Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Observations on early shelter in Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines.

Shelter repairs, emergency shelter, temporary shelter and transitional shelter are some of many terms we have heard frequently in the early days of relief operations over the years, and more recently in Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolande, shelter needs have been enormous and we are seeing many variations of the traditional Nipa shelters made out of Sawali, woven split bamboo huts. Many of us foreigners working here are seeing  the importance of providing shelter kits, corrugated iron sheeting and cash early in the relief phase, with the goal of  shelter assistance to be life-saving and to set the path for sustainable reconstruction. The emergency or relief phase should be instrumental to orient the recovery phase, and integrate risk reduction as a key aspect of reducing housing vulnerabilities   Last week I traveled to Busuanga in the Calamian Island group of northern Palawan with the Chairman, Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross, and my own DG from Swiss Red Cross Markus Mader. At Balasungan in Tagumpay Barangay we had a chance to look at affected households who had received shelter materials from Philippine/Swiss Red Cross some months ago. 2000 families received 10 sheets of corrugated iron, a comprehensive shelter repair kit, and a cash grant of US$ 50. What they have achieved is simply remarkable and each is tailor-made to their needs and resources that they have available.


At Balasungan in Tagumpay Barangay, we spoke to a husband and wife, with six young children. The shelter above and below looking from different angles, is what they lived in for four and a half months,


Now they have  new house with the walls made from Sawali, which are woven into split bamboo mats  It is a commonly used material in the construction of the ubiquitous Nipa hut. The Bahay Kubo, Balay, or Nipa Hut, is a type of stilt house indigenous to most of the lowland cultures of the Philippines.

The woman of the house proudly showing her new Red Cross funded house to DG of the Swiss Red Cross Markus Mader and Arsenia Tabique from the Philippine RC.
Another example of the benefit of early shelter distribution was on the morning of 26 November, just over two weeks after the typhoon struck, the Philippine Red Cross and Swiss Red Cross began distributing shelter repair kits, and CGI sheeting on the island of Bantayan. Later that afternoon, I visited one of the beneficiaries who was well on the sway to finishing the framework for his house, (photo above)  and the next day was going to fix the CGI sheeting, and Sawali walls a few days later.
 Distribution of corrugated iron sheeting to 3000 families in Bantayan of 26 November, just over two weeks after the typhoon struck .  Each family received 12 sheets. We also distributed comprehensive shelter repair kits, below.
 Distributing shelter repair kits to typhoon affected families on Bantayan on 26 November 2013.
 On 14 April I visited the village of Malawig at the northern end of Busuanga where recipients of Red Cross CGI sheeting, shelter repair kits and cash, had done an excellent job in building homes from old and new materials,
 One of the main locally made components of housing is Sawali  where woven split bamboo mats are  used to construct walls.

 One housing sector approach
The Red Cross Movement has been involved for decades in providing shelter to the disaster affected. These assistance methods vary greatly depending on the contexts, type of disaster, local capacities, scale and resources. The goal of humanitarian shelter solutions provided in the aftermath of a disaster, are to be life-saving but also to set the path for sustainable reconstruction. The emergency or relief phase, as outlined below, should be instrumental to orient the recovery phase, and integrate risk reduction as a key aspect of reducing housing vulnerabilities – the one housing sector approach. To achieve this, people’s needs and preferences are driving the process, as the main objective is to build safer and more resilient communities.



 Shelter relief
Following a disaster, shelter activities immediately focuses on saving lives. This is particularly urgent where the affected people are exposed to harsh climatic conditions such as extreme cold or heat.
Rapid shelter solutions include tents and shelter kits, or materials to build or repair homes. Alternatively, temporary accommodation in public buildings or with host families will be supported.
Beyond survival, the key considerations are:
  • providing protection from the climate
  • ensuring privacy and dignity
  • providing personal safety and security
Shelter assistance needs to be flexible and appropriate to the context, it needs to take the type of damage caused by the disaster into account and consider what is required to complement existing or damaged homes and structures. Additional important factors are social and climatic conditions and the scale of the disaster.

Focus on local solutions
Assistance can range from tents, tools and materials to financial support for either the affected people or their host families. In many situations the construction of transitional shelters made out of locally available materials using familiar building techniques is the best option since these can be improved by the disaster survivors themselves over time or be re-used in the construction of permanent homes. The funds invested in reconstruction programmes need to result in new income generating activities, which favours the local economy and development. The overarching goal is to promote local building cultures to improve the impact and efficiency of housing programmes.

These are the core or permanent shelters the Philippine Red Cross are building throughout the typhoon affected area abd plan to build more than 50,000. Photo: German Red Cross

Shelter recovery and settlement planning
Most people who have lost their homes through a disaster want to repair or rebuilt their homes as soon as possible. Many start the reconstruction process immediately after a disaster, whenever circumstances and resources permit. Shelter assistance provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and its members recognizances this, and where appropriate prioritises the provision of materials, tools, cash and technical assistance to support the process. This is also known as the people-driven or owner-driven approach to housing and settlements reconstruction.
Successful shelter repair and construction has to go hand in hand with finding solutions for a number of other issues such as water and sanitation, fuel for cooking and heating, waste management and settlement planning. At the same time communal facilities such as schools, play areas and health clinics have to be available to affected people.
Post disaster reconstruction activities provide opportunities for men and women to learn new skills related to construction, planning and related issues such as managing natural environmental resources and local project management.

Richard Gordon, Chairman Philippine Red Cross shows a traditional shelter with corrugated iron sheeting for a roof.

Shelter disaster preparedness and risk reduction
For many people living along riverbanks or the sea, on mountain slopes or in poorly built neighbourhoods, the risk of flooding, earthquakes and other hazards constantly threaten their lives. In disaster prone areas, the Red Cross Red Crescent works with communities and authorities to identify shelter and settlement risks and vulnerabilities with the goal of preparing for and minimising the potential impact of disasters. The ability of vulnerable households to build safer homes can be improved by introducing disaster resistant technologies, raising awareness of the local risks and hazards explaining to vulnerable communities how they can manage these risks better. In order to achieve this the IFRC has developed and promoted a tool named PASSA (Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness).
A special focus and interest, over the past few years, has been on Urban Risk and improving our approach to responding to disasters in urban areas. This aspect is complemented by advocacy work to ensure equitable reconstruction policies, that include addressing regulatory barriers, land and property aspects and the right to adequate housing.

All photographs taken by Bob McKerrow Swiss Red Cross

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