Strong, cheap homes for Haiyan victims

Strong, cheap homes for Haiyan victims
HOME IS WHERE HEART IS: Marina Natividad in front of her new house, which UN Habitat helped build in Roxas City. The house, which has a four-sided roof and walls of concrete hollow blocks, can withstand powerful winds.

ROXAS CITY, Philippines - Marina Natividad, 69, clutched a handful of flickering candles as she haltingly stepped inside her new home a year after Super Typhoon Haiyan pummeled this serene western Visayan outpost, toppling an ironwood electric post that crashed into her shanty.

It's on the same corner lot in Barangay (village) Baybay, where her old house stood. But it's no longer made of patched-up scraps that housed her family for 18 years.

Designed to resist wind loads of 200 to 250km per hour, her new house marks its modest 4.4 by 4.4m floor area (in solid concrete) with four reinforced concrete corner columns and four mid-wall stiffener columns-all topped with a reinforced concrete roof beam.

The lower walls, made of hollow blocks, segue to upper walls made of split bamboo nudged into a tight fit, slat intertwined into the next slat in a neat back-to-back manner and clinched by sturdy wooden frames. These walls, a salute to the wisdom of vernacular architecture that allows passive cooling, give way to clear, glass jalousie windows for natural lighting and ventilation.

Four-sided roof

The unique visual signature of the house, however, is the four-sided roof known as "quatro aguas," designed to withstand strong winds, such as those ushered in by Haiyan.

The roof has a wooden truss supporting the hip and common rafters, ensuring further structural integrity. (What's more, the specs insisted on 0.4-millimeter CGI roofing with extra perimeter nailing and ridge roll.)

Nanay Marina's new house, designed as "the new normal" in our disaster-prone archipelago in these times of climate change, has provisions for electricity, plumbing and sanitation systems for kitchen and toilet facilities, with allowances for future expansions.

"Now we can go on with our lives," said Nanay Marina. "Our heartfelt thanks to all those who made this possible."


But the accolade goes first and foremost to Nanay Marina and her family, for they were crucial in making all this possible.

"Her daughter, Diosa, was so caught up in the construction work that she would sometimes forget to prepare lunch, and it would only be late in the afternoon when she would take out her fishing boat with her hungry 7-year-old son to catch the fish they needed to cook for the family that day," said Warren Ubongen, disaster risk reduction and shelter specialist of UN Habitat.

The group is spearheading this pioneering community-driven approach to recovery and rehabilitation in the Post-Haiyan Support for Safer Homes and Settlement project.

Ubongen pointed out that Nanay Marina's daughter, Alma, got the land by paying about P400 a month over the years through their neighborhood home owners' association (HOA). The association is enrolled in the Community Mortgage Program of Social Housing Finance Corp. (SHFC), a government corporation that helps communities acquire land through shared community ownership and responsibility.

Land issues

The humanitarian frenzy to put roofs over the heads of Haiyan victims has resulted in the construction of temporary shelters, at best, because permanent shelters are bedeviled by land issues.

The current practice is that the national government forks out money for the construction of houses but burdens the local government units with providing the land on which to build the houses.

As a result, many victims of past storms, including Tropical Storm "Ondoy," still stay in temporary shelters.

Official estimates peg at 1.1 million the number of houses destroyed or damaged by Haiyan.

205,000 houses

The national government is committed to build 205,000 houses in the Haiyan corridor, which includes more than 100 cities and municipalities on several islands, such as Palawan, Mindoro, Panay, Cebu, Leyte and Samar.

"There is a concurrence among decision-makers in the shelter sector to provide at least 100,000 houses or permanent shelters in the wake of Haiyan," said Christopher E. Rollo, country programme manager for the Philippine office of UN Habitat.

"But based on the historical housing production output, this is indeed a challenge. Does this mean that the Haiyan housing backlog will take years to address? And to think that we have to consider other disasters to come our way since the country is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year," Rollo said.

He and his team at UN Habitat are showing the way to go about this conundrum.

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