A joint Vietnamese Red Cross and International Federation initiative could save the lives and homes of tens of thousands of people in the future. A house designed to withstand recurring floods has proved to be a success in a country which saw nearly 900,000 homes either completely destroyed or badly damaged by floods in November last year. Housing has been a major focus of relief and rehabilitation operations in Vietnam for years and the search was on to find a long lasting solution to the cyclical problem of homelessness caused by floods. The result, a house that is both strong, cheap to build and which uses local resources. Called Little Mountains by villagers, the Red Cross of Vietnam has devised two prototypes, the ABC model and the Hue model which is slightly smaller. Both use a core principle - a strong, static centre which remains standing under severe weather conditions. To this centre, made from galvanised steel, villagers can add extensions made from local materials. Although the extensions are likely to be swept away by floods, they are easily rebuilt afterwards. The Hue model also has an upper story which can be used to store food and as a refuge in case of floods. Each house costs an estimated 500 US dollars and takes a team of four people only four days to build. With strong financial support from donors, Red Cross volunteers were trained in the design and construction of the houses and by September 1998, more than 2,500 of them had been built in central Vietnam. Their success has been phenomenal - only one house was destroyed by the floods in November 1999 - the worst in Vietnam in living memory. In many communes, people climbed onto the Red Cross houses to see out the raging floods. Since then, the Red Cross has begun work on 4,000 more of these life-saving homes. And now other aid organizations are either adopting the design or adapting it to other materials. It's a design that can be implemented in any country. The Federation will shortly be evaluating the programme to see how it can further help the most vulnerable people.
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