Canadian wood construction manufacturers and UNDP rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan

Jun 16, 2015

One of the four buildings provided by UNDP and QWEB to the people of Guiuan. Photo: UNDP

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms recorded in history, the Quebec Wood Export Bureau (QWEB) and UNDP have partnered to provide municipal building solutions to the people of Guiuan in the Philippines.

Four buildings were provided to support local recovery efforts after consulting with Guiuan authorities and the community. The buildings will serve as the town council session hall, the office of the mayor, and will house various key departments like accounting, treasury, and disaster risk reduction and management. One of the units will be used as training center for an agricultural demonstration farm and as an evacuation center in the event of a future disaster.

Restoring basic social services

Every year, millions of people around the world are displaced by conflicts or natural disasters. Less affected communities can find themselves with a population that has doubled or sometimes tripled overnight. Such demographic shifts put added pressure on what are often already strained basic services, and challenge traditional humanitarian, camp-based delivery systems.

In such a context, municipal services need to be bolstered to extend access to water, education, health and housing as well as ensure adequate waste management to the newly arrived populations. The private sector can play a pivotal role in upscaling the ability to offer these basic services.

Typhoon Haiyan caused unprecedented devastation and killed more than 6,000 people. Suddenly the community of Guiuan in Eastern Samar found itself struggling to provide basic social services. In response to this need for humanitarian assistance, QWEB, in partnership with the Société d’habitation du Québec, Natural Resources Canada, and four wood construction manufacturing companies, provided four prefabricated wood buildings to help restore social services in Guiuan. While the prefabricated buildings were manufactured in Quebec, they were designed for quick assembly on-site and engineered to resist typhoon winds up to 251 kilometers per hour.

 “We decided to partner with UNDP as the organizationon top of its extensive experience with recovering from disasterson the ground as it has solid relationships with local authorities. These relationships could facilitate all negotiations with the municipal authorities as well as help us obtain authorizations, hire workers, support the shipping, and customs clearance and provide training on the maintenance of the buildings” noted Alain Boulet, QWEB manager for the wood construction sector.

Three Quebec workers travelled to Guiuan to assemble the buildings and train local labor to help erect the structures. Local workers were shown how to create good foundations, assemble the house kits and customise the buildings. In addition, the maps and blueprints were handed to the General Services unit of the Guiuan municipality so the buildings could continue to be maintained. After two weeks, the local government was using their four new offices.

Exploring a niche market and matching municipal needs

Although partnerships between the UN and private sector can sometimes be challenging due to differing implementation timeframes and corporate cultures, this project was different.

“Our timing is not always aligned, as UNDP consults a lot to make sure projects will respond to local needs and to make sure the beneficiary community will own the project. Businesses most often cannot afford such lengthy processes”, noted Glaucia Boyer from the UNDP Geneva Office. “QWEB, as the one-stop contact and interface for the industry with us, played an essential role reconciling these different agendas. I doubt a company would have been able to invest time and resources in such process”, she added.

This project was possible due to market development work supported by Société d’habitation du Québec and Natural Resources Canada to develop new building solutions and explore new markets. This experience was part of a long-term strategy for Canada’s wood manufacturing sector to play an active role in global post-disaster reconstruction efforts. QWEB and its members were able to forge links with international organizations and showcase a product that can provide vital shelter when a crisis strikes.

“We want to leverage our expertise to develop better housing solutions for people displaced by conflicts and disasters. In addition to the four municipal buildings erected in Guiuan, a QWEB member manufacturer provided 6,775 timber-frame houses to an NGO for the communities affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haïti. This was a tremendous learning experience that helped us understand the reality on the ground, improve our product so it fits the needs and reduces the unit cost by 38 percent”, added Alain Boulet from QWEB.

For the local government, this was also a positive experience. The quick assembly time allowed public servants to resume providing much-needed services to the community.

“This is a very reliable space to hold our temporary office. Some of my colleagues are indeed so impressed by the strength of the buildings that they are keen to build more to host their administration. We could resume quickly the legislative sessions of the Town Council and manage the crisis left by Typhoon Yolanda. We are in a more productive mode in our daily tasks serving the people of Guiuan,” Mayor Christopher Sheen said.

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