Rebuilding societies after major disasters

November 5, 2016


For recent decade, media has reported places seriously affected by natural disaster almost every week. Disaster often occurs with crushing effects forces that cost societies a lot more than anticipated  (Stoltman, Lidstone, & DeChano, 2006). During the last decade of 2002 until 2011, annual average of 394 disasters were registered, with fatality annual average of 107.000. Economic loss associated to disasters have risen 14-fold since 1950s and cause average damage bill annually of US$143 billion. To put in perspective, in 2003 year alone 1 of every 25 people around the world was affected by disaster   (Guha Sapir, Hoyois, & Below, 2013).

In one disaster event of 1995 Kobe earthquake alone resulted in 6000 fatalities and more than US$100 billion direct economic losses (Hochrainer & Mechier, 2011).  Recent event of devastating Haiti earthquake, that stuck on January 12th, 2010, it was estimated to have killed 220.000 people and 3,5 million people affected by the quake, 293.000 houses whether destroyed or badly damaged that left 1,5 million people homeless. In addition, 300.000 people were injured, 4000 schools were destroyed. After the quake, Port au Prince were left with staggering 19 million cubic meters of rubble and debris-enough to fill a line of shipping containers stretching end to end from London to Beirut- and the list goes on (Disasters emergency committee, 2014).

Natural disasters such as earthquake and tsunamis occur across the globe can have adverse effects on human lives (Yi & Yang, 2013), altering the physical landscape and more often severely disrupting people’s daily lives (Crooks & Wise, 2013). Damage to building and infrastructure contents are the first thing come to mind when thinking about direct economic costs. But this has follow-on indirect economic consequences, for instance, the loss of electricity and water supply shortage can cause severe business and services interruption. This could create negative ripple effects that lead to a decline in quality of life of households (Kousky, 2013).

However, over the coming years, still trillions of dollars of private and public investment is set to pour into hazard-exposed regions across the globe. These investments will largely determine how much disaster risk is accumulated and how underlying risk drivers are addressed. Simultaneously economic losses from disasters are growing rapidly. They are conservatively estimated to total 2.4 % of global GDP per annum (UNISDR, 2013).

Communities deal with disasters longer

While the event of the disaster itself, the emergency response, miraculous rescues and escapes, acts of bravery and selfless undertaken by the rescuers occupies the Media and political actors attention (Gill, 2010). But following the crisis, the long-term recovery process, and flood of emotions this entails tends to be ignored by the same agents. The event might be passed and rebuilding may be underway or completed but, for the residents, the recovery process is far from over as they engage in emotional and practical work needed to reclaim their homes and lives (Whittle, Walker, Medd, & Mort, 2012).

Dealing emotion during recovery is not just of academic interest, because it is also for practical and political relevance as it highlights problems of management of disaster recovery and bring light on the types of support arrangement that might be helpful for residents (Whittle, Walker, Medd, & Mort, 2012).

Sustainable reconstruction: integrated approach

Despite the wide range of concerns, it raises, PDR also can provide a rare opportunity for the local society to build a better place with multiple objectives (Yi & Yang, 2013). In this respect, the concept of sustainable reconstruction has surfaced as a successful adaptive resilient strategy to deal with disaster recovery (Rose, 2011). Since it addresses an integrated approach to reconstruction: environmental, technical, economic, social and institutional factors which are considered in early and each stage and activity of reconstruction to ensure the best long term outcome, in housing design and construction activity and in the delivery of basic infrastructure such as water supply and sanitation system (Guarnacci, 2012).

The need for appropriate PDR research is gradually more recognized. From 2002 to 2012, the publication number has multiplied 5 times and for PDR papers research with a construction perspective has increased six-fold. Yet despite the apprehension, most developing countries PDR research and publication are lagging. Asia, South-America are far behind and Africa is hardly covered (Yi & Yang, 2013).

Post Disaster Temporary Housing

Due to climate change, natural disasters have drastically increased in the last decades, having tremendously impact on build environment. Buildings destruction is one of the immediate visible effects of disaster, living many homeless people. As a consequence the demand for temporary housing will continue (Felix, Branco, & Feio, 2013).

Housing provision plays a crucial role to bring back the livelihoods of the affected communities since it is one of the essential settings for their well-being (UNDRO, 1982). Because homelessness is more than physical deprivation, it is also felt as losing dignity, identity and privacy. Housing provision is a one-step close to establish kind of normalcy-return to work, school, cooking, etc.- in the life of affected communities, as well as increasing conditions to personal hygiene and protection against external factors like weather and diseases (Barakat, 2003).

 Due to the chaotic condition aftermath of natural disaster, very often PDR housing fails their objective and produce inadequate solution scenario. In the same time it has been criticized for being unsustainable and culturally inadequate, generally due to the need for a quick decisions and large scale reconstruction under difficult chaotic situation (Johnson, 2008).

Often Post Disaster Temporary Housing (PDTH) units or materials are imported and transported from different location and might involve extremely high cost. As a result, a PDTH unit can cost more, even up to 3 times than the permanent one (Hadafi & Fallahi, 2010). Alongside the excessive costs of units, there is additional cost of infrastructure-such as electricity, roads, sewage, etc) that needed to make the settlement practical and functional (Johnson, 2008). This way, the PDTH becomes costly in relation to its short lifespan and question has been asked whether PDTH is really better solution, or rather represent overspending of funds that should be used for permanent housing construction.

Beyond the question of expenses and its effects on overall reconstruction, PDTH imported units could create delays for resettlement. And even after the reconstruction has gone smooth and resettlement achieved, there is another problem to do with the large amount of structure left vacant after the intended period of use. Since more often there was not a clear thoughtful plan beforehand  (Arslan & Cosgun, 2008). Even after PDHT units were vacated and all additional infrastructures removed, there is still amount of work to restore the place as before it was being occupied. But often time the place is littered with garbage and greatly polluted; Causing environmental consequences and additional costs for cleaning up. As results, PDR becomes not only unsustainable in costs but as well environmental unsustainable (Arslan & Cosgun, 2008).

PDTH solution can present cultural inadequacy often. While trying to provide quick and affordable housing, decisions have been restrained to a group of professionals consider appropriate standardized and technological oriented solutions, which are not necessary suitable for local inhabitants. Neglecting cultural and local condition as well as users’ needs could be the outcome (Felix, Branco, & Feio, 2013).

Unfortunately, units are oftentimes produced in standardized format and intended to be used throughout the world, ignoring climatic variation, house form, cultural values, variation in family size, etc. (Johnson, 2008). Often solutions do not address affected inhabitants ‘need and expectation, not only users discontent but in extreme cases, abandon the housing units.

Design house, even though after disaster, should meet people´s aspiration and need. Some researchers have indicated that understand the complete context (such as culture, tradition, social organization, economics and political system) and characteristics of the place of disaster is important (UNDRO, 1982), in order to create a flexible, adaptable and easy to reuse houses (Tipple & Kellett, 2000).

As shown by Iranian architect Khalili (Khalili, 2014) design team after the earthquake that strike Kashmir, Pakistan in October of 2005. They design a successful idea of PDTH, in adopting dome shape dwelling construct mainly of onsite available materials: dirt, sand or clay. Despite being temporary, the “superadobe” dome shelter has proven to have durability to resist harsh environmental factors, fire resistant and passed the California stringent seismic test in 1991. Moreover the dome shelter not only local and cheap but can be built by family of four within day (Abulnour, 2013).

Another example of PDTH has been designed by Japanese Architect Yasutaka Yoshimura (Yoshimura, 2014) to address the displaced populations following earthquakes and tsunami devastation in Japan. His idea using “Ex-container” was both an attempted to reduce cost in and situ work need, since the “Ex-container” was pre assemble in factories with different configurations priced from US$ 36,000 to 60,000. Temporary dwelling house should be affordable, but associate that price with Japan Gross national Income (GNI) per capita in 2011which is around US$ 44,900, is arguably affordable. Hence, designing and construct PDTH, in first place Architects have to pay special attention to the economic contextual circumstances of the disaster affected place (Abulnour, 2013).


The 21st century is marked by 7 billion inhabitants on the earth and the trend is the rise of increased urbanization combine with the birth of megacity which houses a population exceeding 10 Million.  Yet, as human settlements expand, they often grow into areas susceptible to natural disasters: hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunami, floods, droughts, and wildfire. Disaster risk is a key threat to such dense urban spaces.

Disasters force a region or communities to be undertaken with a series of decision-some large, some small, and some difficult- technical and expert advises will become available, financial assistance flows into the community, enabling it to tackle ambitious projects than normally would be the case. These changes can view as opportunities to rebuild better. They can provide a chance for community to implement forward-looking activities, including improvement in life style, safety, economic opportunity, or the environment.

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