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    The Amazonian city in Peru at crossroads

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 3 August 2017

    The contemporary urbanisation of Amazonas is a geopolitical creation, and a recent phenomenon. For long time native communities have been living in sparse, often isolated, settlements. Adapting to the mutable conditions of the river, they created a system based on mobility, economic diversification and ‘multi-sited territorial appropriation’ (Peluso and Alexiadis, 2016). Such use and production of space was and still is disarticulated from any single master principle of spatial organization and from usual dichotomies such as rural/urban and public/private. Starting from the 1960s, extractive activities favoured rural-urban migration. Cities such Iquitos, Tarapoto and Puerto Maldonado in Peru, Leticia in Colombia, Belem and Manaus in Brazil grew immensely in few decades. Rural population moved to the cities, settling along the river, often retaining the traditional spatial organisation. Their survival is now threatened by climate change and flooding risk, coupled with recession and growing unemployment following the recent decline of oil extraction. Exploitation of resources prevented the growth of productive activities offering now little alternative sources of income to the urban population.

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    It is in this complex context that the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA), led by Pablo Vega-Centeno at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by the BUDD alumna Belén Desmaison (PUCP), with the involvement of DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo, is developing a participatory process with local communities, local authorities and the national government to co-produce sustainable spatialities and promote alternative livelihoods systems in the Amazonas, starting from local technologies and knowledges. The project aims to create evidence-based methodology for a more participatory implementation process of preventive relocations. The project looks at the city of Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon, where a massive relocation process of around 16,000 people living in the flood-prone low-district of Belén is undergoing amid great difficulties and resistance. The government-led relocation has been implemented following a DRM policy released in 2011 and as part of the national programme “Programa Nuestras Ciudades”; despite many positive pioneering aspects, the decision-making process was centralised and the project poorly articulated, failing to capture the socio-spatial complexity of the context. Particularly, the relocation threatens the traditional spatial organisation of Amazon’s communities, negatively impacting the livelihoods system.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Approximately 200 families have been relocated to date. However, the decision whether to move or not is creating tensions and conflicts amongst the remaining groups, as highlighted in earlier research conducted by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) as part of the research “Reducing Relocation Risk in Urban Areas” led by Cassidy Johnson at DPU.  If, on one side, relocation can improve health condition and security, on the other side it might result in greater impoverishment consequent to the loss of jobs and traditional ways of living. Currently, most of the population is against relocation. Lack of trust in the process, and the polarisation of political parties are poisoning the debate (Chavez, 2016). Understandably enough, relocation is, above all, a matter of the narrative that is created around it.

    Connected through a newly constructed road, Nuevo Belén is distant from the city of Iquitos, and from the Amazon River and its tributaries which are the main source of income. It is an artificial city that looks like a dorm, as few of the planned facilities have been built so far. Each family has been given a lot of around 120 sq.mt., out of which 40 are occupied by the house. The housing typology is far from reflecting the social organisation and the constructive tradition, let aside being suitable to the climate. Reason why most of the dwellers have already transformed the space. Shelters on stilts are popping up where the ‘gardens’ should be, while the concrete houses serve as shops. Productive spaces (‘huertas’) are mushrooming around the houses as a consequence of informal appropriation of land, although under temporary deals – as the land will be soon occupied by the second round of housing construction.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Starting from the ‘huertas’, the workshop that took place in July in Nuevo Belén focused on alternative design proposals for the creation of self-sufficient systems to ensure the economic sustainability of resettlement, and to create new livelihoods options. Proposals, developed by an interdisciplinary team of PUCP students and validated by the community, investigate what technologies and construction techniques are better adaptable to the context in social, spatial and climatic terms (particularly related to solar energy and rain collection).

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Clearly, Amazonian cities posit great challenges, particularly to those communities affected by economic recession, settled on flood-prone areas and at risk of relocation. It is necessary to think a different urbanisation, flexible, adaptive and temporal, more similar to the tradition of disperse settlement of the native communities. Relocation should be conceptualised as an urbanism in flux characterised by interconnected mobilities and heterogeneity (Browder and Godfrey, 1997); and its open spaces should not be purely private nor merely public and should be understood as in-between spaces, reproduced through mobility that is constitutive of this urbanity in flux.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA


    DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo are involved in the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA) that looks at the Amazonian city of Iquitos. The project is led by Pablo Vega-Centeno of the Centro de Investigación, Arquitectura y Ciudad (CIAC), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by Belén Desmaison (PUCP and DPU alumna). As part of the project, in July Giovanna Astolfo participated to the workshop ‘Taller Partecipativo’ in Nuevo Belen with CASA team and students from PUCP.

    https://casapucp.com/

    CASA is part of the CRC Initiative funded by CDKN, IRDC and FFLA. https://crclatam.net/

    Climate-induced resettlement risk

    By Charlotte A Barrow, on 29 November 2016

    I attended the Hugo Conference in Liège/Luik, Belgium from the 3rd – 5th Nov. 2016. The conference marked the creation of The Hugo Observatory for Environmental Migration at the University of Liège, named for the Australian migration scholar Graeme Hugo. Designed to feed into the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) taking place in Marrakech a few days later, the conference focused on two areas that seem to be gaining attention in the global research and policy landscape: migration and climate change. Notwithstanding recent discussion on the interplay of these processes at high-profile events like the Habitat III conference in Quito, the merging of these two fields is relatively new. Thus, the majority of academics and policy-makers attending in Liège were expert in one or other of the fields – but not both; lending the conference a sense of forging new ground.

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    I was there to present on the project Reducing Resettlement and Relocation Risk in Urban Areas which I’ve worked on for the past year with DPU colleagues Cassidy Johnson, Colin Marx and Giovanna Astolfo, together with our international partners Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), and Makerere University. The focus of the research project is resettlement and relocation (R&R) policy and practice within and between cities, viewed from the lens of disaster risk reduction. We’ve looked at multiple drivers for R&R (e.g. decision-making, valuing processes, cost-benefit analyses etc.), from a variety of perspectives (individuals and households, neighbourhoods, governments) in urban centres in 5 countries across 3 continents. The project culminated in a workshop in Quito during the lead-up to Habitat III, which brought together 60 international academics, policymakers and representatives of NGOs with a special interest in R&R.

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Our research thereby forms part of the picture of environmental migration, by considering for example the role of climate change in increasing disaster risks and the ways this can lead to ‘voluntary’ or ‘involuntary’ movement of populations, as well as a focus on the need for more practical measures and implementation innovations to address the on-going problems plaguing many government interventions. However, while covering a wide geographic spread, our research takes a local, urban perspective and thereby differs from much of the work in the field that operates on a more macro level by interrogating international mobility flows and barriers and potential planning and policy implications globally.

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    In my presentation in Liège, I spoke about some of the key aspects of R&R within a disaster risk reduction framework, such as urbanisation and the pressure this puts on local governments’ resources and planning capacities. In my view, one of the most important aspects of R&R is the specific politics of decision-making in each initiative; e.g. who decides when a settlement is ‘untenable’ or a risk ‘un-mitigable’? What agendas are these decision-makers fulfilling? What importance is given to the value systems and long-term development needs of the populations at risk? R&R approaches that focus solely on the immediate imperative of getting people ‘out of harm’s way’ and ignore longer-term outcomes are partly enabled by the often theoretical and future-looking nature of risk and of climate science. This interacts with the language and popular understandings of climate change. While many incidences of migration are spurred by disasters resulting from environmental instability experienced by populations, R&R initiatives cloaked in the rhetoric of climate change mitigation and adaptation can at times mask a range of other drivers, and may do more harm than good for vulnerable populations.

    These issues have been considered in varying depth in a range of locations through our and others’ research, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. One of the recent outputs of our project was a series of four policy briefs: one for each region included in the project and one that built on the outcomes of our Quito workshop (available on our website, see link above). This is hopefully a small contribution to addressing the enormous global need for a shift to thinking about climate-induced R&R that takes into account longer-term development planning needs.


    Charlotte Barrow is a research assistant at UCL working on projects relating to climate change and urban resilience. She has lived and studied in Canada, Sweden and the UK and is beginning a PhD on the use of local knowledge in climate change adaptation.

    Mapping Everyday and Episodic Risks

    By Rita Lambert, on 1 December 2015

    The cLIMA sin Riesgo research project in Lima, Peru, adopts participatory mapping as a means to gather quantitative and qualitative information to capture varying degrees of natural and man-made conditions of vulnerability that affect women and men living in the center and in the periphery of the city. The process is designed to open up dialogue between various stakeholders, with the aim of informing the design of interventions that prevent and reduce risks.

    To better understand the everyday risks that inhabitants of the two case study sites are exposed to, we spatialise our inquiry capturing how these risks are distributed and where they accumulate in space (Figure 1). This is a necessary step in identifying how, and where, risk traps need to be disrupted. Preliminary findings suggest that actions taken in one place to mitigate risk may, in effect, externalise the risk to other locations. Hence mapping to make visible the interdependencies that constitute and shape a given territory becomes a vital step in our enquiry, particularly as we seek to devise solutions for an integrated, and co-produced planning.

    Figure 1. Drone image of Barrios Altos used to identify residential plots, cultural heritage buildings and other uses such as storage, which is defacing the historic centre. Photo: Rita Lambert

    Figure 1. Drone image of Barrios Altos used to identify residential plots, cultural heritage buildings and other uses such as storage, which is defacing the historic centre. Photo: Rita Lambert

    This notion of interdependencies materialise at different scales in both Barrios Altos (BA) and José Carlos Mariátegui (JCM). Therefore the analysis is undertaken at various scales. In BA, some of the quintas (multi familiar residential plots) that have private ownership, also present a weakened social organisation.  The quinta, which used to function as an identifiable unit, with common areas and the shared goal amongst residents to improve these areas collectively, now works as a group of individual structures.  The impact of such changes is noted as some households undertake improvement works and in doing so, move away from the traditional one storey structure made of adobe, replacing it with multi-storey brick and concrete buildings. As the structural integrity of the buildings are weakened due to the disparate materials used, the residents are differentially exposed to risk. Besides the increased physical risks that such practices bring, the weakened collective action and organisation also increases the vulnerability of residents to land trafficking activities.

    Figure 2. Surveying team in action in BA. Photo Rita Lambert

    Figure 2. Surveying team in action in BA. Photo Rita Lambert

    Moving out of the quinta and analysing the scale of the manzana (block), it is possible to capture the increasing threats which are claiming the Historic Centre. Land speculation is leading to the slow eviction of  many vulnerable tenants. Moreover, the cancerous growth of storage facilities, also increases the likelihood of fires with the storage of highly flammable materials. If a quinta is adjacent to any of these conditions, it is also more vulnerable, as different land use types interact to increase risk.

    In JCM, the interdependencies materialise on the slope. Risk is unevenly distributed with those higher up the slope having to pay more to mitigate risk and make the area habitable. However the occupation in the higher parts, as well as the opening up of roads by large scale land traffickers to capitalise in this area, also increases risk for the lower parts e.g rock falls etc. The latter also have to invest to cope with this risk. Hence mapping at the scale of settlements can make visible where risk mitigation strategies are taken and where risk is externalised to.

    Figure 3. Undercutting of slope to create a habitable plot led, in this case, to the partial collapse of the foundation of an existing structure. Photo: Rita Lambert

    Figure 3. Undercutting of slope to create a habitable plot led, in this case, to the partial collapse of the foundation of an existing structure. Photo: Rita Lambert

    Having analysed how risk is mapped by various institutions in Lima, the project acknowledges the need to work at a finer scale. Many of the official maps homogenise risk painting large areas in red, whilst a more grainier and differentiated understanding of everyday risk is sought in this project. For this purpose, the base maps used also need to be at a level which show subdivisions in built structures. As the Cadastral Institute of Lima only provides the information at manzana or plot level, the SEDAPAL maps are hereby used as a base because  they show water connection in every household and thus capture subdivisions. Furthermore, in the process of data collection, high resolution drone images for each area are used in a process of manual mapping (Figure 1) undertaken in parallel to digital mapping using EpiCollect+, a free application on smartphones which enables the digitalisation of surveys as these are collected.

    Figure 4. Inhabitants of JCM indentifying their plots and the limits of their settlements. Photo: Rita Lambert

    Figure 4. Inhabitants of JCM indentifying their plots and the limits of their settlements. Photo: Rita Lambert

    Departing from the need to map everyday risks at various scales, the project will undertake geo-referenced surveys in both areas at: 1) the household level, to assess the individual investments made to mitigate risk; and 2) at the quinta level in BA and the settlement level in JCM, to assess the collective investments.  The data collection takes a significant representative number: in BA, 30% of quintas in a manzana (40 manzanas in total are chosen, representing half of BA area) and in JCM, 30% of occupied plots for each of the 11 settlements under study. The participatory nature of the process involves capacity building in mapping, the integration of residents in data collection, and the co-design of the survey to include information that inhabitants deem important to them. This means that the method is also used to strengthen existing processes of change, particularly supporting social mobilisation and integrated planning. In BA, community leaders, accompany the fieldwork, sharing information and communicating with others in their neighborhood. This is a necessary step to promote collective action and resist unwanted changes. In JCM, on the other hand, identifying the various investments made over time in each settlement, and making visible the increased investments that need to be made to continue this form of urbanisation raises consciousness of the ripple effect created by atomised actions upon the territory.  This paves the way for an integrated planning between settlements but also more coordinated actions between inhabitants and state agencies.

    For more information of the research project cLIMA sin Riesgo please visit the site: http://www.climasinriesgo.net/

    You can also access some of the outputs released so far in the following links:

    Newsletter No 1, June 2015 “Reframing Urban Risks”

    Policy Brief: No 1, June 2015 “Urban Risk: In search of new perspectives”

    Video Interview with Principal Investigator of cLima sin Riesgo, Adriana Allen, about the importance of amplifying knowledge of everyday and episodic risks and the objectives of the project

     


    Rita Lambert is a teaching fellow at the Development Planning Unit, UCL, where she is primarily engaged in the planning and delivery of the practice module of the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development.

    Originally from Ethiopia, she undertook her university studies in Edinburgh and London. She graduated from the Architectural Association in London, where she later taught for 4 years in the final years of the Diploma in Architecture.  In 2009, she studied in the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development, at the Development Planning Unit , UCL.

    Her particular interest lies in mapping, as a tool which can be adopted by ordinary citizens to navigate institutional barriers and expand the room for manoeuvre towards environmentally just urbanisation.

    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

    Keep it simple: helping local governments reduce the risk from the next disaster

    By Cassidy A Johnson, on 26 March 2015

    The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction aims to make communities safer in the face of new disasters but could complex guidance be confusing issues?

    Flooding in cities like Dar es Salaam disrupts urban life on a seasonal basis. How can international frameworks, like the HFA II address these everyday risks?

    Flooding in cities like Dar es Salaam disrupts urban life on a seasonal basis. How can international frameworks, like the HFA II address these everyday risks?

    Four years after a powerful earthquake triggered tsunami waves that destroyed much of Japan’s northeastern coast, I joined a group visiting a peninsula connected to the mainland by a bridge that was obliterated by the tsnunami’s towering wave. I was in Japan for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which was looking at how to respond to future disasters.

    Tragically, during the earthquake, a semi-truck toppled over and blocked the bridge so that when the tsunami hit, people could not evacuate the area.

    The visit was a sobering reminder of the importance of properly managing the risks associated with natural hazards. What is needed to enable cities like Sendai to address disaster risks in the future?

    Hyogo Framework for Action II

    At the conference, governments adopted a new framework to guide government, civil society and donor actions on managing the risks associated with natural hazards for the next 15 years. The framework was signed ten years after the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction.

    While the new framework includes many different ways to approach the reduction of disaster risks, the lack of specific targets was disappointing. Earlier drafts of the agreement had set out percentage-based targets that governments would need to report on. However in the final negotiated framework, these were removed, which is a great shame.

    Ben Wisner argues that the seven new targets do not prioritise building local community and local government capacity to make their citizens safer.

    Years of advocacy have led to an understanding that, with preparedness and good risk governance, it is possible to greatly reduce the impacts of disasters. Most governments acknowledge this, and have been working to support disaster risk reduction, along with donors and civil society.

    How can we operationalise risk reduction?

    We need to focus now on how this should be done. What are the processes and actions needed to reduce disaster impacts? How can limited resources be best used to tackle the risks of disasters? So it was important that the overarching discussions at the conference related to operationalising disaster risk reduction.

    There are many ways to approach this, and perhaps action is needed on all fronts. We know that poverty and other forms of inequality make some people more susceptible to disasters when a hazard does strike.

    We also know that small-scale disasters which happen regularly (but often do not make the international news), cause more losses overall than do the large events. Tackling those vulnerabilities and focusing on both big and small-scale disasters is important.

    The role of local government      

    The new framework does specifically acknowledge the role of local governments in risk reduction, and the importance of tackling disaster risks in urban areas to reduce the impact of both large and small-scale disasters that are increasing in intensity as urban areas grow and urban populations expand.

    The UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign, an advocacy campaign which aims to get local governments to address risks as front-line responders, has already had over 2500 local governments sign up to it.

    However, it’s clear that local governments need more guidance on what to do. They especially need more guidance on how to address the most acute risks now and into the future through low-cost, implementable actions.

    So, what does this look like from the perspective of local government? It means learning from other cities that face similar kinds of hazards through exchanges that build the capacity of local government and people to take action in their city are important.

    It could also involve assisting cities to address basic infrastructure deficits and working with local planners and civil society groups to help them think about disaster risks in their work.

    Tools promoting urban resilience

    One of the tools that the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) campaign uses is the 10-Essentials for Making Cities Resilient. It’s a ten-point, simple checklist that is a version of the main framework, but aimed at local governments.

    I have recently been involved in a revision of the 10 Essentials, which were originally developed in line with the priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Our aim was to update them to become more operational.

    We have managed to flesh out the 10-essentials with more details but, in my view, we need to be careful that they do not become overly complicated. Their complexity risks alienating the very local governments they are aimed at. The aim needs to be a simple set of goals that helps local governments with limited budgets and capacities develop a plan of action .

    Connecting cities

    We had a lot of discussions at the conference about how to build the capacity of local governments to take action on risk reduction. UNISDR is establishing a new platform, called Resilient Cities Connect which aims to bring together knowledge about risk reduction across cities.

    A session about the new platform featured presentations both from local governments in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and from a wide range of expert groups, such as AECOM and C40.

    Are global responses relevant to local challenges?

    In my view, the expert group presentations seemed to be highly technical, and aimed at cities with big budgets to invest in expensive consultancies and equipment. At the end of the session, a woman from a local government municipality, Kisumu, Kenya, with a population of around 400,000 people put up her hand and said: “What do I take home from this session? What is it that I can implement in my city? We have four computers in my municipality.

    As small and medium cities are expanding rapidly, this is where disaster risks are accumulating and will continue to grow. Municipalities like Kisumu are on the front line of disaster risk reduction. If we can help them work with their residents to address disaster risks, then we will all win.


    Cassidy Johnson is a Senior Lecturer at the DPU on urban resilience and disaster risk reduction and recovery in cities. She is currently leading the DPU’s part of the Urban Africa Risk Knowledge project, which explores the relationships between urbanisation, poverty and environmental risk in small and medium sized cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The project aims to support local knowledge and preparedness to risk.

    This blog was originally posted on the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) blog on Wednesday 25 March 2015.