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Staff blog: Rebuilding homes means rebuilding lives

CARE’s Shelter and Reconstruction Advisor, Philip Barritt, recently returned from Bangladesh where he visited a DFID-funded Flood Resistant Shelter project (FRESH), part of the National Alliance for Risk Reduction and Response Initiatives (NARRI) consortium. Philip writes:

Construction goes on in Bangladesh even during this year's flooding. © CAREConstruction goes on in Bangladesh even during this year's flooding. © CAREFollowing the devastating flooding and waterlogging  in Bangladesh in 2011, CARE – along with ActionAid, Concern, Islamic Relief, Oxfam, and Solidarités International –  launched an immediate response. As part of this, the team are currently constructing over 11,000 flood resistant houses and latrines. The aim is to reduce the loss of posessions as a result of yearly floods, which cause annual devastation in many communities.

I visited the village of Noapara. It looks for all the world like it has been built in a lake. Paths and houses stand inundated; stagnating, waist-deep, in this year’s flood waters. It has been this way since August. For families still living under tarpaulin shelters since the 2011 monsoon destroyed their homes, the rains this year have brought more hardship.

Protect against future floods

To protect these families against future floods, we are building new houses upon raised, brick-walled plinths to elevate them above flood level, with deeply embedded precast concrete columns for added strength. With the area also prone to cyclones, the roof and superstructure are designed to resist the high winds.

The project is now halfway through. My visit to the affected area revealed to me that even though the construction work is not yet complete, the impact of the improvements is already being felt.

Jesmin and her family had been living in a small temporary shelter for nearly a year. The cramped space had made day-to-day activities extremely difficult and she worried that with the monsoon approaching they would again be displaced by flooding. However, even with her improved shelter not quite complete, Jesmin was able to move onto the raised plinth before the flood waters arrived.

Improved school work

When I asked her to describe the benefits of the new shelter, Jesmin spoke of her relief at being raised above the flood water and having a proper CGI (metal) roof. She described how she and her family felt more rooted and secure. However, to me one comment stood out: I see my children’s school work has improved.

“They could not concentrate in the old house as it was too small and they did not sleep well. Now they have better concentration and they come home from school and have space to do their work. My children have better attention, it is so much better for my children.

We are also able to pray properly in the new house.”

As a shelter advisor at CARE, much of my time is spent looking at the technical and risk reduction measures of the houses that we construct. How many of us, in the developed west, think about these things in relation to our own homes? We don’t. In fact, just like Jesmin, we think about how we live in the space and what it enables us to do.

Providing shelter in response to emergencies is much more than protection from the elements. It is about enabling the creation of homes. Rebuilding a family’s home allows them to rebuild every other aspect of their lives.

Work in the construction industry? Support projects like this by taking part in the CARE Construction Challenge. Cover a marathon distance on foot, bike and kayak with teams from across the industry!

Philip BarrettAbout the author:

As Emergency Shelter and Reconstruction Advisor, Philip advises on the management, technical and quality aspects of shelter and reconstruction projects.

Philip is a chartered civil engineer with experience designing and managing construction projects in both the private sector and during emergency responses. He has a particular interest in the positive impact of the provision of shelter on vulnerable people.


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