Rebuilding after Natural Disasters

Article excerpt

What works and what does not

IN managing post-disaster reconstruction, a complex series of decisions need to be made almost immediately by all those involved. Despite this pressure, one must remember that these decisions will have long-term impacts on those affected by the disaster. Ideally, reconstruction policy would have been defined by government before the disaster, but there are few countries where this is the case. Therefore, defining and deliberating over the reconstruction policy will generally occur in the precious time after the disaster.

The Communities Group International (TCGI) was contracted by the World Bank, beginning in 2008, to prepare a handbook on post-disaster housing reconstruction. The World Bank intended the handbook to assist government policy makers and government and donor project managers engaged in large-scale post-disaster reconstruction programs make decisions about how to reconstruct housing and communities after natural disasters. [1] This article describes the key findings and recommendations from the handbook, and proposes what a reconstruction project in one town in Haiti that conforms to the best practices identified in the handbook might look like.

International experience - and the case studies in the reconstruction handbook - clearly demonstrate that reconstruction policy defined by government should encompass five key areas: the Institutional Strategy, the Financial Strategy, the Community Participation Approach, the Reconstruction Approach and Risk Management At the same time, it also shows that local communities can and usually want to be put in charge of many of the operational practicalities of the reconstruction process. This combination of "top-down policy" and "bottom-up operations" has repeatedly been shown to be the most effective and efficient way to manage reconstruction.

Put another way, this means that there are tasks related to reconstruction that communities do best - such as assessing local damage, accounting for their members, looking out for the most needy, identifying suitable relocation sites, replanning neighborhood layouts, overseeing and/ or carrying out reconstruction, even managing the funding at the local level. And there are tasks that government does best - such as defining the reconstruction approach, coordinating with international agencies, establishing minimum and maximum standards for reconstruction and rules for the equitable distribution of assistance, programming and tracking the money and making sure the entire reconstruction enterprise is adequately monitored over time.

A critical fact of housing reconstruction is that it is not just about "the house." For that reason, the reconstruction handbook focuses on housing and community reconstruction. Of course, the community on which it focuses is not a physical entity, like a neighborhood. The community entails the social fabric that holds the neighborhood together; the livelihoods that make it possible for people to maintain their households; the sense of place, heritage, and security and a basic quality of life and level of community services. Planning and carrying out successful reconstruction means that all these aspects of community - as well as the house - must be attended to at more or less the same time. One emerging practice is that of "transitional shelter," whereby the attention is put on stabilizing the community through provision of a minimum shelter solution that allow households to safely return to their neighborhoods, while more permanent reconstruction takes place. Because a community must regain its footing after the trauma of a disaster, the processes of transitional sheltering and reconstruction, properly organized, can play a big part in helping to make social recovery happen.

Now where do all the other players, such as civil society organizations (CSOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector fit into the scenario just described? …