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Brown & Root pushes portable homes for Kosovo refugees


BROWN & ROOT is expected to submit plans this week to house up to 100,000 Kosovar refugees in Albania using portable prefabricated homes.

The company is talking to international aid donors, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Albanian government about shipping thousands of portable units from Kobe in Japan.

The units, it has suggested, could be demounted and rebuilt in Kosovo to house returning refugees once the conflict between Nato and Yugoslav forces in Serbia is over.

Speaking to NCE in the Albanian capital Tirana on Sunday, Brown & Root principal engineer Will Witt said the 30m2, two-bedroom units had already been manufactured in Japan.

'They were built to a very high standard to house people made homeless following the Kobe earthquake but many were not used,' he said. 'We know they are available.'

He added that Brown & Root was looking at sites on which to erect the units, but said that each had problems with access, water and sewerage infrastructure.

Initial estimates by the UNHCR put the cost of housing Kosovar refugees in these prefabricated houses at £950 per person. That would value the Brown & Root scheme at about £100M.

Witt refused to comment on how much the contract would be worth.

He said: 'We're looking at quite large sums of money but the prime issue is whether this can actually be done, not what the capital cost is.

'It is quite obvious that a lot of the tented camps will have to be replaced in time for the winter and that process has got to start now.'

UNHCR officials already accept that some prefabricated housing will be needed for refugees. But the preferred option is to house as many people as possible in warehouses, factories and public buildings or with Albanian host families.

A study into the number of existing buildings available to the refugees is likely to be completed by the end of the month.

European Commission Humanitarian Office special advisor Ben Verbeke accepted that portable prefabricated structures could be transported to Kosovo after the conflict.

But he said: 'I think that is false logic because financially it won't make sense. It would be cheaper to separately find more permanent solutions in both countries.'

Up to three units can be transported flat-packed in a container. This would mean about 7,000 truck movements on badly deteriorated roads each time the units were moved.

A decision on whether to fund portable prefabricated units is likely to be made at a conference of the major donors to be held in Brussels on 26 June.

Matthew Jones in Albania

(See feature, page 16)

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