Rebuilding a city: The dos and don’ts in post-disaster urban recovery

Before Haiyan, there were disasters on the same scale such as the Aceh Tsunami, Katrina Hurricane, and Haiti Earthquake.  Management of post-disaster rebuilding in these countries present critical lessons to everyone concerned.  The resource speakers in this video of a 2011 event hosted by the Brookings Institute share critical lessons relevant in the post-Haiyan situation.   Brookings has made the transcript of this event available on its site, here.

Nonetheless I noted down some points made by

Maggie Stephenson, UNHABITAT Senior Technical Advisor, that mirror the very challenges post-Haiyan (and in the other post-disaster areas in Mindanao).

At 21:44, on emergency camps post-Haiti

This is not a camp that’s going to be emptied… this is not a reversible process of emptying camps this is also gonna be a process of developing settlements or making strategic and early decisions of which areas need to be stopped and relocated now.  All of these require technical knowledge of understanding cities and working together with policymakers (as well as with) the combined agencies.

This is what the camps also are they are the beginnings of new settlements. (25:14)

At 25:44, on Canaan post-disaster

…what’s mostly being reported is the formal inputs, the work of agencies.  What isn’t being reported is what are people doing themselves… People have moved in, purchased land themselves , have started to build themselves.  Are we going to choose to retrofit services and support the process — this is a question for us to also think about, (is this the) most wise use of our resources, to follow where people are already going and make the outcome better?

At 27:07, on the situation in Port-au-Prince CBD post-disaster

This is a huge opportunity to invest in already serviced land and accessible land but this is complicated.  This needs urban expertise, this needs political will…this is partly the solution to the expanding of the city.  The solution is not just to retrofit services of the ever growing mountains it’s also to regenerate the center of the city.  This needs substantial investors and coherent planning.

At 28:42, on housing

Money isn’t available for permanent housing so we really need to take care of commitments, promises, and the amount of money spent in temporary construction, but not only an issue of resources it’s also an issue of land.  Can we afford to use up urban land for temporary shelter? How are you supposed to build (a) permanent house if you used it up with this?

I think temporary housing is an important choice but it needs to be offered as a choice. (30:04)

What everyone asked for was not investment in temporary shelter it was investment in protection from the floods so they don’t wash away their next house.  It’s not changing the outcome for the current reconstruction it’s investing for the next 30 years of buildings that we need to be concerned about. (33:03)

At 30: 33, on technical assistance post-disaster

We trained 200,000 masons in Pakistan. I don’t understand why we’ve collectively trained less than 20,000 in Haiti.  One year they’re sitting in camps — there’s a golden opportunity. We need to train every single existing male mason and every mango seller that’s gonna become a mason.  This needs a concerted large scale effort and we need to think at scale, it’s not as expensive as building hospitals, to train masons. It’s the biggest contribution you could make to improve the quality.

We shouldn’t at the end of three years of reconstruction or 10 years of reconstruction have basic flaws of engineering… We need to use the opportunity of massive technical assistance to bring other agenda like energy efficiency, water management, maybe not all at the same time but at least follow through in stages over the course of reconstruction. And the assistance in urban areas needs technical assistance in areas such as planning… Have we got the skills to do that?  Have NGOs built up their teams with skill to do that?  Or are we still heavily in logistics and assistance?  We need to be enablers.  We need to be added value.  We need to be smart.  We need to be conscious about value for money. (33:15)

Government…we have the least resources, the least capacities, and lose staff to the response.  It’s extremely important that all agencies work as support and partners and not displace them or compete with them because they’re gonna be there afterwards, not to mention it’s a question of legitimacy and in the case of Haiti they need a strong government even more than they need reconstruction. Reconstruction needs to be a channel first to see how we build stronger communities, stronger governments, and stronger relations between the two because without that then we’re gonna see a backslide and we need to see progress made.

The role of enablers — technical assistance is a small role it’s not a large amount of money because it’s a small team usually it’s not big logistics of NGOs and agencies but it’s a role that donors are not necessarily happy to fund and this puts all the money at risk.  If you haven’t invested in quality…or you haven’t invested in monitoring and control then what have you got for your money? So my point is invest in the decision making and invest in information for better decisions.

Abhas K. Jha, Lead Urban Specialist and Practice Leader for Disaster Risk Management, The World Bank

At 1:25:28, on infrastructure planning

Large infrastructure planning especially for large scale infrastructure which has large locked in period is very tricky… It calls for an iterative, flexible kind of decision making which is robust across a large number of climate scenarios.  The trick here is to get the balance right…often, policymakers think about concrete on the ground they want sea dikes, dams, and they don’t think about the non infrastructural solutions which are often as effective…much more effective… Given all this what should a city policy maker do? … Cities need to invest in risk data and disseminate it widely in a way that the public can understand easily…

(The rest, listen on.)

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