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A Year After the Tsunami, Shelter Remains the Biggest Challenge

By Oxfam

The Oxfam report, "A Place to Stay, A Place to Live," shows that there has been major progress in providing shelter to the millions of people displaced by the tsunami—but that progress is uneven and faster reconstruction has been blocked by a variety of factors.

The report shows how:

  • The emergency response phase rapidly provided all those who needed it with emergency shelter.
  • In Sri Lanka, around 95% of people have now moved into transitional shelters.
  • In the worst-affected Indian state of Tamil Nadu, plans have already been drawn up for more than 31,000 homes.
  • Around a quarter of the permanent houses needed in Aceh are expected to have been built by the end of December.

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"The progress already made has been impressive but there’s much more to do," said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International. "The emergency response was rightly commended for helping to save and improve thousands of lives but the rebuilding of communities will take much longer."<

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The size of the task, according to the report, is equivalent to rebuilding the city of Philadelphia, Brisbane, or Glasgow and Birmingham combined.<

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The report sets out the key blocks to faster progress. Some of these were impossible to avoid, such as the fact that in Aceh land that housed more than 120,000 people has been permanently submerged. Other delays should have been avoided:

  • Governments have been slow to allocate appropriate land for rebuilding.
  • Lack of government clarity over coastal buffer zones delayed rebuilding. In Aceh, a 2-kilometer exclusion zone was introduced and it was not until June that permanent shelter reconstruction could really get underway. In Sri Lanka, the buffer zone was changed as recently as October. In India, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) has made the search for land for new housing more difficult.
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  • For the first three months, aid agencies in Aceh were uncertain about whether they would be allowed to stay in the region after March and therefore unable to plan ahead effectively.

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Other delays identified by the report include a lack of experience of mass shelter construction within NGOs, the need to consult communities fully, and real problems in sourcing building materials. In Aceh, access to devastated areas has been severely hampered by lack of infrastructure, including roads and ports, and the price of timber has tripled since the tsunami.<

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According to the report, these obstacles have meant that progress, though substantial in many areas, has been uneven, with some people already in permanent houses while others remain in tents.

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"The reality is that rebuilding at speed involves a difficult balancing act: People want houses quickly but they also want to be consulted and the houses to be of top quality," Hobbs said. "In some cases, the rebuilding process may actually have been too fast. Trying to establish a compromise between the two requirements is a hard call. However, for once, the aid effort is fully funded, so we can afford to be there for the long term and we’ll make sure we get it right<

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Oxfam has already built thousands of temporary shelters and is building thousands of permanent houses. We are also working with others to upgrade and repair temporary shelters and re-house those still in tents. Oxfam is pushing governments to do more to provide appropriate land to all those who need it and is training local communities to claim the land and property that they are entitled to.

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The report also gives examples of the time scale for other reconstruction projects:

  • In America, one year after Hurricane Ivan, thousands of families in Florida are still living in temporary shelters.

  • In Japan, it took the city of Kobe 7 years to recover from the 1995 earthquake.

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