Maldives tsunami survivors move back to “beloved island”

Published: 28 August 2009 0:00 CET

Sarah Oughton, British Red Cross

In the Maldives, the British Red Cross has completed construction of 250 new homes, allowing survivors from Vilufushi island, which was completely destroyed by the Boxing Day tsunami, to finally return home.

This marks the end of the organization’s four-year tsunami recovery programme, which has helped thousands of survivors in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives get back on their feet with new homes and livelihoods.

The population of Vilufushi, around 1,900 people, has been living on Buruni, a nearby island, since the tsunami on 26 December 2004. Following the completion of a land reclamation process, the British Red Cross began a construction programme on Vilufushi. This involved building houses, a secondary school and a power supply and sanitation system.

“Today I am so happy and can’t even express it, it’s been more than four years of living in temporary shelters and today we are back on our beloved island,” said Mariyam Saamira.

“So grateful”

“The house I was given is absolutely marvelous and I am so grateful for the support provided by the Red Cross. They have looked after us from the beginning till today. We are hoping the team that worked with us so closely will stay, as we will never be able to forget them.”

As part of the Maldives recovery programme on Vilufushi, the British Red Cross has trained 14 local community members on the operation and maintenance of the power and sanitation systems, as well as a further six people trained in finance and administration. This will ensure the community can maintain and manage the systems themselves.

Alastair Burnett, British Red Cross country representative for the Maldives tsunami recovery programme, said: “As the community members return to their island, they have already begun to take ownership of their new houses, planting trees within their plots and planning for the future.

Real results

“In total, we have built 466 houses across five islands. There have been many challenges in working in the Maldives, in particular the need to bring in construction materials to remote islands, but we have managed to achieve real results here and the community is very happy with the finished houses and infrastructure.”

The homes are all earthquake-resistant and built to a high standard with modern electrics and amenities. Volunteers have been trained in domestic skills, such as rewiring electric power points, fixing hinges and window catches and using rainwater-harvesting tanks correctly. This means communities are able to deal with any domestic maintenance problems.

When Hussain Ahmed saw his new home on Vilufushi, he said: “I can tell you that if we spent half of our lives we would not build a house like this. These houses are perfect and we can’t complain. Also, today there is no poor and rich – all are the same as everyone received the same type of house.”

Cash grants

As well as building houses, the British Red Cross recovery programme helped families recover their livelihoods through the distribution of around 3,000 cash grants.

These grants have been used to invest in small businesses including growing cash crops such as cashew nuts, chillies and cucumbers. Other investments include setting up shops, fish farming, and buying goats and chickens.