Insight: Fiji after Winston - Weathering the Storm

From Insight, 8:12 am on 24 April 2016

Mohammed Nadim doesn't like to move far from his shattered home these days.

Where a neat, brightly painted house once stood, there is now a jumble of debris and salvaged bits and pieces.

The young father of two says it hurts to leave the place.

Mohammed Nadim uses the word "hurt" a lot as he relates his story outside the tent he and his wife are living in as they try to rebuild their lives.

"I am trying my best," he said. "I'm really hurted inside. I can't say much about it because it was a really nice house. How many years I was trying to get something for my family and in just one second, everything gone."

Two months after Cyclone Winston hit Fiji with devastating force, fixing up even just temporary shelter remains a priority for many people.

Homes and schools were destroyed and 44 people were killed in the February storm. In the aftermath of the wide-scale destruction 63 villages have been earmarked for relocation.

In April 2016 flooding again hit the the north Viti Levu town of Rakiraki just weeks after it was badly hit by Cyclone Winston.

In April 2016 flooding again hit the the north Viti Levu town of Rakiraki just weeks after it was badly hit by Cyclone Winston. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

This month, after another deluge of rain affecting the cyclone-ravaged areas in the north of Viti Levu, disaster authorities put out a call for thousands more tents and tarpaulins.

People in poor settlements like Mr Nadim's north of Lautoka have been trying to rebuild as best they can with debris rescued from the surrounding sugar cane fields.

Even mangled nails are salvaged.

But the homes are leaky and crowded and not helping people's tension, stress and exhaustion in the aftermath of the cyclone.

Family shot of 6 family members

Elisapeci Biau, left, is exhausted as Winston left 11 family members living in cramped conditions. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

"There's a lot of stress, because we are just living in one small house at the back. All of the family. Eleven of us in that small house," said Elisapeci Biau. "It's very hard when the rain comes. The house got all wet and we have no place to sleep. We feel very exhausted."

As Fiji moves from an official State of Natural Disaster to the rehabilitation stage, attention is turning to rebuilding in a more permanent fashion.

Tarpaulins draped over timbers supports and cooking pots in the open

A makeshift kitchen set up under tarpaulins. This house, like many, has lost its roof. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

Thousands of people are living in squatter settlements or shanty towns on the edge of urban areas.

People move there from rural areas for jobs and their children's education.

"My government's number one priority is to rebuild Fiji and to build back better - better than before, stronger than before," said Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama as he announced a new housing scheme earlier this month.

"Public infrastructure and housing built to proper standards to withstand cyclones, and to save us the money and the misery Winston has caused us."

Under the NZ$50 million scheme, people who suffered damage to their homes will be able to apply for up to NZ$5000 for building materials and a more stringent code will be enforced.

"To the extent that we can control it, every new home - and certainly public housing - will be built to these new standards. But the reality is that the intensity of Cyclone Winston has caused unprecedented damage to our homes and it could take years to repair or rebuild new homes for everyone and make the necessary repairs," he said.

Mr Bainimarama also flagged changes to the insurance industry which he said was in dire need of reform.

The private sector is also floating ideas for the rebuild.

Fiji Architect John Grey in blue tropical shirt with plans under arm

Architect John Grey has plans for a simply-built, strong home with traditional Fijian features. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

Nadi-based architect John Grey has  teamed up with the NGO Caritas to build a simple, cheap but strong model home based on traditional Fijian living which could be rolled out across the country.

"The house is to reflect a basic rural dwelling, whereby all the functions of the home are based on the floor," he said.

The house would be easily built with basic tools and readily available materials at an affordable price of about NZ$7000.

"What we are trying to do here is consider the current social structure that the Fijian village exists in, where there are certain people doing certain functions within the village administratively," he said.

He said the plan is to take it one step further and have village leaders supervise and sign off on the construction.

Mr Grey said the idea would help overcome unwritten laws which do not require traditional villages to build to a code.

Architects plans of a simple two room house

John Grey's idea for new stronger homes in Fiji Photo: Supplied

Back in the Lautoka settlement, Mohammed Nadim is dreaming up a new plan for himself.

As a carpenter and welder he has the skills to rebuild but he says he is lacking the energy, money and the materials to get on with it.

"I've got a plan. It's just a hurricane-proof house. I want to build a kind of house where both sides are safe, from the water, from the wind," he said smiling.

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