29 Mar 2016

Habitat for Humanity to expand into Tonga

From , 6:00 am on 29 March 2016

Habitat for Humanity, the charity organisation that specialises in building houses, is to expand into Tonga later this year. 

The charity operates in 70 countries world-wide and provide homes for low-income families as well as providing assistance in times of disaster. 

Habitat for Humanity says they have a track record of building cyclone resilient homes in Fiji and Samoa, and the time is right to bring those skills to Tonga. 

The charity met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga last week, and Habitat New Zealand's CEO, Claire Szabo, told Bridget Grace they plan to sign an agreement in April.   

CLAIRE SZABO: Particularly because they're very prone to disasters as well.  And after a cyclone or a tsunami, shelter is one of the most important considerations.  And as a shelter-specialist organisation we believe that we've got some quite important and critical work to do in Tonga.

BRIDGET GRACE: Do you know what the plans will be from now on in terms of when you're be starting to work there on the ground? 

CS: From our initial meetings, the Deputy Prime Minister has invited me to visit him in Tonga next month and start looking at some initial agreements including a timetable.  And over the course of this calendar year we would be hoping to get our first services off the ground, that would mean working with some families in Tonga that have sub-standard housing and starting to build some homes with them.  

BG: I understand that you build cyclone-resistant homes, what makes those resistant?

CS: Well we have a whole lot of codes and standards that we try to build too, obviously we apply whatever the local legal standard is, whichever country that we're building in.  But we are particularly focused on ensuring that the quality of the foundations are good, and that roofs are cyclone strapped to the poles.  That means that, it's mainly roofs that come off in cyclones, and the pitch of the roof and how the roofs are strapped on are critically important.  So that's been one of our focuses of building in the Pacific, is to make sure that resilience is up to standard in the buildings and we're very pleased with the results of that.  So in Fiji we've been assessing the state of the houses we've been building over in Fiji for the last couple of decades, we've built about 900 houses there.  And so far we've found one of them that has collapsed under the cyclone, but by and large all of them have stood up to the cyclone and that was a particularly strong one.  So our designs are proving to be incredibly effective.  One of the main reasons we're wanting to take our services into Tonga too. 

BG: Do you have any idea numbers wise perhaps, in terms of how many houses you might be building in the future in Tonga? 

CS: So the discussion we've had is to get underway this year with maybe the first 10 or 20 houses, that would be a great place to start.  When you're entering a new country there's quite a bit of extra cost, and thought and work involved in our set-up, so getting 10 or 20 houses off the ground this year would be wonderful.  After that it really depends on what we're responding too.  So if there's a cyclone we'd expect to be going in there and really doing a lot of work, because there's always a lot of rebuilding.  But the more work you can do before there's a cyclone the much better better it is and I guess that's one of the messages for people to know about.  In cyclones and in disaster response is there ongoing work between disasters that is the most cost-effective and not only because it will, be much cheaper and much more effective to build at that time but also because it can save lives ultimately, when there is a cyclone.  So we'll be trying to do as much work as we can before there's another weather event in Tonga.