Haiti earthquake: Lessons from tsunami – no quick fix for reconstruction

04/02/2010

Lessons learnt after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami show that the international community must not rush into a quick-fix rebuilding of permanent homes, schools and other buildings in Haiti, said the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) today.

If necessary, rebuilding should be delayed to leave time for proper planning, so that reconstruction leaves the Haitian people better protected from hurricanes and earthquakes than they were before the January 12th earthquake.

Brendan Gormley, Chief Executive of the DEC, said: “Right now the Haitian people need good quality temporary accommodation and emergency relief. But we are also looking at how we can help people to rebuild their lives over the next three years, leaving Haiti better prepared for future natural disasters.

“It’s important to learn from the Indian Ocean tsunami, after which the DEC aid agencies faced unprecedented devastation. A key lesson is not to rebuild houses and public buildings too quickly but to take the time to get it right.”

Homes need to be designed and constructed to be earthquake resistant and to withstand hurricanes, sited in suitable locations to reduce risk from flooding and landslides, and adequately supplied by services such as sewerage and water.

According to a recent independent report by engineering, planning and design consultants Arup, DEC agencies and their partners in Aceh worked to build back better and reduce vulnerability to natural hazards, with high occupancy rates of the resulting homes reflecting the quality of construction. However, the report noted some early mistakes in Aceh that resulted partly from a desire to move too quickly to deliver permanent homes for affected people.

Report lead author Jo da Silva, who heads Arup’s International Development team, said: “After the tsunami, the DEC aid agencies recognised the opportunity of re-construction as a catalyst for recovery and to reduce people’s vulnerability to future hazards. As a result the legacy they left is more than bricks and mortar, and the experience provides invaluable lessons for reconstruction in Haiti.”

Other post-tsunami lessons for humanitarian and construction professionals include:

  • Ensuring effective strategic planning and cooperation between all agencies.
  • Making greater use of the construction sector’s expertise by engaging construction experts as consultants or partnering with the private sector.
  • Involving affected people at all stages, to ensure that new homes are appropriate for their needs.
  • Avoiding a ‘one-size fits all’ approach focusing on providing homes, and instead focusing on providing assistance to rebuild homes and communities.
  • Being clear about land rights before building commences.

To stay up to date with the emergency response in Haiti follow the DEC on twitter at http://twitter.com/decappeal or become a fan of ‘Disasters-Emergency-Committee-DEC’ on Facebook.

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Notes to editors

  • To make a postal donation make cheques payable to ‘DEC Haiti Earthquake Appeal’ and mail to: PO Box 999, London, EC3A 3AA. Donations can be made at www.dec.org.uk or 0370 60 60 900.
  • To donate at any high street bank or Post Office quote Freepay 1449.
  • Text “GIVE” to 70077 to give £5 to the DEC Haiti Earthquake Appeal. £5 goes to the DEC. You pay £5 plus the standard network SMS rate.
  • The DEC consists of: Action Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, World Vision.
  • DEC criteria to launch an appeal: The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift International humanitarian assistance. The DEC agencies, or some of them, must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national Appeal. There must be reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal would be successful, either because of evidence of existing public sympathy for the humanitarian situation or because there is a compelling case indicating the likelihood of significant public support should an appeal be launched.
  • The independent Arup report, ‘Lessons from Aceh: Key Considerations in Post-Disaster Reconstruction’ was prepared for the DEC and published December 2009. Further details can be found on our tsunami five year anniversary page here [7mb .pdf]