Interventions for response
- What are the core challenges of post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation process and what are the critical attributes to include in practices of recovery?
- Discuss examples from around the world where post-disaster reconstruction has lead to further challenges for the communities and how could they have been done better.
I am Kamal Kishore, I work on disaster risk reduction and recovery issues. Today I will talk about what happens in a post disaster, post crisis situation, the external response to a big disaster and the support to communities. We can divide it in three interrelated areas: Immediate rescue and relief efforts; Long-term reconstruction and recovery; and Early recovery.
The immediate rescue and relief effort in the international arena is coordinated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or OCHA. In case of major earthquakes, one key element which is quite unique to earthquakes is the search-and-rescue. For search-and-rescue, most countries specially countries which are earthquake prone have search-and-rescue teams which specialize in urban collapse structure search-and-rescue and they’re certified by something called INSARAG-International Search-And-Rescue Advisory Group, they are coordinated, they’re I-Want site with specialized equipment, know how, sniffer dogs and under the coordination of OCHA, they carry out search-and-rescue operations.
Just to give you an example in case of Nepal earthquake in 2015 there were 76 teams from across the word responding in terms of search and rescue after the earthquake. Typically the initial response and relief last from where it is a very complex event, there are issues of accessibility, the losses are widespread, there are underlying vulnerabilities it can be longer but typically there is three to six months.
At the international level there is a mechanism called CERF-Central Emergency Response Fund which is response to a flash appeal or a response plan prepared by the government with the support of the UN, money is immediately released from efforts for the first three to six months. The whole area of relief and rescue is extremely challenging- the first thing is of course the timeliness of the response, for example in earthquakes, if the response for certain rescue arrives three days later it’s almost of no use, at the same time it has to be very relevant support.
There are numerous examples where people from across the world out of a sense of compassion or you know there’s great outpouring of support but they sent irrelevant or not suitable relief to the affected people for example medicines are sent into an area with all the labelling in languages that are not understand locally or food items sent which are not consumed in that particular culture. So it is important to keep the assistance both very timely, swift at the same time relevant. A very quick and dynamic assessment of what are the life-saving needs of the affected people and these needs are changing very rapidly.
How do we quickly assess that and dynamically respond to that? That’s a big challenge as well. There is so much support from both the national sources from within the country sources there is a huge outpouring of support, coordinating it, keeping track of who is doing what, where is extremely important and in that respect there are a number of international organisations that just provide coordination, support, there are agencies that just quickly set up a facility on site to produce maps, maps of where the affected people are and also mapping who is doing what, where in terms of humanitarian agencies, what are the gaps that are being reported from the field which then helps direct humanitarian agencies in directing the response appropriately.
A corollary of that challenge is ensuring that you reach everyone, there are numerous examples where the people who are easily accessible or more visible on TV for example, get disproportionate amount of attention at the expense of people who are difficult to access or who are not very vocal in expressing their tend to get left out. How do we make sure that while making a timely, relevant rapid response we also reach everyone- the most vulnerable and marginalised as well and finally the big challenge of relief is not to create dependency. It is very easy to set up a system and do things which will compromise the local initiative, the local way of doing things for, by people for themselves and create long-term dependency on relief and then that perpetuates the need for relief for months sometimes years. In urban areas, the search-and-rescue and relief and response bit is even more challenging- just to highlight one or two of those challenges. One is that shelter, temporary shelter after disaster.
A lot of the time the building stocks may not be safe, after a disaster how do we ensure that people are located temporarily in safe locations? Where are those pre-identified locations? Is there enough space to accommodate temporary settlements for a long period of time? At the same time there is also issues of people wanting to go back to live in houses that are partially damaged. In the absence of other options how do we ensure that people do not take actions which actually So there are some challenges which’re very specific to urban areas.
Let’s turn our attention to the long term re-construction. Long-term reconstruction essentially focuses on restoring what has been lost and hopefully also building it better to more resilient standards, to more sustainable standards and also to standards that represent better quality of life for the affected people compared to the situation before the disaster.
Typically long-term reconstruction is preceded by a detailed Post-Disaster Needs Assessment which is also referred to as PDNA. For PDNA, we have a methodology, internationally accepted methodology which has been developed, applied and defined over the last 25 years or so We applied it very recently in Nepal and came up with a very thorough assessment of what the damages and needs are in that affected area.
It focuses on all sectors, it focuses on productive sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, it focuses on social sectors such as health, education, housing as well as on infrastructure sectors which is transportation, communication, power supply and so on.
It systematically assesses the damages and needs and comes up with an assessment of how much money will be required across these sectors for reconstruction to better standards. Quite often housing represents a very large chunk of reconstruction needs, to give you an example, in Nepal 59% of the cost of damages enhance needs was in housing sector alone and housing is also one of the most challenging sectors of recovery, simply because there are many stakeholders and there is also a sense of urgency about restoring housing for many people. Housing is at the centre of, it is perceived to be at the centre of people’s recovery and establishing supply chains for building materials making building workers who are qualified available in a short period of time on in a large, in large numbers is is a challenging task. How to we train hundreds sometimes thousands of building masons to build differently, to build to disaster resilience standards- that’s a big challenge. Over the last 20-30 years that has been a lot of literature developed based on practice, on different approaches to housing and there’s a whole range from contractor driven housing where basically the reconstruction of housing is contracted out to contractors to a situation where building materials are provided to house owners and along with some cash and they can do whatever they want to totally owner driven, community driven housing to a combination of these 3 approaches and all of these three in different situations have their advantages and disadvantages.
However we can say that according to our current understanding the owner driven housing where owners not just reconstruct themselves but also determine what is the kind of house they need within of course the parameters of you know what is there, the package of assistance they’re given and the safety standards they should adhere to. So an owner driven approach where they determine what the housing should be like and they actually drive the housing process is the most favoured one right now but this is not to say that this is without variations, there are lots of innovations within the owner driven approach and it has to be very very context specific.
The whole reconstruction process is an extremely challenging process. One can highlight many challenges but there are 2 that need to be highlighted prominently. One is how does one strike a balance between swiftness with which reconstruction is delivered and quality, so there’s this temptation to build very quickly but sometimes building very quickly means rebuilding the risks that existed before.
The second thing is how do we apply the notion of building back better. ‘Building back better’ is a phrase which became very popular after the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004 but how do we build back better not just in the physical sense but in many other sort of non-physical dimensions?
How do we make sure that the reconstruction leads to better quality of life, more resilient livelihoods, better social cohesion. There are examples where countries have done that successfully, there is the examples of Aceh, Indonesia where they not only build back better but they also resolved conflicts that existed before the earthquake and tsunami of 2004.
Now let’s turn our attention to the third aspect of post-disaster response which is early recovery and the term early recovery has become popular in the last 15 years ago although we have been doing early recovery for a long time. In the last 20 years there has been a growing realisation that the artificial phasing that this is is relief and rescue phase and then this is reconstruction phase is not helpful and it often leads to gaps between when relief and rescue operations begin to wine down and when reconstruction begins. There is a growing realisation that these phases don’t have to linear, all of these 3 things need to almost happen simultaneously. So there is the realisation that we need to focus on recovery as early as possible in the humanitarian setting, in fact one would argue that the recovery begins on day one as early as possible and the sooner we start the sooner we will be able to help the affected people get back on their feet and recover quickly.
With that realisation the early recovery interventions typically last for 18 months from the disaster but they could be a bit longer or shorter and one can say that there’re four main objectives of early recovery interventions.
The first is to really augment humanitarian relief and reduce dependency. This can be illustrated with examples from say shelter sector, after the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 if you look at the temporary housing needs of the affected people and all the temporary housing were to be provided through say establishment of camps or tents – winterproof tents. The need for tents far exceeded the global capacity to produce tents but we can address that if while provisioning for tents we also work with communities in devising solutions of setting up transitional shelters using salvaged materials. This will not give us a permanent shelter but it is a good way where we’re involving communities rather than just handing things to them in a recovery process and augmenting humanitarian relief. In Myannmar, after cyclone Nargis, a lot of farmers in the face of planting season lost their agricultural implements. If you do not provide agricultural implements and agricultural inputs in time they lose a whole planting season which means that further down the road the need for food assistance will be extended by at least six months if not more. So every single day’s delay in providing support for this kind of recovery would be detrimental to their sort of back on the feet for recovery.
The second is ensuring that risk is not rebuilt and we assist peoples’ spontaneous efforts to recover. After the Burma earthquake in 2003, I noticed that three days after the earthquake an affected 10 family where half the family members had died, they were actually clearing rubble and setting up you know a temporary shelter.
So we underestimate the resilience and resolve of the affected people and they need to be supported in their recovery efforts from day one. So support provided early on can go a long way. The third is really setting up arrangements by which we can lay the foundations for long-term recovery, begin to build institutional arrangement which will manage the large-scale of recovery and fourth objective is really putting in place measures by which we can make sure that disaster risk is reduced when reconstruction begins.
So we can do the training of masons, the training of engineers, do risk assessments and so on. You know after one of the earthquakes, the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, the affected people interviewed two months after the earthquake- they were not looking for cash grants, they were saying that get the banks that have collapsed restarted so that we can access our own savings.
So restoring financial services, restoring critical infrastructure you know small market places you know which are essential for the functioning of local economy, giving small grants to micro and small enterprises, you know another example from Myanmar- giving some cash assistance to rice mills which had shut down after the cyclone in 2008 meant that hundreds of people could go back to work; so these kinds of activities which do not compare to long-term reconstruction, but they’re very timely and they play a catalytic role in putting people on the path of recovery early on. So these are the three components that we talked about today: the post-disaster immediate relief and rescue, then long-term reconstruction and finally early recovery which basically provides a smooth transition from relief and recovery to long-term reconstruction.