Promoting Safer Building - Using science, technology, communication and humanitarian practice to support family and community self-recovery

Lead Research Organisation: Overseas Development Inst ODI (Internat)
Department Name: Climate Change, Enviroment and Forests


Poorly constructed buildings are often the largest cause of injury, trauma and death in the event of a natural disaster. Most families rebuild houses relying on their own resources, with little or no external support. They "self-recover". An analysis of statistics shows that the impact of aid agencies on housing recovery rarely reaches more than 20% of affected families and is frequently in single figures (Parrack, 2014). Moreover, much of that support is in the form of temporary housing intended to last only a few years. Therefore, we know that 80%, or more, self-recover.

The potential impact is huge: any one emergency can leave hundreds of thousands of families homeless, with women and girls disproportionately affected (Bradshaw, 2015). As things stand, these homes are too often rebuilt using the same pre-disaster bad practice that caused so much death, injury and economic damage in the first place.

Currently, shelter professionals lack understanding of the recovery process and therefore of inherent opportunities for appropriate and effective support. Families choose when and how to rebuild based on little-understood circumstances. Empowering them in the exercise of informed choice is integral to assisting self-recovery. There are neither tools nor knowledge to effectively support this at scale. The challenge for the humanitarian community, as well as national and local organisations, is to support this inevitable process of self-recovery.

While efforts are made to include Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) into many emergency and recovery shelter interventions, these activities are often very narrow in scope, frequently limited to the printing of simple guidance sheets. These have very little impact on resilience of self-built housing stock.
We know that simply informing people about risk - poor engineering, construction, and hazard risk - does not result in changed behaviour (van Wijk 1995), or in better, safer homes and communities. We also know there are no universal solutions. Evidence from post-disaster needs-assessments shows that families rapidly rebuild their homes with little or no knowledge of safer building techniques or the environmental factors that may increase their vulnerability. However there is evidence that demand for technical assistance can be very high soon after a rapid onset disaster. Only 12% of respondents interviewed for a CARE Nepal survey were able to name any techniques for improving seismic performance of a house, but 60% listed building safety as a top concern.

Currently, the international aid community lacks skills to adequately contextualise each unique situation, arrive rapidly and reliably at key technical messages and effectively transmit and promote those messages in a way that allows informed choice and ensures maximum acceptance by the affected population. Current post-disaster programmes do not systematically or effectively address the motivations (want), resources (can) and abilities (know-how) of beneficiaries in the process of self-recovery.

Through the multidisciplinary research of scientists, engineers and humanitarian practitioners, this proposal addresses the needs of those who self-build. It specifically addresses two important gaps:
- Technical best practice - what key construction and siting messages will make a substantial improvement to self-building in different contexts?
- Changing current practice - getting the message across; what communication and promotion methods really work; learning from current technology transfer and public education approaches.

Parrack, C; Flinn, B and Passey, M (2014): Open House International
van Wijk, C; Murre, T (1995): UNICEF
Bradshaw, S., Fordham, M., (2015): Elsevier

Planned Impact

Research, as well as the experience of humanitarian practitioners, demonstrates that self-recovery after natural disasters is the predominant pathway to recovery for affected families and communities. Between 80 and 90% of households self-recover in a typical large-scale disaster such as an earthquake, flood or cyclonic storm (Parrack 2014). A programme that aims to support the 80% who self-recover will have an impact at a substantial scale. In the 20 years between 1994 and 2015, 66 million homes were damaged or destroyed by floods, 25 million by earthquake and 24 million by storm (CRED 2015). The Nepalese earthquake caused damage or collapse of 712,000 houses, the majority solidly built stone dwellings in remote rural locations. Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to ever make landfall and arguably a symptom of climate change and a future indicator, affected as many as one million homes (information from shelter cluster).
Increasingly, aid agencies are recognising the need to move away from a product-based response (a temporary structure, a tent) towards technical assistance, training and incremental support through cash and materials. This dramatically escalates the significance, impact and value for money of a response, as well as increasing the long-term legacy through improved building practice and disaster risk reduction. Self-recovery is central to this methodology that tends towards an enabling approach to recovery and away from physical construction. Moreover, support to self-recovery is not a stand-alone approach: conventional modalities such as cash transfer, materials, vouchers etc. will complement an approach that includes an overall improvement in safe building techniques. While self-recovery programmes will have an impact on entire communities through training and improved practice, it is also possible to target vulnerable and marginalized families through a bespoke selection process.
Knowledge of the self-recovery process, and how to support it, is very limited. This research will benefit:
- Disaster affected populations: the most important stakeholders are the hundreds of thousands of families that lose their homes through natural disasters each year. Through a better understanding of their pathway through self-recovery, and by developing contextualised tools and techniques to support that process, the enduring benefit will be resilient communities, a safer building stock and long-term disaster risk reduction.
- International humanitarian NGOs and in particular shelter departments and practitioners: through CARE's network of contacts, the majority of key actors will be aware of, and involved in, this research. Several will be represented on the steering group. CARE's position as a lead shelter agency will be instrumental in ensuring that the impact of this research will be multiplied through engagement with peer agencies.
- National organisations and partners will become increasingly engaged as the longer-term programme evolves. In this foundation phase, many national partnerships will be forged through the case-studies and the international symposium. The extensive international networks of the four collaborating organisations will facilitate far-reaching and diverse contacts.
- Academic organisations based both in the UK and the global south, through direct involvement in research, workshops and symposia (Academic Beneficiaries). The cross disciplinary research will involve scientists, architects, engineers, social scientists and humanitarian practitioners.
- Coordination bodies - there are already established strong links with UN and other coordinating bodies. Of particular mention are: the International Federation of the Red Cross, UNHCR, UNISDR and the International Organisation for Migration.

Parrack, C; Flinn, B and Passey, M (2014) Getting the Message Across for Safer Self-Recovery in Post-Disaster Shelter. Open House International
CRED (2015) The Human Cost of Natural Disasters


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