In search of better housing – Post Cyclone Evan Shelter Reconstruction Programme

Oct 11, 2013

Anne Milbank carrying out the household survey at Tafitoala village, in the southern coast of Samoa, Monday 30 Sep 2013. Photo Credit: Jasmine Subasat.

Tropical Cyclone Evan in December 2012 hit hard many places in Samoa and marked another record in destruction for the island with floods and strong winds destroying many houses and infrastructure – only a few years after the devastating 2009 Tsunami.  

Right after the cyclone, a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) was carried out by the World Bank in collaboration with UNDP and the findings were presented in January 2013 to the Government of Samoa. 

The Post Cyclone Evan Shelter Reconstruction Programme has, therefore, been established since and its work has been in progress. 

In the affected areas on the island of Upolu, while some have managed to build houses after this disaster, many still live under unfavourable conditions and in unsafe areas.

Based on the list of households damaged at different levels presented by the PDNA, Anne Milbank of UNDP who is an architect by profession led and conducted a further household survey as part of the project.  This was carried out in order to capture the village realities as of September 2013 – nine months after the cyclone hit, making more adjustments to the initial list. 

Anne, a passionate volunteer, wants to contribute to the improvement of Samoan lives using her skills as an architect. She believes that Samoa had traditionally built fales (Samoan huts) suitable to Samoan climate and ways of living.  A new house should therefore utilize the same structure of traditional housing but stronger and more resilient to natural disasters and with a modern touch. 

The survey started with the family structure as to the number of household members; those who are in employment, the number of children and where they reside.  One family visited, for example on 30th September by the team, was found to be sleeping in a temporary tent erected by the Red Cross post disaster. Conditions proved that it was too hot to be inside during the daytime and seven household members in one tent were considered overcrowding.

The survey further asked about the proximity to the river, sea, access to tar seal road, electricity and water. Anne pinpointed on a map the location of each fale, access to the bathroom and so forth and took photos to record their structure and safety.

Tropical Cyclone Evan affected villages differently. In the village of Tafitoala in the southern coast of Upolu, almost all households were affected by overflow of the river nearby as well as the sea. Nine months after the disaster, some families are still living in the temporary shelters set up by the Adventist Disaster Risk Agency (ADRA) and tents by from the Red Cross. 

One of the major challenges has been access to fresh water. Some families fetch water from their neighbours’ while others fetch theirs from one of the many strategically placed temporary water tanks provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) for each affected village. Many households identified as needing help are subsistent farmers who have limited access to cash and are indebted for building a temporary fale of their own. 

The prime purpose of the survey was to identify problems of heavily affected households and provide recommendations to the government of Samoa. 

Anne noted unsafe fales and recommended that people move up the hill where there are plantations. This recommendation may suggest that government will need to build new roads and provide water and electricity. All fales close to coastal areas must be relocated to where they are safe from another natural disaster that may demolish them again.

Anne will complete her survey in November. Following this, a contractor will be engaged to build new and retrofit existing houses. As part of their contract they will also pass on their construction knowledge and skills to local residents.

The team included Anne Milbank and Jasmine Subaṣat from UNDP as well as representatives from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social.  

By: Dr Jasmine Subaṣat, UNV Programme Officer.

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