Australian Builder Puts Up Storm-Proof Homes In Fiji

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Demand for low-cost, safe housing is huge throughout Pacific

By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, May 4, 2015) – Australian Peter Drysdale leads the construction of affordable storm-proof homes for some of the poorest people in Fiji.

Just outside Fiji's second biggest city, Lautoka, lies a place known as Koroipita or Peter's village, home to some of the country's poorest people.

Despite their disadvantages, village residents live in homes designed to withstand powerful storms, at a cost of only $1 a day.

The village was named after Australian Peter Drysdale, who built more than 160 houses.

Mr Drysdale arrived in Fiji as a young man to work in forestry before building hundreds of houses for people left destitute by cyclones.

"In Fiji officially there's about 110,000 people squatting," Mr Drysdale said.

His solution to the problem of growing squatter settlements was Koroipita and played a role in every aspect of its development, including its ability to withstand cyclonic conditions.

Each home had two sections separated by a breezeway, with one containing two bedrooms, and the other a kitchen, shower and toilet.

"The two buildings buttress each other so there's tremendous strength and great integrity," Mr Drysdale said.

"I would hesitate, and I'm not an engineer but I've been through 22 hurricanes in my time in Fiji and my guess is this could withstand 350kph winds."

Mr Drysdale also designed the smokeless stoves and the plumbing system to reduce the amount of waste water sent to the sewerage treatment plant.

"From the washtub and from the sink and the shower water, that all channels via a grease trap and the idea is to trap the grease and don't allow that to get into the sewerage treatment plant because it will gum it up," he said.

Each house costs $12,000 and can be built in five days.

Koroipita a model for the Pacific

Fijian couple Moape and Timaleti recently moved into one of the small, two-bedroom houses with their four young daughters, one of whom has autism.

"We have a house, we live under a roof that we can have our own family there. Family time," Moape said.

All children at Koroipita go to school, aided by a computer lab and library to help them with their school work.

"Last year, we had around 29 children top their class, six came first and the rest in all fields academic, sports so we recognise them each year," community development manager Susane Naidu said.

"We have our own excellence awards."

Currently 780 people live in the 164 houses at Koroipita.

While the New Zealand government helped to build the homes, demand is huge.

With more than a thousand families on the waiting list, things become tense when people are told there is no room.

"I am threatened once a week, my staff are threatened," Mr Drysdale said.

"This is dangerous work. This is right at the coalface of poverty."

Mr Drysdale said Koroipita was a model that could be replicated elsewhere around the Pacific.

He said the need to build low cost housing was becoming more pressing as more people moved from rural to urban areas or areas threatened by climate change.

"I had a woman turn up here with a Fiji passport, thrust it in my face and say I am a climate refugee from Kiribati," he said.

"She's got a Fiji passport and asked 'where is my house?'"

The woman told Mr Drysdale more people from Kiribati were coming.

This year Mr Drysdale's tireless, selfless work was recognised in Australia with an Order of Australia medal.

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