One year ago, severe Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji causing massive devastation. Winston was the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the country and the South Pacific Basin in recorded history, flattening entire communities.
A year on, communities devastated by Winston are returning back to normal life. Although the great outpouring of support from the international community greatly assisted with immediate response efforts in the Pacific nation, the road to recovery post-disaster is sadly often arduous and fraught with its share of challenges.
In Fiji, Habitat’s work has moved from the emergency relief phase to recovery and rehabilitation. Our focus is long term and ongoing, and we are achieving this by working with communities, transforming adversity into resilience.
With the support of our donors and corporate sponsors, Habitat for Humanity Fiji has been able to work with over 7,000 vulnerable families to provide them with emergency shelter kits to repair damaged homes.
As part of a longer term recovery and rehabilitation program we have also been working in a further 100 communities to reconstruct and repair water supply and sanitation services destroyed in the cyclones, and the building disaster resilient houses.
106 new homes have been built so far and another 200 new homes are planned for construction as part of the rehabilitation phase.
Natural hazards are inevitable, but they don’t have to be disasters. Building disaster resilient homes, along with long-term planning, community education and preparation helps avoid this and ensures people can live safely in their natural environment.
An estimated 140,000 people currently live in substandard housing conditions in Fiji. Unfortunately, when a cyclone like Winston occurs, these homes offer little protection and it is these vulnerable groups that are often hit the hardest. Not only are homes destroyed, but livelihoods and essential infrastructure too. Lives are changed in an instant.
Disaster-resilient homes play a key role in helping communities prepare for and reduce the impact of natural hazards.
Take for instance, Taito and his family – who live in one of the 300 Habitat-built homes that withstood Cyclone Winston. Taito and families like his had been previously living in makeshift homes cobbled together from scrap iron and tarpaulin.
After building a home with Habitat for Humanity, Taito and his family had a strong and sturdy house, that a month later would protect them – and others in the their community – from Winston’s 325 kilometre winds.
“Projects and activities to reduce disaster risks are the most important things we can do to protect the hard won development gains of communities in Asia and the Pacific,” said Megan Krolik, Habitat for Humanity’s regional program manager.
“Building disaster-resilient homes and providing communities training in these areas, strengthens and prepares vulnerable groups for future disasters and reduces the social, emotional and economic impact of those disasters.”
To add to this, Habitat Fiji also conducted 30 trainings on Build Back Safer for 600 community builders in 70 different communities. Build Back Better training teaches community members techniques on building strong and sturdy homes that will withstand future disasters. The training is community based and is empowering people like Sio.
Participants of Habitat’s Build Back Better training
Sio is a former village headman who now works with Habitat for Humanity Fiji training community members on build back better.
“I enjoy teaching the community these skills. It feels good to share knowledge and to be able to do something proactive to help communities in need. We have also noticed that through this rehabilitation effort, people feel motivated and inspired to actually move on in life. They feel that, yes something is happening and it mentally prepares them to start picking up the pieces to make a fresh start.”
Habitat for Humanity’s rehabilitation work continues in Fiji. Volunteer opportunities to help families prepare for future cyclones by building disaster resilient homes are also available through the Global Village program.