Resilience building in Tonga: Transitional hybrid fale

Government of the Kingdom of Tonga

Tonga has ranked second and third place on the World Risk Report since its first publication in 2011 and ranks second on this year’s report even when the focus was on forced displacement and migration. Tonga has seen increase in tropical cyclones in the past 30 years and it is increasing not only in numbers but in velocity. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has been publishing assessment reports since 1990 and have supported the earlier statement. Tongatapu has seen many tropical cyclones but has not seen the likes of a major category 5 since TC Isaac in 1982 until TC Gita in 2018 and then again with TC Harold earlier this year.

Many people lost their homes and more than 2,500 took shelter in churches, town halls, neighbours and other places of refuge during TC Harold. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is a member of the Humanitarian cluster and under that mandate seek a long-term vision towards recovery and enhanced coping methods or resilience for targeted communities. Under UNDP the Disaster Resilience for Pacific Small Island Developing States (RESPAC) project in collaboration with the Government of Tonga, National Emergency Management Office, Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) and the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation (MORDI) Tonga Trust set out to support early recovery activities on ‘Eua Island and several communities in Tongatapu. The emphasis of the project is on the rehabilitation of public infrastructure and the reactivation of agricultural activities supporting livelihood. All activities are geared towards strengthening disaster resilience and preparedness.

The Hybrid Fale project opened yesterday today at the Free Constitution Church of Tonga hall in Pahu with an introduction to the transitional hybrid fale that was designed by the former Director of the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) a well-known architect who will also be training local members on the new and improved hybrid design. The training is scheduled to run for the next upcoming week ahead picked from various communities that were severely impacted in the past events. There is a mixture of participants that contain both male and female including people with disabilities to make up a total of 25 trainees.

The project is implemented to ensure that the tradition of using felled trees after cyclones to be transformed into shelter could greatly benefit future disaster victims whilst waiting for longer term support. With the addition of other materials used today such as wood and tin roofs that will also be available after strong winds, and simultaneous traditional transitional shelter could be built using salvageable building material. The project, it will focus on building a hybrid fale tonga designed transitional house using both traditional material and salvaged material left by the cyclone.

The expected outcome of the Training on Hybrid transitional Tongan Fale are:
(1) Revived traditional knowledge on building a Transitional Hybrid Fale
(2) Improved knowledge on building resilience using infrastructure traditional knowledge
(3) Improved community resilience on preparedness method of building a hybrid Tongan fale

It is important to note that some people who have lost their homes after TC Gita in 2018 are still living the battered old tent that they were given or have been donated to them by family and friends. Some are still living with relatives and not everyone has been able to rebuild their homes because the Government has been unable to rebuild new homes for all who lost their homes two years ago. Along came TC Harold and exacerbated the living conditions of those homes that were already deteriorated and again, more people are left homeless. With this training, communities are being empowered through their trained participants to find and build themselves a hybrid transitional home without having to rely solely on the government for transitional shelter after strong cyclones.

This is a far cry from a long-term solution but as the name indicates – this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. If people are able to build transitional hybrid homes before they are able to build better long-term permanent housing it can see them leaving evacuation halls earlier and picking up and getting back to normal faster. This will allow for improvements in livelihoods and better social outlook as well as taking one step closer to economic sustainability, one hybrid fale at a time.

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