Recovering from Cyclone Winston with tools, tarpaulins and some Fijian ingenuity

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By Joe Cropp, IFRC

Their four-bedroom house is no longer recognisable, little more than a pile of twisted corrugated iron and splintered timber. A tiny shed – now home to 75-year-old Phul and her husband – is all that survived Cyclone Winston.

“It took everything,” says the grandmother, as she sorts through the wreckage with the help of her son, salvaging useable items. “We’ve had floods and storms before, but nothing like this. We have to start all over again.”

It is a story that is repeated all along the coast road leading to the town of Rakiraki in the north of Fiji’s main island. When Cyclone Winston made landfall here, hundreds of homes were destroyed, and thousands of people left homeless.

Many people are still sheltering in evacuation centres here and across the archipelago. Others, like Phul and Suruj, are living in the remnants of their gutted homes, or are crowded into neighbours houses that survived the category five storm. Each day they return to their ruined homes and start the long, difficult process of rebuilding.

The Red Cross is stepping in with help in the form of a one-metre long canvas bag containing the basic tools needed to start rebuilding: a shovel, hoe, hammer, saw, tin-snips, wire and three types of nails. Combined with a couple of tarpaulins and the ingenuity of Fijians, these Red Cross tool kits can be used to build a shelter for a family of five.

Trained Red Cross volunteers will distribute tarpaulins and tool kits to more than 4,000 families (20,000 people) in the coming weeks. As well as providing training on how to use the equipment, the volunteers experiment with the kits and share ideas on what is possible.

“People get really creative with these kits,” says IFRC shelter specialist Leeanne Marshall, who has been training Fiji Red Cross volunteers in Rakiraki. “By combining salvaged material, it’s possible to make an enclosed space for a family of five, providing a secure space to stay and a foundation from which to rebuild.”

“When thinking of temporary shelter, people often imagine rows of tents, but that is single purpose solution,” says the Australian architect. “With tarpaulins and tools you can build what you need and adapt it over time.”

“I’ve seen water tanks, latrines, and little kitchens appear in the wake of a disaster, as people manipulate the equipment to meet their evolving needs.”

As of 6 December, 28,500 people across Fiji remain in temporary evacuation shelters because of damage to their homes caused by Cyclone Winston. Much of the 5.5 million Swiss Franc emergency appeal launched this week by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is dedicated to helping households to rebuild in the weeks and months ahead.