BUILDING BACK BETTER IN POST-DISASTER SINDH

Published October 2, 2022
<p>Navy personnel rescue flood-affected villagers in Dadu district on Sept 7.—Aamir Qureshi / AFP</p>

Navy personnel rescue flood-affected villagers in Dadu district on Sept 7.—Aamir Qureshi / AFP

The scale of the disaster from the recent rains and floods in Sindh is immense, with issues of displacement, lack of shelter, food security, disease and lost economic livelihoods and resources likely to bedevil the official response for many months, at the very least. It is dwarfed only by the effort required beyond the immediate emergency of rescue and survival, to rehabilitate and resettle the millions affected in the province.

We attempt to outline here a framework for the development of a response to the resettlement and housing needs of the households and habitations devastated by the floods in Sindh.

Read: Sindh’s faulty drain cannot cope with climate-induced deluge

According to the Daily Situation Report issued earlier this week by the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the number of households affected by the floods is almost 1.7 million with several hundreds of deaths, and over 20 percent of the province submerged in floodwater, it is inevitable that there cannot be a simple one-size-fits-all solution.

On the other hand, any assistance provided to the households does need to be based on common standards and principles, so that there is equity and transparency. The scale of the disaster also warrants a reasoned response that is within the resource capacities and capabilities of the province, so that no one is deprived of their due share of assistance and support.

After the immediate emergency of rescuing millions of those displaced in the province by the recent floods from the waters, from lack of food and shelter and from disease, will come the process of reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation.

As with the 2010 floods and the 2005 earthquake, the central ambition must be to Build Back Better so that the outcome of the reconstruction is not just a replacement or reinstatement of what the floods have washed away, but that every opportunity is taken to improve upon and make good the deficiencies that existed before the disaster.

‘Building Back Better’ refers not only to the reconstruction of houses and other physical structures and infrastructure, but the totality of the living environment: communities, social infrastructure and safety nets; it means enhancing livelihoods and reducing vulnerability, increasing opportunities and reducing constraints, increasing inclusiveness and reducing bias.

Housing is one, but a key component of this ambition, since it provides the place and defines the space that locates households within society and to a large extent determines what amenities and facilities they have access to. The process of housing, literally, helps build communities.

Guiding Principles

 Flood victims collect wet fodder from inundated land for their cattle in Hyderabad | APP
Flood victims collect wet fodder from inundated land for their cattle in Hyderabad | APP

We put forward some principles as a basis for the formulation of a policy and implementation strategies for reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement. With consensus on the principles, each district, taluka, village settlement and community can fine tune the details and make adjustments to suit their aspirations, needs and circumstances.

Enablement: Reconstruction and resettlement should follow the principles of enablement. Affected communities should be at the centre of decision-making. The purpose of financial and technical assistance should be to facilitate the owners to manage their own recovery.

Transparency and Accountability: Policies and implementation plans should be developed and communicated in an inclusive and transparent manner, and all actors involved should be accountable for their actions.

Timeliness: Resettlement and reconstruction should be promoted based on timeliness, practicality and safety in a time-bound manner, as any delays will increase the suffering of affected households and hamper development.

Appropriateness: Policies, guidelines, standards and implementation mechanisms should respect the local, social, cultural, economic and environmental context and priorities.

Community: Where feasible, the community should be encouraged to work as a group for resettlement and reconstruction, to strengthen the overall recovery process.

Vulnerability: Standardised assistance will be of greater relative benefit to the poor who have lesser resilience to disaster. Policies and implementation plans should take care to address the specific needs of vulnerable groups.

Gender: The key role of women in housing and settlement decisions should be reinforced through programme activities.

Livelihoods: Land development and housing reconstruction should be complemented by and linked to livelihoods and infrastructure support. Those technologies, materials and processes that can be locally procured should be given preference so as to retain and recycle funds and employment within the local communities.

Shelter Continuum: Inputs and activities from emergency shelter to reconstruction should be planned as stages of one continuum, to optimise use of resources and to expedite permanent recovery, and minimise waste and redundancy.

Sustainability and Risk Reduction: Long-term sustainability should be considered in decision-making and not only immediate reconstruction requirements. The overall recovery should contribute to risk reduction objectives.

Subsidiarity: To the extent possible, the implementation of the programme and its elements should be decentralised and devolved to the lowest possible level.

Policy Outlines

 Victims of Sindh floods find temporary respite in makeshift shelters in Hyderabad | APP
Victims of Sindh floods find temporary respite in makeshift shelters in Hyderabad | APP

It is essential to draw attention to the fact that any consideration of housing needs to be considered in consonance with and inextricably linked to policies and strategies for rural land for settlement.

Although this requires a full-fledged discussion separately, it is appropriate to restate the fundamental pillars of this policy:

Settlements: Wherever possible, the opportunity should be taken to improve settlement planning by reducing current and future risks and hazards. Any new provision of social and physical amenities or facilities should be installed to improve the efficiency of the settlement — for example, by acting as magnets to attract and direct housing and other future development, these will also double as safe muster points and their designs must provide appropriate access and space.

Where large numbers of households have been made “landless” and need relocating, compact settlements that are easier to service with infrastructure and protect from natural disasters, should be planned.

Where planning and settlement is, for some insurmountable reason, not immediately possible, a longer-term plan should be considered and all new and future structures located accordingly.

The key strategy is to strengthen multi-stakeholder participation in post-flood recovery through partnerships with elected local governments (and specialist organisational entities, see below) as a step towards introducing more participatory, responsive, enabling and accountable urban planning and urban management in the future.

Infrastructure: The provision and location of infrastructure should be such that it makes the settlement more efficient, by increasing its density and reducing travel times. Infrastructure provision plays a key role in directing future development by households and communities, prioritising drinking water; water for household use, drainage and sanitation; link/access roads and internal circulation.

Scope

Provided below is an outline of the basis for the formulation of a policy and implementation strategies for housing reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement. These policies and strategies will be further detailed and elaborated into implementation plans at the district level. It is important that the many prevailing local variations and circumstances are accommodated within an overall consistent policy to ensure “uniformity” of response throughout the province.

Objective

The overall objective of the resettlement and housing reconstruction policy is to ensure that the houses that were destroyed in the rains and floods will be rebuilt in a timely and efficient manner.

As per the Daily Situation Report issued by the PDMA, the number of people affected by the floods exceeds 10 million with several hundred deaths, and over 20 percent of the province submerged, the economic consequences of which, in terms of loss of production and livelihoods, are likely to continue over several years. This is, therefore, going to be a vast undertaking and requires the combined efforts of federal and provincial authorities, technical, humanitarian and civil society institutions working in partnership to support affected communities and households.

The scale of the disaster warrants a coordinated and reasoned response that falls within the country’s resource capacities and capabilities, and should be based on common standards and principles so that there is equity and transparency.

Central to the policy and strategy is the principle of enablement. It is understood that the primary responsibility and capacity lies with the households themselves to rebuild their homes and lives. The housing strategy is meant to support and facilitate this process with key inputs.

The aim of the housing reconstruction and rehabilitation programme must be to ‘build back better’ to take every opportunity to ensure settlements, reduce housing vulnerabilities, consider environmental sustainability and improve basic housing conditions, including household water and sanitation provision. ‘Building back better’ settlements and housing should ensure that skills and livelihoods are developed and enhanced.

Institutional Arrangements

It is critical that the reconstruction efforts in Sindh be coordinated at the provincial level by a single body. The pre-disaster risk reduction, mitigation and disaster preparedness as well as the post-disaster rescue and relief actions lie firmly in the purview of the PMDA, the statutory authority set up specifically for this purpose. However, given the magnitude of this task, it may be that an organisation needs to be established that has wider powers. In the notes below, we refer to this new apex organisation as the “Settlement and Housing Reconstruction Organisation” (SAHRO).

Settlement and Housing Reconstruction Organisation — SAHRO

SAHRO will be responsible for detailed planning and the overall coordination of implementation activities and actors. SAHRO will be established at the provincial level to facilitate the management of housing and settlement programme activities. It will:

Provide coordination and management support for a series of district level

Reconstruction Centres

 Families queue up outside flood relief camps to receive food in Sujawal | Online
Families queue up outside flood relief camps to receive food in Sujawal | Online

Convene district Housing and Settlement Task Forces (see below) to identify needs, support the development of district settlement recovery plans, and to review plans and progress

Manage the coordination of district level implementation of damage assessment, certification and financial disbursement

Manage the coordination of district level implementation of land issues including resettlement and new residential development

Provide technical advice and capacity building for the district Reconstruction Centres and the elected local governments, through mobile team expertise, including urban planning and urban development, planning and development control, infrastructure rehabilitation and planning, protection, mitigation and vulnerability reduction measures

Manage the allocation of community block grants for mitigation works

Facilitate and improve the building materials market, including conventional and local materials

It needs to be stressed that the idea is to provide temporary, high quality, technical support and capacity to address flood reconstruction planning and implementation and to strengthen its role as a convening apex authority, with broad-based participation by concerned authorities, civil society organisations, and affected communities.

The goal is to establish a more sustainable and responsive system of disaster risk management. The preparation of a district response plan, the allocation of a budget for community-based initiatives and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation should improve engagement, reinforce the objectives of partnership, action and accountability. It is not intended to inflate SAHRO into something unsustainable.

Reconstruction Centres

Reconstruction Centres will be established in every district, to support the districts in partnership with elected local governments. The Reconstruction Centres shall be supported by authorised technical implementing partners and will provide coordination and management support for the additional implementing partners operational in the district as well as providing direct programme services. Technical support is intended only to facilitate and optimise the resettlement and reconstruction process. The responsibility for decision making and for execution of the works remains with the affected households and communities. The Reconstruction Centres will:

Provide coordination, technical and management support for housing and settlement recovery

Establish a district Housing and Settlement Task Force to ensure stakeholder participation in planning and implementation. The task force should be comprised of technical, administrative and community representatives, education, religious and local leaders, with strong representation of women, as a consultation and advisory group to review plans, progress and impacts and ensure stakeholder participation

Develop, with support from SAHRO, a District Settlement and Housing Recovery Plan, to be reviewed on quarterly basis

Ensure that consistent information of the provincial government’s reconstruction policies and procedures is provided to beneficiaries

Monitor progress in reconstruction, including collection and reporting of field issues requiring policy actions by the provincial and federal authorities

Carry out certification of construction completion and compliance for district level compilation and processing of related data

Provide information management support for housing and settlement reconstruction

Provide guidance, training and information to local authorities, NGOs and communities on the recommended housing and settlement reconstruction programme, policies and procedures, building standards, building improvements and safer settlements

Coordinate and support skills development, including basic construction skills, building material production and risk reduction skills

Provide technical support for households to carry out repairs, rehabilitation or retrofitting

Construct model/demonstration houses, housing designs and provide on-site advice for houses under construction

Provide technical advice for water and sanitation rehabilitation, design or construction

Assist communities to plan and implement protection, mitigation and vulnerability reduction measures through block grant-funded programmes

Support community awareness and mobilisation activities on safer settlements and building back better

Facilitate and improve the building materials market, including conventional and local materials

The District Settlement and Housing Recovery Plan includes:

Identification of safe areas and those at high and frequent risk

Consideration of a more compact and consolidated settlement, especially if a large number of households have been made “landless”

Location of safe congregation points

Provision of improved link/access roads and internal circulation/paths

Provision of land for the settlement — for the current “landless” and the needs of future householdsIdentification of land for the location of social and community facilities and amenities

Measures to address encroachment and development/building control

Rehabilitation and planning of improved water for drinking and household use, drainage and sanitation services

Public awareness and sensitisation initiatives to promote building back better

Community block grant projects for Disaster Risk Management initiatives under the advice and/or supervision of the PDMA/DDMA.

Community and Consultation

Community

SAHRO, the district centres, the task forces and technical support partner organisations will endeavour to maximise the participation and ownership of community representatives in planning and implementation decision-making. Existing community institutions, where appropriate, will play a key role in community mobilisation.

The role of women, critical to the entire exercise, must be ensured in the decision-making and implementation of activities, including joint representation in the respective planning fora and dedicated separate representation and activities where appropriate. Vulnerable groups should be identified and a task force should develop mechanisms to assist the vulnerable in the affected community.

Communities will be encouraged and supported to work collectively in planning and implementation, building on existing strong social cohesion.

Communication

Gaps and delays in communication may lead to confusion, indecision, inaction and frustration on behalf of the affected community, assistance actors and the government.

In order to build a partnership approach for planning and implementation and to facilitate the timely recovery process of resettlement and reconstruction, it is essential to establish a strong communication and dialogue strategy. Communication shall be timely, frequent and accessible. Local institutions and community structures should play a lead role in communication.

An essential early task of the communications strategy will be to counter false and misleading rumours and promote greater awareness and transparency.

Decision-making will be transparent and inclusive. All policy decisions, technical standards, key messages and updates will be communicated through appropriate communication channels and through the preparation of user-friendly information materials.

The ever-increasing use of TV and, more recently, mobile phone penetration, allow for more immediate communications using Urdu and Sindhi languages and local dialects and visual imagery. These should be an integral component of the communications strategy, along with the more traditional use of mosques, schools, teachers and local government officials and other influential members to convey the intent and content of the housing policy.

Communication must be two-way and responsive to evolving needs. Frequently asked questions will be collected by the housing and settlement task force and tabled for responses at regular intervals.

Build Back Better

Housing Standards

Standards for housing reconstruction will be based on nationally acceptable standards in local and conventional techniques. Familiar building methods and easily accessible materials will be used. Improvements to local materials and techniques will be developed and promoted. Use of salvaged material will be prioritised. Standards will have due regard to flood, seismic and other hazards and to environmental performance according to area requirements.

Technical standards will be provided according to technique, with specifications in principle, to allow households maximum flexibility in the design of their home. Specific house design options will also be developed to help communicate the standards, including through model demonstrations and on-job trainings.

Model and type house designs and construction details will be developed and made widely available. These will aim to demonstrate:

What can be built within the financial assistance that exists (or may be available/provided in different areas/ locations)

How the core design can be extended to meet the needs of larger families

The key safety and risk-reduction techniques, especially for local and indigenous construction using locally available materials and skills

A series of levels-of-risk reduction options to cope with different trade-offs between risk and investment

Basic and sustainable housing services, including water for drinking and household consumption, drainage, sanitation and cooking.

There needs to be only one formal inspection of the building to check the levels of lintel, the element glazed over doors and windows, for certification for payment, but authorised technical support partner organisations should make available for on site guidance at the outset of construction and key stages thereafter, to support maximum compliance with standards and ensure eligibility for the final payment.

Building Materials

The provision of building materials will be the key to the speed and quality of reconstruction and, therefore, efforts must be made by parallel and associated strategies in support.

For example: the setting-up of material hubs, tool-banks, semi-mechanised brick and block-making processes; collective and bulk purchasing of materials and organising of transport; and the regeneration and development of natural resources to support local material production (bamboo, wood, matting, thatch, as relevant in various local settings), are all effective strategies that should be supported by the livelihood and economic development sectors. Many of these ventures could also be cooperative and especially women-led.

The incorporation of local and locally available building materials should be investigated and encouraged by the technical support teams from SAHRO and partner organisations through their use in the construction of model houses, housing for the vulnerable and the construction of schools, health facilities, administration buildings and other public structures.

Reconstruction offers an opportunity to introduce improved techniques in materials, preparation and production to reduce environmental impact, increase durability and value for money, such as in brick production, bamboo treatment and concrete blocks. Quality assurance may need public sector interventions.

Without support, the risks for communities are greater, particularly as the wrong materials may be used or used in the wrong way. As a result, the cost may go up through the use of imported and transported materials and with increased pressure on limited supplies of local materials. Structural or technological failures may also take place. Individual and indiscriminate foraging and felling of timber and other materials to meet construction needs will also lead to deforestation and erosion, further heightening the risks for communities.

Skills

Most communities have building and construction skills and a good understanding of what they need. However, the numbers of skilled craftsmen ordinarily needed by the community are unlikely to be able to cope with the abnormally high demand for their services post- disaster.

Moreover, with the introduction of new needs for construction in general, and higher-risk reduction in particular, there is also the need to assist in the transfer and acquisition of skills.

Some cascading skills transfer, such as that selectively used after the 2005 earthquake, will have to be introduced under the guidance of the district Reconstruction Centres. The requirements for this need to be worked out separately and should include basic skills development, safer construction skills, building materials production, building services provision, repair and rehabilitation.

In addition to construction and practical skills, there is a need to up-skill technical professionals responsible for urban planning and urban management, development/building control, housing and infrastructure development, protection and mitigation works, and natural resource management. The skills required to process consultative and participatory planning and the implementation of recovery will also require inputs, including training and mentoring.

Engineers and architects involved in the housing sector should have access to information and training on improved local technologies, energy-efficient and hazard-resistant design and construction. As the frontline advocates for ‘building back better’, their greater awareness and skills will assist in mainstreaming improvement objectives.

Additional research by Reza Ali and Zahra Hasan

The writer is a senior specialist in housing policy and finance and is a former head of the Development Planning Unit at University College London. Email: mumtazb@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 2nd, 2022

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