South Pacific islands are prone to cyclones due to their geographic conditions, such as isolation, distance and narrowness (Kobayashi, 1994). Most people are small-scale farmers and they do not have a constant income. When a natural disaster hit their villages, they cannot afford to purchase construction material and then reconstruct makeshift houses. Therefore, rural houses are more vulnerable to natural disasters (Magee, 2016). In February 2016, Fiji was hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston which was the biggest cyclone ever to occur in the region in the last 20 years. The government of Fiji estimated that approximately 540,000 (60% of the population) people were affected as well as almost 30,000 houses were destroyed. Reconstruction of houses was enabled through the ‘HELP FOR HOMES (HFH)’ project, which aimed to provide electronic cards (e-cards) for purchasing construction materials and to build more resistant house from the cyclone (Build Back Better). They also made construction manual for modern houses and handed out to affected households with HFH application forms.
The objectives of this research are to observe the impact of housing in a Fijian rural village, as well as to identify how the villagers reconstructed housing with the government support after the cyclone. One of the most damaged rural areas during the cyclone included Navala Village, where many traditional Fijian houses known as ‘Bure’, and modern houses were located. This research was conducted through literature review, qualitative and quantitative questionnaire surveys to 119 households in Navala village. Key formant interview was also conducted to Ba district official and to some government ministries.
The research findings show that HFH provided e-cards to 37,100 affected households in Fiji, but the distribution was delayed because of the shortage of industrial materials. In Navala village, the village community always cooperate for the maintenance of the bures in ordinary life, and thus could quickly repair bures by themselves after the cyclone. They reconstructed 62 modern houses with the government support by September 2018. However, the quality of housing depended on village carpenters. They did not refer to the construction manual provided by the government and there is no building code for rural modern houses with iron sheets in Fiji. Therefore, it is hard to say that HFH achieved Build Back Better. The questionnaire surveys found that 75% of the respondents selected “Bure” as a safer house compared with modern houses, as flown iron roof (debris) on modern house might injure people whereas thatched roofs was not a threat. However, they chose modern houses as reconstructed houses because they wanted shelters as soon as possible and modern houses are easy and quick to construct. In conclusion, to accomplish Build Back Better, it is better to train local carpenter in normal time and the Fijian government should establish the building code for cyclone resistant rural modern houses.
In addition, reconstruction of traditional houses should be taken into consideration in housing reconstruction in Fiji. This is to reflect the comfortable environment in tropical islands and to enhance traditional building knowledge in the island. The scheme of housing reconstruction after disasters should include conventional houses with natural resources besides modern houses.