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< prev - next > Disaster response mitigation and rebuilding Reconstruction pcr_tool_3_learning_from_disasters (Printable PDF)
Reconstruction with improved quincha after the
1990 Alto Mayo earthquake in Peru
also be aware that the disaster may have increased
them. Reconstruction will have to help tackle
vulnerabilities, and the influx of external resources
often offers a unique opportunity to do so. Building
back better should not only apply to housing, but
equally to rebuilding the livelihoods of people
affected by a disaster, and of local markets. Ideally,
that should happen through an integrated approach
or in close co-operation between agencies involved.
PCR Tool 6: Integrating Livelihoods, explains this in
further detail.
How can learning from disasters help
to build back better?
The early research into how traditional housing
behaved in disasters, from the 1960s until the
1990s, was generally undertaken by technical
professionals. They would make observations
in the field after disasters occurred, perhaps do
further laboratory tests and calculations, and draw
conclusions with respect to particular construction
weaknesses. These results were communicated
largely with other professionals and sometimes to
NGOs and authorities, often in ways that are alien
to poor people. Therefore, little of this information
actually reached those affected by the disasters,
or others potentially at risk. People-centred
reconstruction (PCR) offers more opportunities
for learning than previously dominant research
and reconstruction approaches. Involving affected
people in reconstruction processes from a very early
stage, that is from the moment when damage and
needs are assessed, can lead to clear changes in
how those people perceive and understand disaster
risks, what they can do by themselves to reduce
these, and where they need external support.
In many rural areas of developing countries
there is a tradition of vernacular construction;
evolved over many generations in response to local
customs and culture, climate and availability of
low-cost local materials. This often incorporates
measures to mitigate local hazards, including for
example: special types of foundations to prevent
houses sliding down steep slopes; building on
raised plinths or on poles fixed deeply into the
ground where flooding sometimes occurs; and
bracing frames and ties to resist high winds. In
the historic centre of Lima, Peru, for instance, a
number of vernacular houses built with quincha
survived several strong earthquakes, including
those of 1746 and 1940, and remained standing
where many modern masonry buildings collapsed.
Where people abandon their vernacular
ways of building, for example, when they move
from a rural to an urban area or for reasons of
status, they are likely to also abandon some of
the traditional ways of mitigating disasters (for
instance, reinforcing roofs prior to the hurricane
season, or repairing houses after rains). Building
in rigid masonry, as in the above case of Lima, is
not inherently unsafe, but does require different
measures to make it more earthquake resistant. A
major change in construction technology usually
requires a change in the way a building is protected
from disasters. The knowledge for this does not
come automatically, nor is it easily acquired
by simple observation. There is therefore a risk
that many such buildings are poorly constructed
and unsafe. This can happen, for instance, in
urban and peri-urban areas, where people choose
to construct reinforced concrete buildings but
lack the knowledge and resources to adequately
reinforce main structural elements such as beams
or columns. Another risk occurs where people cut
corners in construction. They may, for instance,
decide to do all the building work themselves,
without hiring a skilled builder to help with the
more complex parts. Alternatively, they may try
to save on materials, for example, by using less
cement in concrete than is commonly required,
or making foundations much more shallow than
they should be. In high density suburbs, people
may decide to add floors to a building which is not
structurally capable of carrying such extra weight.
All of these factors can increase the risk of damage
to, or collapse of, houses in a disaster scenario.
The participatory process of learning from
disasters can help all involved in reconstruction
(communities, authorities, humanitarian agencies)
to better understand the strengths and weaknesses
of local construction methods, the underlying
reasons and vulnerabilities, and the capabilities of
residents and local builders.
The importance of learning in reconstruction
had been recognised for a long time. Yames
Y.C. Yen for example, founder of the Rural
Reconstruction Movement in China in the 1920s
expressed the ideals of people’s participation in
development and improvement, highlighting in
particular, the importance of learning in the process
(see box to the right).
In post-disaster reconstruction, many of the
most recent successful examples illustrating Yen’s