HABITAT FOR HUMANITY INTERNATIONAL HAS begun building the first of roughly 30,000 transitional houses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami.

The one-room structures, each with a veranda and sanitary facilities, will move families out of over-capacity refugee camps and temporary shelters into more permanent housing, often on land they already own. Many of the houses will be built on the foundations of homes that were destroyed. Gradually, Habitat will help families build more permanent houses with additional rooms.

Fortunately, Habitat is well established in six of the 12 countries that were impacted by the tsunami and was able to immediately begin its relief efforts.

“We've had a presence on the ground for 15 years in these countries,” says Jennifer Lindsey, Habitat's director of international communications. “There are active affiliates that mobilized the day it hit to start putting people back into houses.”

The type of housing constructed will vary by country. In Indonesia, for example, the plan is to provide steel-based “kit houses” to provide immediate shelter for families who can't rebuild on the sites of their former homes. The units can be taken apart and moved once the families obtain land on which to build.

“We won't leave them in a kit house,” Lindsey notes. “It's just the first phase.”

At the same time, Habitat is developing Disaster Response Technical Centers in the countries impacted by the tsunami to provide construction advice to local Habitat affiliates, families, and other organizations helping with the rebuilding effort.

Habitat estimates that the efforts will cost about $25 million over two years. For more information on Habitat's tsunami relief efforts, call 1-800-HABITAT, ext. 2979, or e-mail disaster@hfhi.org. Donations can be made online at www.habitat.org.