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Combined Efforts Boost Housing Rehablitation

Close and continuous collaboration between Government, Non-Government Organisations and the communities is crucially important in the effort to rebuild homes and lives during these trying times.

Divisional Commissioner Northern Uraia Rainima echoed this sentiment during the hand-over of building materials including mahogany timber to the villagers of Cogea in Bua, last Friday.

Mr. Rainima said that it was hugely encouraging to know that the handing over was the result of a united effort by Government through the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management together with non-Governmental Organisation Rise Beyond the Reef  and the villagers of Cogea in Bua and Nabavatu in Macuata.

Mr. Rainima said the combined approach is really the best way forward where each party plays an important part which combine to form a comprehensive and holistic result that benefits the target audience, and the nation as a whole.

Mr Rainima commended the efforts of the Ministry of Forestry and the key stakeholders in the forestry sector for taking a lead role in the housing rehabilitation in the North. 

Stakeholder support

With the support of Fiji Pine Limited and Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited, the forestry stakeholders were able to re-purpose timber from trees felled during the recent series of cyclones, and have them ready to rehabilitate the homes that were damaged by the cyclones.

The collective efforts of the forestry stakeholders have now seen about 70 houses completely repaired or rebuilt in the villages of Cogea and Nabavatu since Tropical Cyclone Yasa struck in December 2020.

Specifically, Fiji Pine Limited and Fiji Hardwood Corporation supplied both pine and mahogany timber and assorted housing materials while the Ministry of Forestry provided portable sawmills and carpenters. In addition to providing its staff to operate the sawmills, the Ministry also trained the communities to assist and on occasions to actually mill the timber themselves.

Permanent Secretary for Forestry Pene Baleinabuli said the Ministry is trying its best to fulfill Government’s commitment to support the affected communities to get their lives back to normal. Training the communities to operate the sawmills and rebuild their own homes is also part of building their capacity. 

“I also wish to acknowledge the foresight of the Minister and Permanent Secretary for Rural and Maritime Development in releasing the newly donated portable sawmills to assist with the housing rehabilitation,” he said.

The Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development provided two new portable sawmills which were recently donated by the Government of Australia as part of Australia’s cyclone rehabilitation support.

Mr. Baleinabuli also acknowledged Rise Beyond the Reef – a non-Governmental Organisation that has been supporting rural communities mostly in the West, and had recently extended its support to the cyclone-affected communities in the North. Rise Beyond the Reef supplied an additional portable sawmill and its own staff to help operate the sawmill.

Mr. Baleinabuli said the increased number of sawmills, the readily available trees and the support from the various stakeholders and the communities quickened the housing rehabilitation efforts.

Urgency to rebuild homes

Repairing or rebuilding 70 houses in six months is equivalent to completing 3 houses per week. This could be a record in itself, and it reflects both the urgency to rebuild homes and the collective efforts of the stakeholders. He said it was also important the homes were rebuilt to cyclone standard.

Rise Beyond the Reef

Mr. Rainima echoed his appreciation to Rise Beyond the Reef and the brains behind this successful NGO. “I also make special mention of the efforts of Rise Beyond the Reef,” he said.

Rise Beyond the Reef which has been in operation for the past 8 years, is a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the divide of rural remote communities in the Pacific with a focus of improving specifically the lives of women and children. Its managing director Semi Lotawa said they developed a portable sawmill project in partnership with the Ministry of Forestry after seeing the prospect for communities to utilize their damaged natural resources to rebuild their homes.

“We are currently paying our staff to operate the portable sawmill and stay in the communities until the completion of the housing rehabilitation project in the North,” Mr Lotawa said.

Community involvement

Cogea villager Semisi Rabiricuruki thanked Government for their help and assistance especially for the opportunity to use and operate the portable sawmills and also enhance his carpentry skills.

“I am so overwhelmed with Government’s approach in ensuring we rebuild our lives and homes. I count myself lucky in being able to learn how to operate the portable sawmill and also learning new carpentry skills from staff of the Ministry of Forestry,” he said.

“Our forefathers are not here to witness how things have been made easier for us especially using the portable sawmill to construct timber for our homes. Timber which have come from the trees they planted over sixty years ago,” he said.

Mr Rabiricuruki thanked Government for its commitment in ensuring no Fijian is left behind and in building back better.

The province of Bua was the most affected by Tropical Cyclone Yasa when it struck Fiji in December last year.

Acknowledgement by the Prime Minister

Prime Minister and now Minister for Forestry Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama in one of his visits to Bua in January this year thanked the combined efforts of the Australian Government and staff from various Government ministries for the hard yards in restoring normality in the lives of the cyclone-affected Fijians.

“I wish to thank you all for sacrificing time away from your families during Christmas and New Year to help rebuild the lives of our people,” Mr Bainimarama said at that time.

“This is not a time to be here, this is a time to be with families but instead you all have chosen to help Fijians rebuild after TC Yasa, and for this the Fijian Government is truly grateful,” the Prime Minister said.

Cyclone Housing Rehabilitation amidst COVID-19

The housing rehabilitation in the North is in addition to housing rehabilitation in the Maritime Islands where the Ministry of Forestry has so far helped re-purpose timber to build over 500 homes.

Mr. Baleinabuli said Government’s efforts on housing rehabilitation following the series of cyclones have not diminished despite the broader efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

“It is vitally important that we continue the support to rebuild lives to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on our people,” he said.

“A huge vinaka vakalevu to all the stakeholders involved,” he said.

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