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Lessons for Building Back Better

Ripin Kalra, a senior research fellow at the University of Westminster, revisited three disaster-reconstruction sites in India, two earthquake sites and one affected by a super-cyclone. The visit came 15 years after his original visits in the immediate aftermath of the disaster(s).

The humanitarian sector is seeking ways and means to improve standards of 'shelter'
delivered by humanitarian agencies. The author concludes that there are several lessons that can be learned in order to build back better'' in future.

1. Consult the community on impact before implementing plans. There is a substantial transition period between emergency relief and reconstruction. Architects and other built environmental professionals should engage with communities to review the impact of any
reconstruction plans on the community. Such consultation should be extended to include any socially disadvantaged groups.

2. Building back better, not necessarily faster. There are enormous pressures to build permanent buildings and re-house faster. Preparing and engaging a community takes time and (unless the weather is extremely harsh) permanent shelter may be less  important than investing in the future sustainability of the community. These can include discussing design opportunities for change, strengthening social/ cultural - networks through design and layouts, providing safe building skills, new sources of income and restoring community confidence.

3. Relocation as a last resort. Relocation can adversely affect the community economy as well as their social and cultural fabric. It should only be considered as the last resort if the site is geo-technically un-buildable.

4. Local building culture. Design of houses and choice of materials should consider the local building practices. Engineered structures are only a good investment if there are adequate resources to maintain and manage the building for its full design life.

5. Assuring quality. Currently a majority of reconstruction is carried out without any longterm assurance on design and construction quality. Architects should respond to the
communities as both clients and design partners. Architects should aim for a complete built environment, not just disaster-resistant shells for living. Good access, Water, sanitation and energy are all essential contributions to building back better.

6. Association. External agencies need to develop partnerships with local agencies and local government to extend their input in building back until there is a strong local base to build safely and monitor safety.

7. Trauma. As observed, trauma lasts for many years and Architects need to work with local community workers to overcome fears about buildings, through dialogue and design.

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