Wed, Feb 05, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Disasters give cities chance to come back better

By Charles Anderson, Daniel Breece, Tom Dart, Rashmee Roshan Lal  /  The Guardian

Yet the approach saw projects stalled for months, even years. Consulting communities about basic decisions — such as whether survivors wanted clinics, wide escape roads and even drainage in their villages — was a time-consuming process and on closer inspection, there was a major miscalculation of local needs.

“Aid organizations were under pressure to spend the money,” World Bank operations analyst Muslahuddin Daud said, reeling off a list of empty facilities across the province.

Along the US$250 billion USAid-built road from Banda Aceh to Calang — another town practically destroyed in 2004 — an abandoned university and water treatment plant come into view, along with hundreds of abandoned houses, a common sight across Banda Aceh.

Daud said that a cash-for-work scheme in which people were given money to clean up the rubble and rebuild their houses “destroyed the Acehnese social structure” and undermined the Indonesian concept of gotong royong (communal work). Instead of people helping their neighbors willingly, Daud said the money has made people reluctant to help their neighbors unless they get cash in return.


By Daniel Breece

Outside Colombo, most Sri Lankan housing comprises simple one-story houses made out of concrete or concrete bricks with tile or tin roofing. An estimated 12,000 of these houses were demolished or severely damaged by the 2004 tsunami in the Galle district alone.

International aid flooded in — locals called it “the second wave” — but the Sri Lankan authorities’ first task was to decide where to rebuild.

Initially, the government banned new buildings within 100m of the ocean, but the buffer zone was problematic and people eventually made their way back toward the shoreline. In some cases, they are back on the beach, particularly where tourism is involved.

Rebuilding took five years, and used materials and construction techniques that were more or less the same as before the tsunami hit. Some houses were relocated and, in rare cases, two-story homes were built in their stead, with the second floor as a safe place to seek shelter in the event of another tsunami.

There were problems along the way: Competing for attention and housing became a tangible way for non-governmental organizations and others to show donors they were making a difference.

“Sri Lankan houses are traditionally built with religious traditions similar to those of feng shui. In many cases no respect was taken to these local customs and important cultural aspects; the knowledge about these issues was simply not present, nor was it given any time. In a way, you could say that the construction was rushed.”

In addition to restoring the infrastructure, the Sri Lankan government was supposed to give economic help to affected families. Transparency International says that of the US$2.2 billion received by the Sri Lankan government, US$60 million was spent on projects unrelated to the disaster and US$500 million went missing.

The government has yet to respond to these accusations.


By Tom Dart

More than eight years after Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth — New Orleans’ worst-hit ward — offers a telling snapshot of the city’s recovery efforts. No longer resembling the flattened aftermath of a hurricane, it appears merely to have been hit by a one-off tornado, with normal-looking houses abutting ruins as if nature had sliced a serpentine path through the 518 hectare patch of land 10 minutes’ drive east of the French Quarter.

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