan program include Singapore Red Cross, Hong Kong Christian Council, Flextronics Corporation, Cisco, and Hyundai Motor.

Cyclone Nargis, the worst cyclone to hit Myanmar in decades, struck on 2nd May 2008. Some 145,000 people were reported to have perished and more than 50,000 others were listed as missing. Damage in one of the world’s poorest nations was estimated at US10 billion.

Ten days later, on 12th May, a magnitude 8 earthquake struck southwestern China. The epicenter was about 80 kilometers northwest of Chengdu. More than 69,000 people were estimated to have died, and 374,000 others were injured.