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East Timor: Shelter from the rain

02-12-1999 News Release 99/48

Maria's temporary two-room house is 6 metres long, 4 metres wide and 2 metres high, and is made of planks of wood covered with plastic sheeting. It took the three-member ICRC team who built it as a demonstration unit for other villagers receiving the same basic materials six hours, 500 nails, three hammers, a saw, a knife and a tape measure to finish it in accordance with the plans.

The makeshift dwelling has been set up next to the charred remains of a house burned down during the violence that followed East Timor's vote for independence on 30 August 1999. In the Aileu district, high in the hills south of Dili, the rains began two weeks ago and now rain can be expected every day until the end of January.

Maria is a schoolteacher like her husband. They have three children and are also caring for Maria's younger brother. The couple have lost everything: the house they lived in was totally destroyed and all their belongings were burned. However, Maria and her husband are working again in the Aileu primary school, which recently reopened, and the ICRC shelter will protect them from the rain and help them to gradually rebuild their lives.

" We planned to supply the materials for 2,000 such shelters for the most destitute families " , explains ICRC constructor Herbert Wiekenberg, the designer of the temporary house. " But requests are pouring in from communities where up to 90% of homes have been destroyed, and we are now looking at double or triple the original figure. " As the rain begins to fall on the ruins all around him, Herbert watches the villagers carefully following the plans and starting to build their own shelters.