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UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Archive for June, 2013

Fieldtrip on Organising Post Disaster Reconstruction

By Fatemah Arefian, on 28 June 2013

Even though it is important to understand how reconstruction programmes are organised in order to reduce future disaster risks, there is a gap in theory in that it lacks a conceptual model or analytical framework for understanding and analysing the reality of organising post-disaster reconstruction programmes. I am addressing this gap in theory my PhD research by employing organisation theory in parallel with disaster studies in order to understand organisation design and implementation of the multi-organisational reconstruction programmes, which are participatory, and also aim to contribute to future disaster risk reduction.

In May 2013 I conducted some fieldwork to research the case study of the housing reconstruction programme in Bam (Iran) after the destructive earthquake on 26th December 2003, which killed more than 30,000 people (one third of the population), and destroyed 85% of the buildings. Case study research is an important part of my PhD research. The housing programme in Bam was participatory and gathered many different organisations together from all around the country in order to rebuild 32,000 houses. Having already undertaken pilot interviews, this fieldtrip was mainly aimed at undertaking in-depth interviews with knowledgeable and key people in the organisations involved, at both national and local levels, as well as other organisations related to the programme. During the course of this 34-day fieldtrip I undertook 51 in-depth qualitative interviews, which took a total of around 92 hours.

The challenge of interviewing key people from many different organisations was to track down and access them. As a participant observer at the time of the programme, I personally knew some of the interviewees, but not many of them. Also, the official reconstruction period was a long time ago (3 years, from 2004 to 2006). Some of the interviewees had since moved to other organisations, some had retired since then and some are now high-level managers, making it difficult to arrange interviews. Fortunately my still existing professional/academic network in the country was very supportive and made many more interviews possible that would have been difficult without them.

Local people also were among my interviewees’ list. I wanted to know the life history of the reconstruction of their homes and their experiences. I also wanted to know how the programme was working for different groups of people. The challenge here was to avoid the use of any jargon. The hospitality of the local people of Bam is unforgettable.








Interview with local people in Bam

During the fieldtrip I heard about the practical questions, which must be answered quickly in such chaotic situation of aftermath, and I observed how different answers create different results and experiences.

It was interesting to understand the importance of the accumulated practice-based knowledge, from post-war (Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988) reconstruction and beyond, in the country. There is a continuum of the experiences of using a range of approaches, and the Bam experience should be positioned within this continuum.

The fieldwork also shed light on the importance of the urban development context, and the influence of existing practices, trends and issues on the formation and implementation of the reconstruction programme. The reconstruction programme in Bam was seen as an opportunity by many organisations to address the existing urban development issues.

This fieldtrip was a milestone in the process of my research. I learned about the formation, and how it worked and evolved from different participant organisations’ perspectives and experiences. It was exciting to understand the emerging themes, overlapping/verifying themes and making sense of the big picture.

I would like to thank the UCL IRDR for financially supporting this fieldtrip.


Blog post by Fatemah Arefian, who is a PhD student in the UCL Development Planning Unit and a member of the UCL IRDR



Two NGOs set up by the young people of Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 7 June 2013

Dr Joanna Faure Walker visited Rikuzentakata, one of the worst affected towns in the Iwate Prefecture, as part of the Great East Japan Earthquake EEFIT return mission. While there, she and her associates met with two NGOs: ‘Save Takata’ and ‘Sakura Line’ that were set up following the disaster.

Okamoto Shoma  and his mother Keiko Shoma in the Save Takata office

Okamoto Shoma and his
mother Keiko Shoma in the
Save Takata office,

In March 2011, Okamoto Shoma was a twenty-year-old architecture student in Tokyo who had grown up in Rikuzentakata. Following the tsunami, Okamoto and some class mates from Tokyo spent one and a half days driving to Rikuzentakata with recovery supplies and gasoline.  Communications were down so Okamoto could not contact his mother, Keiko, whose house in Rikuzentakata had been destroyed by the tsunami. Fortunately he found her in an evacuation centre.

During the first month after the disaster, there were many requests from those outside the region about the residents’ safety and to make donations. Okamoto and his classmates formed Save Takata to help with coordination of the relief work; public services provided large-scale food and services, but additional help was needed to get smaller donations and reach small groups that needed assistance. It currently has a number of activities to help Rikuzentakata and its residents:

  1. Acting as a conduit and passive coordinator for people in Tokyo who want to donate money and expertise (examples include teaching and entertainment such as dance shows).
  2. Making up-to-date maps of Rikuzentakata permanent and temporary structures showing shop locations and distributing them to residents.  (Initially conditions were changing rapidly so maps were updated every two months, going forward they will be updated every six months.)
  3. Promoting Rikuzentakata products and selling them in Tokyo and other big cities. (In 2011, 200,000 volunteers went to Rikuzentakata and in 2012 there were 130,000; Save Takata hopes to use this network)
  4. Providing internet services and I.T. training for small businesses.
  5. Informing residents and businesses about which relevant schemes are available to help them from around the country. (A particularly popular donation – especially amongst the elderly population – were small Buddha statues for people’s temporary homes.)
  6. Coordinating entertainment events such as festivals for children.  (Keiko explained that although two years after the event the housing situation has become stable, people are bored and need community activities.)
  7. Renting a house for visiting volunteers; this house also acts as a meeting place and hub for activities for young people.

The Prefectural Government has made arrangements to employ people and dispatch them into jobs in NGOs; three of Save Takata’s eight full-time staff are with this scheme. Save Takata also has 2 part-time staff and 30 volunteer members. All staff originally volunteered their time, but now some salaries are being paid.  In the early stages they relied on donations from private companies, however now they need to apply for support from both the private and public sectors.  The organization is trying to transform from being a voluntary organization to having an increased amount of self-funding from the activities it organizes.

Save Takata’s future plans include producing a manual comprising the lessons learnt from setting up and running a NGO in a post disaster situation and being a NGO coordinator in potential future disasters as they recognize in a large disaster it is important to have good communication, coordination and organization between the different parties in the recovery process.

Okamoto is now also helping Sakura Line  – the NGO that shares an office with Save Takata in a one-year-old temporary shopping centre – that was started by Hashizume Takumi.

Temporary shopping centre housing Save Takata and Sakura Line

Temporary shopping centre housing
the offices of
Save Takata and Sakura Line

Hashizume, who acted as a volunteer fireman helping people evacuate and closing the tsunami gate, escaped to high ground with only a few minutes to spare before the tsunami arrived.  The disaster killed over fifty of his family and friends. Hashizume saw on television that historical tsunami had reached sacred places within cities in the region; he was angered when he saw there was a stone in Hinota marking where a historical tsunami had reached with a message instructing not to build houses lower than it. Hashizume feels it is his duty to pass on the message to future generations so decided to start Sakura Line, a project to create a continuous line of trees marking the border of the 2011 tsunami inundation.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.  The local government is currently raising the ground level to 12m above sea level  before reconstructing the town.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part
of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is
where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.
The local government is currently raising the
ground level to 12m above sea level before
reconstructing the town.

The first trees were planted near the Judo Temple and other sites around Rikuzentakata. So far they have planted 520 trees.   If completed, the line will extend beyond the city to become 170km long comprising 17,000 cherry trees. It is anticipated that it will take many years to finish. These trees live for about 100yrs so it is hoped that future generations will care for the trees and keep the line going. I hope his project receives the support it needs and acts as a successful reminder to future generations to help reduce the risk from future tsunami.



For more information on these projects see http://www.savetakata.org/en/ and http://www.sakura-line311.org/.

Dr Joanna Faure Walker was funded by EPSRC through EEFIT (http://www.eefit.org.uk). A new EEFIT report about observations made on the most recent trip in June 2013 will be available soon. The IRDR Special Report 2013-01 provides details about the observed damage and recovery of the Great East Japan Earthquake at and Tsunami in October 2012 (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/rdr/publications/IRDR-Special-Report-UK-Japan-Workshop) and the EEFIT Report provides observations from May-June 2011 (http://www.istructe.org/webtest/files/1d/1d158684-b77b-4856-99f8-2522fa25533b.pdf).