Habitat for Humanity's Post-Tsunami Housing Reconstruction Approaches in Sri Lanka

March 2015 (VOL. 33, NO. 1)

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This paper investigates the housing reconstruction approaches of Habitat for Humanity, a Christian international NGO, in Sri Lanka following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It analyses how Habitat’s housing approaches are informed by their religious values, principles of internationally-recognised best practice, and reactions to the broader ‘Buddhist’ and anti-Christian proselytisation politics of Sri Lanka. While much of Habitat’s work in housing reconstruction saw it essentially operate as a housing contractor for the government of Sri Lanka and other donors, the projects that lay closer to its philosophical core sought to engage with processes of owner-driven reconstruction, currently recognized as reconstruction best practice. Owner-driven reconstruction informs Habitat’s approach to and endorsement of homeowner participation in their housing reconstruction projects. However, Habitat’s version of participation differs from international standards as Habitat’s reconstruction approaches rework best practice principles for religious ends. This combination has the effect of reducing suspicion of proselytisation, which was a major concern in Sri Lanka during the reconstruction process, while at the same time allowing Habitat to enact its Christian values. As a religious NGO, Habitat therefore adopts multiple reconstruction approaches in order to practice its Christian convictions within a hostile religious-political environment.