Rebuilding after Disasters: From Emergency to Sustainability

Rebuilding after Disasters: From Emergency to Sustainability

Rebuilding after Disasters: From Emergency to Sustainability

Rebuilding after Disasters: From Emergency to Sustainability


Disasters are not natural. Natural events such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, etc. become disasters because of the fragile relations that exist between the natural, human and built environments. Sadly, major disasters will always occur in towns and cities in the developing world where resources are limited, people are vulnerable and needs are particularly great. The prevailing state of emergency challenges thoughtful and sustainable planning and construction. Yet it is possible, in theory and in practice, to construct them in a way that provides a sustainable environment and improved conditions for current and future generations.

Rebuilding After Disasters emphasizes the role of the built environment in the re-establishment of lives and sustainable livelihoods after disasters. Expert contributors explain the principal challenges facing professionals and practitioners in the building industry.

This book will be of great value to decision makers, students and researchers in the fields of architecture, social sciences, engineering, planning, geography, and disaster recovery.


For most of us, the massive poverty that exists in the developing world is a distant statistic – until an earthquake, a hurricane, or some other kind of ‘natural disaster’ strikes a poor region of the globe, and the media brings the images of poverty and suffering into our living rooms. Genuinely moved, we reach for our checkbooks and then return to our relatively comfortable lives, until Nature strikes back again. What impressed me most about this book – a myth-busting effort that brings together diverse opinions on how to reconstruct such devastated settlements – is that the authors have moved beyond the obvious charitable solutions to make the case that natural disasters are often so deadly and long-term due to very human mistakes in construction, exacerbated by socio-economic inequities.

The authors make it clear that their book is not built on theoretical discussions about an ideal world but based on ‘empirical research and experience from “the field.”’ As such, Rebuilding after Disasters has positioned itself as a necessary handbook for international organizations, governments, NGOs, and anyone else serious about helping the billions of people around the world for whom just one natural disaster turns into a human catastrophe from which they will never recover.

As I read sections of this book, I found myself often nodding in recognition as well as agreement based on my own 25 years of experience in the shantytowns of the developing and post-communist world. The authors set out to challenge several ‘myths’ about reconstruction efforts after a disaster, and what resonated most for me was the clarity of their case that even before any natural disaster strikes, there are already a series of man-made problems in place that are likely to make the disaster worse and reconstruction harder. The authors also forcefully argue that the ‘sustainability’ of reconstruction strategies must include social and economic responsibility. I could not agree more. As a professional myth-breaker, let me contribute to their impressive brief for helping victims of disaster some of what I have learned about life – and suffering – among my fellow inhabitants of the developing world.

When asked about strategies to confront natural disasters in developing countries, I am inclined to point to two recent natural disasters that grabbed our hearts – the hurricane called Katrina that flooded the city of New Orleans . . .

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