Habitat rebuilds homes for Romania's flood victims

"It was after midnight when the waters hit. We were so scared. The water was coming so strong and fast," says Liliana Tinca from the village of Golesti. Flooding waters destroyed the floor of her house while the family had to sleep in the train station.

Thousands of people across Romania were forced out of their homes, their properties destroyed and life savings wiped out in a matter of hours. It was estimated that the damages to homes, land and infrastructure amounted to US$850 million.

In the face of this enormous natural disaster, Habitat initiated its first ever European flood reconstruction project, aimed at helping families in two of the worst hit communities (Commanesti and Pitesti) where it already had traditional building programs.

Since October 2005, Habitat has helped more than a thousand people rebuild or repair their damaged houses. The damage varied from wet floors and moldy walls to cracked foundations and entire walls torn down. Repair works included consolidation foundations; pouring concrete floors; painting the walls, doors and windows; replacing floors and fitting new carpets.

The project received funding support from USAID (via CHF International) as well as from a number of individual and corporate donors, amounting to a total of around US$600,000.

Helping the hardest hit

When the water came it took everything from us, including hope. But now I have it back!" says Liliana. The house in which she lives with her husband and seven children was badly damaged but her family partnered with Habitat to do the necessary repairs: fix the walls and paint them and have a new flood poured in.

The worst affected families were the poor ones, living in areas most exposed to flooding. Among the poor, Roma families were particularly hard hit as their houses were likely to be made of cheap, improvised materials.

Most of them are not officially employed, doing odd jobs and receiving meager or no assistance from the state. Children often take turns going to school because they don't have winter clothes.

Habitat partnered with Roma families who worked hard on repairing and rebuilding their homes, despite some prejudice from the wider community. For these families, flood reconstruction is a way out of poverty housing. Their new homes have stable walls, roofs that don't leak and concrete floors-something that most of them never even dreamed of.

Building homes beyond disaster-relief

In both communities in which Habitat successfully completed its first flood reconstruction project, Habitat continues to help families in need through its traditional building program.

Poverty housing remains a serious problem in Romania-it is estimated that 35 percent of the entire housing stock is in a state of complete neglect. While natural disasters bring the immediate housing problems into the limelight, the plight of the thousands of people trapped in substandard housing remains largely unnoticed.