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Temporary Housing to Be Reused in Kosovo

September 1, 1999

Following the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of January 1995, prefabricated houses were built for Kobe-area citizens whose homes were demolished in the disaster. Now that most people have moved into new homes, some of the shelters will be sent to Kosovo to temporarily house returnees who have lost their homes in the war. This project forms part of joint humanitarian assistance efforts for Kosovar refugees by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hyogo prefectural government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and nongovernmental organizations supporting refugees locally. The Foreign Ministry will cover the transportation costs, and NGOs will take charge of assembling the houses in Kosovo, which are scheduled to be sent in time for winter.

Five Hundred Houses to Be Supplied
The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck the Kobe region early in the morning on January 17, 1995, claiming approximately 6,500 lives--mainly in Kobe, Japan's seventh largest city. About 260,000 houses were destroyed or damaged by the tremor, whose epicenter was northern Awaji Island and which reached a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale, and another 7,500 houses were decimated by quake-related fires in the aftermath. It was Japan's worst earthquake disaster since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that took over 140,000 lives.

In the wake of the disaster a total of 48,300 prefabricated houses were built at 634 locations in and around Hyogo Prefecture, including the cities of Kobe and Nishinomiya, giving rise to many temporary residential neighborhoods. These prefabs tend to be drafty and cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Even so, some people have called them home for five sultry summers and five harsh winters. All but around 500 of those houses have been taken down, though, as of the end of June 1999.

The shelters to be sent to Kosovo are part of the 22,000 that Hyogo Prefecture owns. In response to reports by the UNHCR and locally active NGOs that roughly 500 houses are urgently needed, the government of Japan decided to provide them for free.

Emergency Assistance for Weathering the Winter
Refugees who had fled to neighboring Albania and Macedonia are coming back to Kosovo at a fast pace. Between 400,000 and 500,000 residents are estimated to return by the end of September, and they will need housing assistance to prepare for the winter.

According to the European Commission and the World Bank--which jointly sponsor the donors' conference on Kosovo--about 120,000 houses, amounting to 60% of the roughly 200,000 in the region, have been burned by the Serbian military or otherwise damaged. Some 40,000 of these are beyond repair and need to be reconstructed. NGOs from various countries have begun repairs, but they are unlikely to finish before winter arrives. The damage done to Kosovar houses is estimated at 1.1 billion euros (1.04 billion dollars at 1.05 euros to the dollar), and international support is needed quickly to help the refugees resettle.

The prefabs in Japan will be disassembled into over 50 parts--such as sinks, electric wires, sliding doors, and baths--then packed in containers and shipped from Kobe Port, arriving in Greece a month later. From there they will be transferred by land and reassembled in Kosovo. Japan will allocate part of its official development assistance budget for shipping costs, which are expected to come to over 100 million yen (909,000 U.S. dollars at 110 yen to the dollar).

Many of the temporary shelters that have fulfilled their original purpose are already in use overseas: About 3,000 have been sent to such countries as China, Peru, and Portugal. Said one resident who had been living in a prefab in Kobe for four and a half years until April 1999, "Whether stricken by war or natural disaster, people who find themselves without a home go through hardships in either case. I'm very glad that the temporary houses are being used to help others rather than simply being torn down."

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.