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Building Stronger Homes After Indonesia Quake

By Debbie DeVoe

Irwan Etendi's family had never experienced anything like the earthquake that hit West Sumatra, Indonesia, on September 30.

"We were all inside when we felt the shaking," he says. "We all ran out—even my father-in-law who hadn't finished his [daily] prayers."

Staff visit quake-affected families

CRS staff visits quake-affected families to identify key materials they need to help them build or improve temporary shelters. Photo by CRS staff

The extended family of 22 members lives on a large compound in five cement-block houses. One is now a heap of pink concrete rubble. The other four have crumbled walls and extensive cracks. Mounds of rubble are strewn across the floors.

"That night we all slept on the front porch," says Irwan's sister Arnis.

Two weeks after the quake, the family was thankful for the tarps and a tool kit provided by Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Indonesia and other Caritas partners. Irwan's father-in-law and other relatives had been hard at work for days collecting iron sheeting and using a crowbar to wrench out salvageable pieces of timber. They were nailing the pieces together to construct a temporary home.

"We are using the tools to build a wooden shelter," Irwan says. "The children will sleep there tomorrow."

Flexibility to Meet Needs

While Irwan's family is fortunate enough to have started rebuilding right away, other families with damaged homes aren't so lucky. Some can't salvage materials from the rubble, others can't afford to buy new materials, and still more lack the physical strength and construction skills to build a temporary shelter.

CRS is making sure they get help. As part of a $1.5-million emergency response to the earthquake, CRS is partnering with Build Change and a local environmental organization, WALHI, to design and deliver the best relief package possible to help families build temporary shelters to live in until they can repair or rebuild their permanent homes. An initial 1,100 households in Agam district will receive the first packages funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

"CRS wants to provide services equitably to families affected by the earthquake. In our assessments, however, we found a wide range of damage, material availability and household ability to build temporary shelters," says Isaac Boyd, CRS' emergency response team shelter advisor. "To meet these varying needs, we designed a package that provides families with cash grants and technical construction assistance based on individual situations."

Building Earthquake-Resistant Shelters

In disaster-prone Indonesia, it is critical that temporary shelters are constructed to be earthquake resistant. The shelters also need to be comfortable, as it will take many families up to two years to repair or rebuild their permanent homes.

Meetings with community members to assess needs

Meetings with community members help CRS to design the best relief package to help families build temporary shelters to live in until they can repair or rebuild permanent homes. Photo by Isaac Boyd/CRS

To help families build safe, comfortable temporary shelters, CRS and Build Change identified two to three houses in each community for earthquake-resistant retrofitting. These demonstration shelters, along with illustrated instruction sheets, will enable community members to replicate the construction techniques on their own properties. Technical experts are also walking through communities to provide hands-on engineering guidance to families as they build the temporary shelters.

Because only residents most in need will receive shelter assistance, CRS and our partners are working closely with community members to determine the list of beneficiaries. With WALHI, CRS is conducting door-to-door inspections to create a list of houses in each target community that are no longer safe to live in. WALHI then works with community members to form a Community Shelter Committee. This committee is tasked with determining which families on the eligibility list will receive cash assistance of around $200 to help them build a temporary shelter, taking into consideration their level of need. Involving the community in the selection process and clearly posting beneficiary lists helps avoid any sense of unfairness and prevents tension from arising among neighbors.

"We are also piloting a payment method that gives families an added incentive for building earthquake-resistant structures by providing 75 percent of the money for initial construction. Families that incorporate safe building techniques receive the additional 25 percent two weeks later," Boyd explains.

After evaluating community response to the sequential payments versus full upfront payments, CRS will determine a final payment scheme.

Refuge and Rebuilding

Although shelter assessments and community consultations take time, the expertise of CRS staff and local partners enabled us to act quickly and effectively to provide temporary shelter. Processes for fair beneficiary selection, construction guidance, identification of unsafe houses and plans for earthquake-resistent construction monitoring have all been put in place.

"Right now I have a son in college, so I don't know how long it will take me to [save enough] to rebuild my cement house," says Buyung Ganti, whose grandson was buried when the family home fell down completely in the quake. Luckily, the 18-month-old was found quickly and pulled out by Buyung and his daughter.

With CRS' help, families like Buyung's are getting the assistance they need to build a temporary refuge, helping to ease their troubles during these difficult times.

Debbie DeVoe, CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, traveled to Indonesia after the earthquake to help document our response.

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