The Bartlett Development Planning Unit
  • Follow our posts

  • A A A

    India’s tea capital can recover from devastating floods – if the government gets its act together

    By Sneha Krishnan, on 22 September 2015

    Heavy flooding has affected more than a million people in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, with 45 dead and more than 200,000 in relief camps. However, there is still very little coverage of the disaster in the international media – perhaps not surprising when you consider even most Indians aren’t paying attention.

    But they should – and so should you. The fact a region that is flooded regularly should be so unprepared for the latest downpour is scandalous, as is the short-sighted or uncaring government response.

    The floods have also affected local wildlife, with the Kaziranga National Park – home to two thirds of the world’s Indian rhinos – reporting the electrocution of elephants fleeing from the water, as well as the death of at least three rhinos.

    The floods come amid reports of increasing illegal immigration from Bangladesh and poor working conditions on local tea plantations, while armed conflicts between separatist groups and state security forces make the situation in the region even more unstable.

    Image 2

    Floods in Solmari in 2012 after the floods caused by embankment breach

     

    Perfect conditions for tea – and flooding

    Assam is best known for its black tea, which grows well in the hot, steamy Brahmaputra valley. While the monsoon may create perfect conditions for tea, it also means the region is highly susceptible to flooding.

    More than 40% of the region is at risk and severe floods occur every few years, eroding riverbanks and dumping large amounts of sand on farmland, often rendering lands infertile.

    For local communities, these floods have been disastrous and many are not receiving sufficient aid. For example my own research on recovery after major floods in 2012 found affected families who hadn’t received the promised compensation from the government, even two years on.

    Government initiatives to build new embankments have led to further distress. For example, new barriers constructed in 2012 displaced hundreds of families who found their resettled homes were now on the wrong side of the embankments. Compensation was poor, lower than market rates, while others received no support for resettlement due to identity and land ownership issues for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

    Some embankments built along the Brahmaputra in central Assam as an ad hoc response to the 2012 floods were so poorly constructed over natural drainage they actually failed to keep the river movements in check and increased erosion. The embankments simply breached in the following year’s monsoon. The subsequent relocations and distress were entirely preventable.

    The Brahmaputra has caused serious erosion for decades now, and yet the government response has been inefficient. Plans to tackle the problem remain confined only to paper.

    image 1

    The fixing of new embankment to prevent breach in 2013, in Morigaon. (which breached within a week after this image was shot

     

    The real cost for Assam’s communities

    The floods in Assam have taken a heavy toll on water, sanitation, health and education systems. Affected people flee their homes and create makeshift camps, where access to essential facilities is inadequate for the hundreds of thousands displaced.

    The quality and accessibility of drinking water in particular is severely affected, and people are depending on contaminated sources – even when they know it isn’t clean. Defecation in the open becomes dangerous, especially for women and adolescent girls, all the more so during floods and regular displacement.

    During floods the government turned some public schools into relief camps for a week or two. This of course affects the school term. Once the water recedes people start leaving the camps and are forced to fend for themselves. When they return to their villages they’ll be faced with destroyed homes, lost food grains and fields ruined by silt or sometimes even entirely lost to erosion.

    The road to recovery is hard to see, particularly as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil groups or NGOs.

    The floods also have an adverse affect on marginalised people, such as women, who bear the responsibilities of running households, childcare and rebuilding homes after floods. A 2013 study involving 900 households around Assam found that soil erosion, as a consequence of flooding, heavily affected the standard of living for farmers. This in turn forced women to leave the home and earn an income which resulted in girls dropping out of school to look after younger siblings and do the chores.

    India’s 2005 Disaster Management Act doesn’t recognise the chronic challenges of erosion as a natural disaster. The present development plans are short-sighted. They do not feature a long-term recovery, or take into consideration environmental factors.

    In the case of Assam, disaster resilience will only be possible through education and the participation of local communities and institutions. Something that needs to be done if the area is prone to flooding.

    Image 5

    Flood-affected families living in school complex during the floods, Solmari

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 3 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 10 July 2015

    3.9

    The i-Rec conference 2015 started its final day on Wednesday 8 July with a plenary session, as has been the format for the previous mornings.

    Maggie Stephenson asked what is the relationship between shelter and survivor? – especially in light of post-disaster needs assessments (PDNAs); who decides what people need? Taking the time to discuss what is useful to survivors is therefore essential.

    Rohit Jigyasu looked at attempts to salvage cultural heritage in the wake of the recent Nepalese earthquake. In some cases traditional materials and components, especially windows, held up better than more contemporary counterparts. He is part of an initiative with the Smithsonian Institute that is seeking to ensure that this physical heritage is not lost in the wake of the disaster.

    Having been in Nepal when the second earthquake struck, Sneha Krishnan commented on the role that social networks paid in people’s preparedness when it came. She suggested that some of the early responses imposed by NGOs – such as dividing toilets between men and women, when given the extreme context they were willing to share facilities – were inappropriate. She also witnessed an indecisive response from the state who at some stages were eager to defer to outside help, and at others were very directive in their approach.

    3.1

    Roundtable 4B: Linking disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) with disaster risk recovery and reconstruction

    Ilan Kelman started the session by placing DRR and CCA within a broader framework for sustainable development. He suggested that any reconstruction is done so for the future, which necessarily has to include potential impacts of climate change. As we understand that hazards themselves do not cause disasters, but vulnerability does, the emphasis on sustainability as a key contributor to DRR is brought into sharper focus.

    Drawing on the recurring effects of cyclones in Odisha, India as a case study, Sneha Krishnan argued for the value of learning from previous disasters to build resilience. For her, preparedness is key and the recovery phase is a missing link that has not yet been fully understood.

    Candida Maria Vassallo presented the importance of reconstructing public buildings as a mean of reconstructing normal life. She exemplified this process with the case of the reconstruction of new Swat Archaeological Museum in Saidu Sharif (Pakistan) damaged by 2005 earthquake and 2008 Taliban attack, but the relevance is that this process can be implemented in other contexts thanks to its flexibility and adaptability, which was appreciative of local needs and histories. The discussion that followed revolved around how we might tackle the complexity that inevitably emerges in these situations. A second key discussion point was how to rebuild communities in a way that is not merely ‘back to normal’ but a marked improvement on how thing were.

    3.10

    Roundtable 2D: Planning approaches and strategies for recovery

    The session raised the necessity of longer-term thinking. This was discussed importantly with regards to listening – often to the lessons of history that past disasters have taught us – when planning for the future, and fostering an environment where collaboration and sharing of knowledge is embedded. Different tools and methods to facilitate this, within and outside of project structures, were debated.

    Understanding roles and responsibilities in relation to resources – both financial and human – was also elaborated upon. For example: who does monitoring and documentation,and how? Who decides what is insured and what aspects of the built environment are covered? The session ended with a reflection on the role of the researcher in disaster recovery scenarios, and the contribution of academic work.

    Roundtable 4C: Aspects of resilience and recovery

    One of the key themes of the roundtable was urban resilience and how it may be affected during the process of recovery by the role of the governments and NGOs. An interesting point of discussion asked what methods are used to classify populations in order to address their recovery needs, and can such a method generate tools to help recovery? This pointed to a knowledge gap concerning different types of analytical variables and the importance of developing analytical categories for the underlying social variables.

    The papers generated comparative discussion about the role of the government in the process of recovery and how their initial initiatives and efforts may impact long-term resilience with examples from Yalova in Turkey, Bam in Iran and Assam, India which offered three different interpretations.

    3.6

    Roundtable 2A: Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities

    David Alexander presented findings from research into the transitional phase of post-disaster recovery in the cases of Tacloban in The Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan and the Sanriku coast in Japan, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He concluded that a successful transitional phase requires a pact between the survivors and the government. This could be achieved through information sharing; a clear, simple and robust plan of action; a well-defined timeline for the transitional phase,;and serviceable transitional housing and facilities.

    Charles Parrack talked about urban displacement, comparing community participation in cities and in camps. The objective of the study was to identify gaps for outside of camp strategies developed by the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM). A common theme centres on empowerment and developing social capital, which will be a focus for further research.

    3.11

    Based on her work in Chile and Peru, Elizabeth Wagemann explained how people have adapted post-disaster shelters to convert them into homes. While a temporary shelter is understood to be time limited and the transitional shelter could be understood as an incremental support, both have been modified and adapted by the families, even though they are not designed for this purpose. The study compared the modifications during a five year period.

    Faten Kikano compared different types of shelters used by Syrian refugees in Lebanon over a number of years. She looked back to the shelters adopted by Palestinian refugees sixty years ago for further comparison and questioned whether camps are an effective solution to refugees’ needs. The common focus on the transitional phase in disaster recovery was carried over into the discussion. The panel acknowledged unanimously that we are beyond ‘one size fits all’ solutions.


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Bernadette Devilat, Julia Wesely, Rachel Valbrun and Jacopo Spatafora for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    View all i-Rec related blogs, including the summaries of Days 1 & 2 via on this page.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 2 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 8 July 2015

    2.8

    The 2015 i-Rec conference continued on Tuesday 7 July with another packed day.

    The morning keynote panel saw Frederick Kimgold focus on regulatory initiatives to build urban resilience – these include four key components: Regulatory action at the national level, based on a strong legal foundation; improving and enforcing building codes; an emphasis on local implementation; and knowledge sharing at the international level.

    Stephen Platt drew his insights from 10 cases studies. His findings, from disasters in countries as varied as Japan, Turkey and Chile, showed different patterns for human and economic losses. He commented on the successes of the speed of recovery in different places, noting that rapidity, highlighting the case of Turkey, is not always the best way to achieve effective planning outcomes.

    Gerald Paragas analysed the upshot of the Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts in the Philippines. He emphasised the roles of different actors in these processes and called for continued coordination in order to better harmonise relief and reconstruction with urban processes; recovery should always be city-driven and not donor-driven.

    2.21

    Roundtable 3C: Histories, perceptions, and ethnographies for understanding urban recovery

    The presentations showed cases from in Italy, Guine-Bissau and Chile. The discussions questioned how architects should work in reconstruction – does an absence of specific architectural training in relation to humanitarian aid mean architects should be seen less as designers and more as facilitators embedded within a more holistic process of design and reconstruction?

    Certainly it was acknowledged that better dialogue between communities, architects and humanitarians is essential. Finally the speakers considered the tensions that exist around traditional construction and vernacular architecture. How can these be better understood alongside our own practice?

    2.20

    Roundtable 4A: Integrated Approaches for recovery and resilience

    This session discussed examples from Haiti, Japan, Malawi and the Philippines, where attempts at integration has taken place with differing degrees of success. Time was identified as a key tension, particularly when engaging with communities. Inclusive decision making processes can be long and demand resources. Community vs production-based approaches is a big dilemma that was witnessed Philippines.

    In the case of Malawi dispersed populations added to the time needed for effective local inputs, the knock-on effect being that international organisations are not always able to make the most of local capacity. The conversation therefore turned to post-disaster adaptive resilience and at what point does the transition from recovery to resilience-building take place, and how does this work?

    Roundtable 2C: Challenges, character, and tools for recovery

    These four presentations tackled different solutions around how to make recovery faster and more effective. They looked at logistical challenges faced during the response and early recovery stages following the Canterbury earthquakes; the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as enablers of multiple interactions actors and people involved in recovery and reconstruction; new methods for clearing debris; and how the type of disaster itself can impact the type of reconstruction that takes place.

    2.22

    Roundtable 2B: Community-driven practices

    Four different case studies from Africa, Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil were presented. It was suggested that vulnerability (especially of the urban poor) has always been tackled and studied using a top-down approach. Informal settlements remain almost invisible – therefore researchers and organizations should engage in a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange with the population.

    By doing so, it is possible not only to identify the root causes of local vulnerabilities but also the social resources and capabilities that can contribute to resilience at a local scale. Interventions developed by researchers and NGOs should be community-controlled and should involve all the relevant stakeholders. Moreover statistical measures are recognized as being insufficient to measure community recovery, and this could be revised in order to incorporate local needs and perspectives.

    A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

    A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

    Roundtable 5A: Relocation from hazardous areas

    Using comparative cases and single in-depth studies, this session took a critical lens on the relationship between hazards, vulnerabilities and risks, and – more broadly – between hazards and development. It was emphasised that relocation efforts have to consider the reasons why people live in hazardous areas in the first place, and why some people refuse to evacuate, move away or eventually return to these unsafe sites.

    A general point that recurred throughout was that relocation is not only about housing, but also livelihoods, infrastructure and basic services, economic opportunities, social networks etc. Post-disaster relocation happens in a situation where people are traumatised and rapid decisions are taken. The challenge is therefore to think beyond just improving post-disaster relocation, but also to consider pre-disaster management of the diverse risks that residents are confronted with.

    Roundtable 5B: Relocation and resettlement strategies

    These four presentations focused on empirical cases that gave insights into some of the challenges of relocation and resettlement. These included attachment to place, and a loss of urban identity through to knock on effects in terms of planning such as urban sprawl and the need to better manage self-build housing within a coherent planning framework.

    It was suggested that in the case of Fukushima, Japan, preparedness has focused chiefly on natural disasters, rather than human induced disaster, which was a reason behind the large number of casualties. In Montserrat, part of the West Indies, a large scale relocation on the small island-state placed a heavy strain on the few health facilities that were well placed to serve the affected population.


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Elizabeth Wagemann, Sneha Krishnan, Serena Tagliacozzo and Julia Wesely for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 1 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 7 July 2015

    ASC_5948

    The 7th i-Rec conference got underway yesterday. As Cassidy Johnson explained in the introductory session, the network began in 2002 with just 20 people. This year an impressive 120 people are here in London, as the network continues to grow.

    The first keynote session set out some of the key questions to be discussed over the forthcoming days. Allan Lavell asked “does transformation within reconstruction take into consideration the context appropriately?” He elaborated on two modes of reconstruction: expensive retrofitting against disasters on the one hand, and an understanding of reconstruction and recovery in terms of everyday risk on the other.

    Jennifer Duyne focused on the opportunities for reconstruction, suggesting there is a need for more local involvement in devising appropriate solutions to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and reconstruction, particularly in informal settlements. Stronger collaborations between humanitarian and reconstruction agencies could go a long way towards making this a reality.

    Situating the conversation within the urban context, the focus of this year’s event, Graham Saunders asked what does it mean to operationalise a specifically urban DRR and reconstruction? He went on to expand on the opportunities that exist within cities for collaborations across different types of groups and institutions.

    ASC_6032

    Across the three days of the i-Rec 2015 conference there are 14 sessions. the plenary sessions apart,  these are grouped into six thematic roundtables and associated sessions.

    Roundtable 1: Disasters in Urban Contexts

    These conversations focused on the spatial dimensions of ‘the city’ as a space where disasters, and recovery/reconstruction occur. Specifically, what do planning decisions made in one part of the city mean for others? And how can interventions be scaled up? An interesting discussion emerged out of the differences in resilience and the capacity to respond of ‘stress cities’ – which may face a more diverse set of hazards – versus ‘shock cities’, set up to cope with larger, more clearly observed hazards.

    Roundtable 3A: Linking a past, present, and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design, and its influences on urban recovery

    Two presentations were made, by Camilla Wirsching Fuentes on open space in San Pedro de la Paz, Chile and by Rachel Valbrun on DRR in post-blitz London and post-earthquake Port-au-Prince. The speakers drew upon their personal connections to recent disasters in these places. In their critiques they drew attention to the trade-offs that seem to exist between urban planning and DRR and recovery, such as the pressing needs for shelter and the benefits of keeping more open space so planning can take place with a longer-term perspective.

    ASC_6014

    Roundtable 6: The role of local governments in recovery

    The four presentations in this session offered some interesting case study examples – from Chile, Iran, New Zealand and the Philippines – with rich empirical evidence on how states performed post-disaster from varying perspectives – researchers, practitioners and varying outcomes. A key topic of conversation centred on who leads the reconstruction in different geographies. Where the local government coordinates this they can be left exposed to blame and criticism if the process in efficient or ineffective, whereas the private sector has different levels of involvement in each of the cases. The fundamental question that the panel were ultimately unable to agree upon was ‘How can reconstruction support local government?’

    Roundtable 3B: Culture, place, and identities in urban disaster recovery

    This Roundtable discussed the connections between people, place, culture and risks. The question of who decides what risk is and what is the perception of risk relates to the question of what is it that forms people’s attachment to place. Culture was discussed as something beyond the built environment and more about the people, not just the monuments – expanding the definition of cultural heritage to include the day-to-day lives and activities of people. In the process of recovery, what role does culture play and what impact does recovery have on culture, especially in the case of displacement?

    143622092933267.jpeg

    Book Launch and Discussion: Shelter after Disaster by Ian Davis

    The first day concluded with a discussion on the publication of a new second edition Ian Davis’ book; the first edition was published in 1978. Ian expressed some of his observations about what has and has not changed in the last 20 years of DRR. Accountability still remains an important topic when considering the range of actors involved in relief and reconstruction efforts. A paternalist idea of what constitutes good practice also remains – the consequences of this include half empty temporary settlements and inappropriate transitional shelters, showing tangible areas that can be improved upon.

    In terms of what has changed though, he sees better cash and rental support, and an appreciation that disasters occur not only in rural areas of developing countries, but in impact developed countries and – importantly in the context of the conversations taking place in this conference – in urban areas. Nevertheless the growing urban populations that have brought more attention to urban risks constitute a formidable challenge that has seen escalating casualties at the hands of natural disasters over the past two decades.

    ASC_6085https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/wp-admin/post.php?post=7429&action=edit

    The respondents were also keen to flag up some of the challenges we still face, and have not resolved in this period. These include a need to evolve beyond needs assessments, a reluctance to fully learn and incorporate the lessons of the past, and an observation that so-called transitional settlements invariably remain so, very often becoming permanent.

    In addition new issues, such as rental housing and urban planning, and coordinated technical assistance are now more fully on the agenda. Maggie Stevenson commented that the value of the book is being ‘not about the people, but about us’, asking the critical question: are we doing what we are supposed to do?

    Day 2 is already well underway. You can follow the live updates and conversations via #irec2015 on Twitter, and look out for the day 2 blog tomorrow.


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Garima Jain, Lisa Bornstein, Sneha Krishnan, Rachel Valbrun and Elizabeth Wagemann for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    The 7th i-Rec conference is here!

    By Sneha Krishnan, on 6 July 2015

    iRec

    For the past few weeks I have had the i-Rec conference on my mind, while ensuring CGI gets delivered to remotest regions in Nepal. Now I am in London UCL, to welcome 120 registered participants to the 7th international conference brought together by i-Rec, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL) and official sponsors International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB).

    The innovative conference format includes 14 round table sessions, 7 plenary sessions, London reconstruction walking tour, key note presentations and also introducing the book launch of the Second Edition of the Reconstruction Text-Book “Shelter After Disaster, by Ian Davis”, which was originally published in 1978 by Oxford Polytechnic Press.

    This 7th biennial conference looks at the following sub-themes: 1) Disasters in urban context, 2) Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities, 3)Linking a past, present and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design and its influence on urban recovery, 4) Supporting urban risk reduction through reconstruction, 5) Relocation from hazardous areas and 6) Local governments, urban governance and institutions.

    There are participants from both academic and practitioner backgrounds presenting research across both urban and rural contexts, and debating the major issues revolving in themes and trends in disaster recovery and reconstruction. What entails in the organising of such a conference of massive scale and what lessons can be drawn from such a collaboration of high levels of expertise and experience?

    The conference had initially received 85 abstracts which were blind, peer-reviewed by 13 members of the scientific committee requesting for further details, improvements and encouraging practice-based approach, threading a balance between empirically-rich practice accounts with academic rigour and methodological preciseness.

    For the next three days delegates from across 22 countries have gathered to hear from and discuss new areas of research and collaboration on disaster recovery and reconstruction in urban areas. More details are available on the conference programme and abstracts online.


    Sneha Krishnan is doctoral candidate at University College of London. She is based between the school of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering Department and The Bartlett Development  Planning Unit. She is also  a member of various academic and professional bodies such as EWB-UK, SanCop, IRDR, and RedR India. This posted originally appeared on her personal blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, for real-time conference commentary @snek87.