October 13 marks the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. The day raises global awareness about effective actions, policies and practices that help communities prepare for, and reduce the impact of disasters. Megan Krolik, Habitat for Humanity Australia’s Regional Program Manager for Asia Pacific and Emergencies, shares the impact such disaster risk reduction activities are having in Fiji.
Two weeks ago I was in Fiji, deep in the wetlands that sit to the east of the country’s capital city, Suva. We’d taken an old wooden boat down the river, before turning into the mangroves, the liquid highway growing smaller and smaller the more we meandered our way into the dark, watery forest.
We soon reached the small village of Tavuya, but not before the crowded boat had scraped along the bottom of the creek. To get out of the wetlands we’d have to hike back down to reach a deeper section of the river, swatting giant mosquitoes and admiring jewel encrusted crabs along the way.
Tavuya is a beautiful village and home to about 250 people. Despite being so close to the city, it is isolated and incredibly exposed to the elements – something the people of Tavuya have had to deal with for over several generations of life in the delta. Nevertheless, the big risks are always present, including cyclones like category 5 Winston which slammed into Fiji in 2016. However, the reality for Tavuya is that they are actually more at risk of the everyday hazards such as flooding, sea-level rise and fires that batter their village on a regular basis.
As I stood outside Ketesi and Litiana’s newly built home, admiring the long lines of cyclone strapping and the wall bracing that Habitat for Humanity Fiji has added to the design to strengthen it against the next cyclone, I couldn’t help but marvel at the difference a secure house can make to a family.
“Before in our old house, when it flooded, we were always wet! Now when it rains or if there are strong winds I know we are in a safe area and I do not have to worry at all…I now know and feel that my family is safe and secure…most of all I know my wife does not have to worry so much,” Ketesi told us, as he proudly showed us around his new house.
Safe, secure shelter is a human right and a basic necessity for all of us. A house is more than just a place to keep the rain off our heads – it’s a place of belonging, a place of rest and a place of learning. A decent house keeps us healthy. A strong house keeps us protected from harm. Habitat for Humanity believes that a safe, secure house provides a foundation for the future, giving families the opportunity to be healthier, happier and more secure, and leads to stronger communities that can grow and sustain themselves.
In Tavuya village, Habitat for Humanity is building strong, safe houses as part of the Tavuya Community Development Project, which is helping the community strengthen its resiliency and environmental sustainability to disaster and climate impacts. Over two years the project will be improving shelter and community infrastructure for vulnerable households in Tavuya, increasing community awareness and capacity to manage disaster and climate risks and increased access to improved water and sanitation, and waste management.
“There has been a big change (since the house was completed). I now do not have to worry about anything when there is a natural disaster warning,” said Ketesi.
To help empower more families and help them prepare for, and reduce the risk of disaster in their communities, please donate today
The Tavuya Community Development Project is proudly supported by Australian Aid and Communities for Communities.