Cyclone Pam survivors learn safe shelter techniques to prepare for future storms

Published: 18 November 2015 3:56 CET

By Edwina Yeates, Vanuatu Red Cross Society  

In early November, a team of Vanuatu Red Cross Society trainers and volunteers ran a series of Safe Shelter Awareness workshops for 900 households in communities across West Tanna with support from Australian Aid, Australian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The workshops aimed at helping communities build houses that are more resistant to future natural disasters such as tropical storms, cyclones and earthquakes.

Tanna was one of the islands worst affected by Cyclone Pam which tore through Vanuatu on March 13th. Although fatalities were minimal, assessments carried out in April found that 70 per cent of houses in rural areas and 40 per cent of roofs in urban areas were completely destroyed.

These workshops came at a time when families are still repairing their homes in anticipation of the next cyclone season, which forecasters predict will be particularly active due to the current El Nino event affecting the Pacific. The training built on existing practices, combining the best of traditional and modern construction techniques to equip families with the knowledge to build stronger and safer homes.

“Making strong houses doesn’t have to be expensive,” said Robbie Dodds, an Australian Red Cross delegate leading the shelter team in Vanuatu. “It’s more about making strong connections between the various parts of the building using the best materials on hand, installing cross-bracing, building good foundations and choosing a safe site.”

The construction of the Tanna House, or nimulaten, with locally available materials, and the techniques taught by the Red Cross proves that this method works. “With just a few extra pieces of timber, fixings such as nails and bush rope and a bit of technical know how, the strength and resistance against cyclones of any house in Vanuatu can be greatly increased,” he added.

So far, participants have been extremely receptive to the workshops. Amanda Krish from Isini in West Tanna said, “I have never attended an awareness session like this in the past. I find the practical side very helpful.”

Cyclone Pam left 66,000 people homeless in Vanuatu, and rebuilding their homes has been a priority for the Vanuatu Red Cross in their emergency response and longer-term recovery activities. During the early phase of the response, the Red Cross provided over 28,000 people with emergency shelter materials including toolkits, tarpaulins and fixings.

The complex logistics and high expense involved in procuring and transporting quality building materials to remote islands and communities in Vanuatu makes repairing or rebuilding houses particularly challenging. A coordinated approach with communities and implementing agencies, and the incorporation of locally found materials into the response has helped to ensure that assistance from the Red Cross reaches the widest possible number of affected households.

To find out more, download the Red Cross ‘Besik Konstraksen’ handbook here –