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Building a more resilient Fiji

16 May 2016


Red Cross Volunteer Joe Rabuku is learning how to build safer Fijian houses after Cyclone Winston at a train-the-trainer session just outside Suva. Credit: OCHA/Danielle Parry
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With the World Humanitarian Summit just around the corner, the Cyclone Winston response in Fiji is a timely example of Pacific efforts to collaborate for resilience and to build local capacities in coping with disasters.

With the World Humanitarian Summit just around the corner, the response to Cyclone Winston in Fiji is a timely example of Pacific efforts to build local capacities in coping with disasters.

After the cyclone that destroyed more than 30,000 houses, a massive rebuilding effort is getting underway across the country. Humanitarian actors are working with the Fijian Government to train hundreds of community carpenters and workers in safer building techniques so that the country can better withstand future cyclones.

Joe Rabuku is a Fiji Red Cross shelter volunteer who normally draws house plans for a living. Today, he’s going back to basics and learning some simple tips for rebuilding houses more safely after the devastation of Cyclone Winston in late February.

“The whole purpose of this training is to learn skills and proper techniques for building a better Fiji and making homes stronger in the wake of Cyclone Winston. This training will help us to go back and train our volunteers so we can serve our community and teach them how to build stronger homes in preparedness for future disasters,” Mr. Rabuku said.

He is among 20 people from a range of humanitarian and non-government organisations, church groups and vocational education institutions taking part in a training-of-trainers pilot program encouraging safe home building techniques for people recovering after the cyclone.

“We have the first group of carpenters learning better techniques so that when they go back to their communities they can help communities build homes,” said Vula Shaw, Principal Administrative Officer (Housing) from the Fiji Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Environment.  Sevanaca Vere Ivalu teaches joinery at Fiji National University. He is anxious to share his newly acquired skills from the training with his students and people in his home community of Koro, which was hit hard by the cyclone.

“With the knowledge that I have learned so far today, I just want to go back to the school and teach people how to build a good building in case of an emergency,” he said.

The pilot is being run by the Fiji Shelter Cluster and Habitat for Humanity Fiji. It aims to support the Fiji Government’s ‘Help for Homes’ program, which is providing cash for affected householders to purchase construction materials.

“The Government’s ‘Help for Homes’ program will provide thousands of Fijians with access to free building materials so that they can get a roof back over their head after Cyclone Winston. We want to make sure they have the skills to do that properly so that their houses are strong enough to withstand the next cyclone,” said Caroline Dewast, Shelter Cluster Coordinator.

The Shelter Cluster and its partners ultimately hope to secure funding to roll out the training to almost 800 community carpenters and builders so that post-cyclone investments in housing contribute to making Fijian communities more resilient to disasters in the longer term.

“We did surveys immediately after TC Winston in rural locations—in villages and informal settlements--and we found the biggest reason why a lot of the houses came down was poor construction techniques. And so the whole idea of this is just to impart some really basic but important construction techniques. A lot of our community carpenters and home-owner builders know these but sometimes there are shortcuts. It’s really very simple things like enough nails and strapping in the right place – inexpensive solutions that will save a lot of investment,” said Masi Latianara, National Director of Habitat for Humanity.

 “A key message from the Pacific heading into the World Humanitarian Summit is that governments and local actors should be supported to lead their own responses to emergencies. This approach has been a key feature of the Cyclone Winston response and Fiji will have strong experience to draw on during discussions in Istanbul later this month. This training program is another great example of collaboration between the humanitarian community and local partners, building on local skills and making communities more secure in the face of future disasters,” said Sune Gudnitz, Head of the UNOCHA Office for the Pacific.

The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul from 23-24 May will attract almost 6,000 people from around the globe. Nearly 200 people will attend from countries across the Pacific, including15 Pacific governments that have signalled their intention to send high-level delegations.