Con­struct­ing homes and re­build­ing lives in flood-af­fected Thai­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

WICHEAN Lumlha is used to liv­ing in a leaky house. In the rainy sea­son, he and his wife, Lamyai Bun­lead, would watch as water dripped on to the floor of the tiny me­tal-and-tim­ber room they called home at Ma­ha­sorn in Ban Mee Dis­trict, Lopburi.

But when the floods came to Thai­land in Septem­ber last year, the struc­ture was de­fence­less against the rush of water that broke through con­tain­ment lines and surged into their vil­lage.

Within a day Lumlha’s house was sub­merged and when the flood­wa­ters re­ceded it be­came ap­par­ent it had been washed away.

Lumlha was lucky to es­cape with his life. Paral­ysed from the waist down in an in­dus­trial ac­ci­dent 14 years ago, he had been un­able to move him­self to higher ground; his wife had to pay some vil­lagers to carry him up the steep steps of his brother’s el­e­vated house. Lumlha spent the next 21/

2 months there, gaz­ing out over the sub­merged vil­lage, watch­ing mo­tor­boats bring­ing sup­plies to stranded vil­lagers.

When the wa­ters fi­nally re­ceded, he and Bun­lead moved into a tent, and it was from there that Lumlha was able to sit and watch as his new home took shape. The dwelling is con­structed from gal­vanised steel, tim­ber and durable ce­ment-board, and is el­e­vated to a height of 2.5m. It was built by vol­un­teers for Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Thai­land with the help of lo­cal vil­lagers and mem­bers of the Royal Thai Army.

‘‘See­ing this house be­ing built is like a dream to us. If the water comes back again, we are very pre­pared,’’ Lumlha said when he and his wife were handed the keys.

‘‘I love this house . . . I never thought we could have our own home that we could be proud of. [It] will give us hope we have not had in many years.’’

The cou­ple’s house is one of more than 50 built so far by Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Thai­land; the crew has also re­ha­bil­i­tated nine schools. It’s an in­valu­able ser­vice in the wake of the floods which, dur­ing their peak in mid-novem­ber, af­fected more than three mil­lion peo­ple in 28 prov­inces in cen­tral and north­east Thai­land.

About 800 deaths were re­ported, and dam­age was es­ti­mated at more than 185 bil­lion Thai baht — sta­tis­tics that il­lus­trate starkly the ex­tent of the dam­age and the re­con­struc­tion work that lies ahead.

In re­sponse to this sit­u­a­tion, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Thai­land’s orig­i­nal emer­gency re­lief cam­paign has mor­phed into a longterm re­build­ing project. ‘‘We’ve es­tab­lished the Re­build­ing Thai­land ap­peal to re­pair, re­ha­bil­i­tate and re­build homes and re­store schools,’’ says Cham­narn Wang­tal, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Thai­land.

‘‘We will be con­duct­ing re­pair work to houses with mi­nor dam­age, or un­der­tak­ing more ex­ten­sive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work on houses that were very badly dam­aged by the flood­wa­ter.

‘ ‘ And we con­tinue to build homes for fam­i­lies whose homes were com­pletely de­stroyed or washed away.’’

Although most of the vol­un­teers work­ing on these projects are Thai na­tion­als or for­eign­ers liv­ing in Thai­land, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Thai­land wel­comes as­sis­tance from peo­ple of all na­tion­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing trav­ellers and those who wish to do­nate to the Re­build­ing Thai­land ap­peal.

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