Reconstruction and Rehabilitation:
A response strategy for creation of sustainable livelihoods
Natural disasters, wars and development projects all lead to large scale impacts on life, property, infrastructure, and social and cultural relationships.
Disasters and their adverse impacts set societies back by decades and leave them vulnerable to physical, social and economic hardships. This may inhibit large sections of the affected society to come back even to the base level let alone develop at par with the rest of the nation.
This article takes lessons from previous and ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation programs. It puts forward a post disaster response strategy to rebuild lives and livelihoods in a manner that paves a way for long term sustainable development.
In both man made and natural disaster situations the impacts can be mitigated to a large extent through adequate planning and preparedness. Negative impacts of man made disasters can be managed, if social, ecological and economic consequences of our actions are considered and development decisions made accordingly. On the other hand, while we can be adequately prepared for a natural disaster, we cannot totally eliminate its impacts.
The Problem Tree – root causes and long term consequences
In order to design a response strategy that addresses sustainability issues, it is important to understand the systemic causes and the long-term consequences of a catastrophic disaster. A problem tree to this affect was constructed by Marcus Oxley of CARE Australia; an expert in disaster emergency and relief operations.
Unsafe building practices that result in large scale damage are, in fact, a resultant of a fatal combination of lack of know-how about safe building practices, lack of technological options for safer building and a fatalistic attitude regarding the possibility of a disaster. These are often coupled with misplaced priorities that lead to more money spent on facades and embellishments in houses than on safe construction practices in economically better off households; and reinforced by poverty that prioritizes the daily meal over a safe shelter. These anomalies are at the root of why disasters take such a heavy toll as in Orissa in 1999 or Gujarat this year. A catastrophy such as the super cyclone or a major earthquake, pulls (especially) the poor down into its vortex.
The consequences are, of-course the most obvious and immediate, loss of life, property and infrastructure. The more long term and difficult outcome increased vulnerability to elements, loss of livelihoods, increased poverty, economic recession, malnutrition, leading to out-migration from villages, enhanced social disparities and strife.
Mechanisms of response
Post disaster response has been typically at three (now four) levels.
w Relief immediately after the calamity, lasting from the first 24 hours to about two to three months and catering to immediate shelter, food, water and medical assistance.
w Reconstruction following relief and extending to a period of approximately two years, aimed at rebuilding the basic physical infrastructure and shelter to enable people to begin afresh; and,
w Rehabilitation, that looks at more long term inputs of reinstating lost livelihoods, introducing new economic opportunities and improving land and water management processes so as to reduce people’s vulnerability and enhance capacities to handle future calamities.
w Readiness, a response which should ideally have been a proactive measure, is to enhance preparedness in identified vulnerable regions by introducing mechanisms and methods of construction that mitigate impacts of future disasters.
Disaster – an opportunity
Let us look at a disaster situation not as a glass half empty but half full. Not as a tremendous loss but as an opportunity now being offered “again”. An opportunity to begin the process of development in a more sustainable mode. An opportunity to set in place systems, technologies and processes that improve the quality of life and are in sync with the regional geo-environmental conditions.
It is possible to do so at such a time and at a large enough scale not only because one has virtually a new canvas to begin with, but also because people’s mindsets about conventional (as practiced) systems of construction (and other development paradigms) are altered in one stroke. In Gujarat, (whole) communities who would be extremely conservative about any change in their building practices, are now questioning the way they and their fathers have been building and are seeking “improved” systems. They now understand the limitations of earlier systems and are clearly amenable to change.
A Holistic Approach
The process of reconstruction involves partial or complete relocation and rebuilding the essential physical infrastructure and shelter (house) so that vulnerability levels are reduced and families are able to get back to their feet. Reconstruction therefore paves