Even as United Nations relief operations focus sharply on aiding millions of survivors affected by this month’s devastating earthquake in Pakistan, the world body’s agencies are pressing on with their efforts to help rehabilitate the vast region ravaged by last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami.
Just this week Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of United Nations Human Settlements Programme UN-HABITAT, visited the tiny archipelago of the Maldives where her agency is jointly rebuilding homes on 58 islands with the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Ms. Tibaijuka travelled to Meemu Atoll and met with the Atoll Chief and 5 island chiefs in Muli, the Atoll capital. She planted a tree and laid a brick to symbolize a new beginning for these islands after the tsunami’s enormous waves, which killed more than 200,000 people and left many hundreds of thousands homeless in a dozen countries.
In the Maldives, it is estimated that that it will cost $19 million to repair and reconstruct the 1,300 homes that the Government has requested of the UN. Currently, the shelter project faces a $7 million shortfall and the UN is appealing to donors to come forward to help with the tsunami reconstruction effort.
But in the aftermath of other recent disasters, such as the quake and hurricanes in the United States, the Maldives faces challenges in securing all the funds for shelter recovery that is required for the 11,300 people still waiting to return to their homes.
“UNDP and UN-HABITAT are committed to continuing their work with affected communities to restore people’s lives and livelihoods throughout the Maldives,” the agency said.
In Sri Lanka, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is pushing ahead with a project to provide transitional shelters – each built with a galvanized iron frame and containing two rooms – for 14,000 people left homeless in the devastated Ampara district. As of this week, only 134 of the 2,800 planned shelters remain to be completed.
These transitional shelters, more than temporary but less than permanent, are necessary because reconstruction on such a scale – tens of thousands of new permanent houses and apartments – will take several years: far too long to remain under temporary shelter such as tents in a hot country which has an annual monsoon season and is prone to storms.
“While logistically it has been much more complicated to construct our shelters on small plots of private land, rather than a large shelter site, there are many advantages to keeping displaced communities in familiar surroundings,” Edward Benson, Head of the UNHCR office in Ampara, said.
And on a visit last week to Indonesia, worst hit of all those devastated by the tsunami, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland toured projects to move more than 100,000 people into new transitional shelters while building tens of thousands of new permanent houses.