REBUILDING IN THE
AFTERMATH OF AN
USING LOCAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE
Building technologies in development projects are often developed to be used on a small, local
scale. Even when working on a huge project, Bashir Sakhawarz was convinced of the need to
take local construction practices, resources, skills, and needs into account, when creating new
settlements that will be sustainable and safe. While it was imperative to respond to the needs
of disaster victims as quickly and humanely as possible, beneficiaries' skills, knowledge of local
construction practices, and resources had to be taken into account.
On 30 September 1993, an earthquake in the Marathwada region rocked large areas of
Maharashtra and Karnataka,
particularly the settlements
located in Latur and Osmanabad
districts of Maharashtra. Nearly
10 000 people were killed and
as many were injured. Countless
houses, buildings, and
infrastructure works were
seriously damaged. Buildings
were damaged extensively in 83
villages, of which 25 suffered
The devastation was so great
that the Indian government
asked for help from the
international community to
undertake a rehabilitation and
reconstruction programme. The
International Red Cross provided
about £7 million -about 5 per
cent of the overall costs -and the
World Bank provided the
remainder. The scale of the
Figure 1: Many traditional stone and earth buildings are
reconstruction needed meant
not built to withstand seismic activity, and are prone to
that the whole project would be
crack and even collapse.
overseen by the government. The
Building Material and Technology
Promotion Council commissioned a team of professionals, known as TARU -the Technology
Section Research Unit for Development, who undertook a rapid assessment of the damaged
houses and buildings in the affected areas. Three teams of professionals made up of geologists,
architects, civil engineers, sociologists, and management consultants visited the villages to
study the cause and pattern of the damage, and to recommend cost-effective and appropriate
technical strategies for house construction on new sites, and for the retrofitting and seismic
strengthening of the various types of houses on the existing sites. The region may continue to be
prone to earthquake tremors, so the technical options recommended conformed to standards for
housing and buildings in Zone 4 of the earthquake zone map of the Bureau of Indian Standards.
The villagers were not required to pay for any of the rebuilding.
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Rebuilding after an earthquake
Once the initial surveys had taken place, the team set out to design a process that would ensure
that the communities were involved as much as possible in planning their new villages and
houses. The scale of building required about 80 villages for 200 000 people -meant that the
villagers were going to have to work together with professional builders. In many villages every
house had collapsed and rubble was strewn everywhere, and the need to provide shelter as soon
as the communities felt able to make decisions about abandoning villages and relocating, or
rebuilding on the site of such devastation and death meant that outside workers were going to
be involved as well.
The government set up and managed a rehabilitation centre, to which each community was
invited to send a representative. There the villagers discussed with the architects, planners, and
builders the options for rebuilding. Many villages had to be relocated, so they talked about and
decided where the new villages would be, how large they would be, and what type of school,
community centre, and health centre they wanted. They planned the layout of the new (or
rebuilt) villages, including infrastructure such as roads and water and electricity supply.
The most common failures in damaged buildings were the shattering and buckling of the outer
face of stone masonry walls because of the lack of through stones, and corner failure in stone
and brick masonry. Many walls had collapsed, including load-bearing walls, and there were also
many partial and total roof collapses. In RCC (reinforced cement concrete) structures the shear
failure of brick masonry was apparent where there was a vertical opening between brick joints.
Surprisingly, foundation settlement was uncommon in most of these houses.
A number of technical options for repairing non-engineered constructions and rebuilding were
examined, including seismic- resistant building technologies that have been developed and
promoted by various agencies. Traditional and improved traditional construction technologies
were also evaluated. The criteria for evaluating the technologies included:
Structural safety Technologies must meet the all structural requirements for seismic
zone 4 of the National Building Code.
Thermal comfort Houses must have adequate insulation and ventilation.
Maintainability Structures must be able to be maintained locally, and upgraded.
Cost effective The life cycle cost of the buildings should be as low as possible.
The cluster of technologies that emerged as the most appropriate for new construction in the
Walling Graded stone/concrete blocks and concrete hollow blocks: and
Roofing Shabad stone (a local material) on steel grilling, pre-cast RCC planking on precast joists, and RCC slabs cast in-situ.
Existing and traditional conditions
The affected area was connected by road to the Solapur-Hyderabad highway, which passes
through Omerga town in the Osmanabad district. Omerga is l70km from Hyderabad. In this
gently undulating hard rock terrain, with variable thicknesses of soil, the main feature that
influences damage from earthquakes is the depth of the bedrock and the type of soil overlying it.
Indirect factors like the presence of expansive clays and the possibility of liquefaction also need
to be considered. In swelling soils, unless sufficient care is taken to avoid differential
settlement, buildings are likely to develop cracks from the alternate wetting and drying of the
soil during different seasons, so increasing the risk of building collapse or damage due to
Damage was usually worse on sites with deep soils. In many villages situated on mounds over
deep soils the earthquake-related damage was extensive.
The existing building and construction technologies depended on raw material availability and
climate conditions. Stone, which was readily available, was the most common building material
in the area. The soil, mainly black cotton, was not good enough for earth or brick construction,
and hence local bricks were almost absent except for some bricks that were made from patches
of red soil, and white soil that was used for the roof insulation layer in most buildings. There
was very little timber available anymore, but a considerable quantity of timber was already used
in the houses and was recycled from generation to generation.
Rebuilding after an earthquake
Earth and timber roofs on stone walls accounted for 80 per cent of houses. The layout of these
houses varied, depending on family size, income, and status. The construction technology also
varied with the age of the building and the community for which it was constructed. Thatched
roofs on wattle and daub walls accounted for another 4 per cent of houses, most of which were
occupied by the poorest designated caste households. Of the remaining houses, 2 per cent were
of thatched roofs on stone walls, and 1 per cent were of earth and timber roofs on earth walls.
These houses were usually occupied by relatively low-income households.
Traditional buildings and earthquake impact
The traditional buildings in this region were not built to resist seismic activity. In earthquakeprone regions like the Himalayas, vernacular buildings have evolved in response to the frequent
occurrence of earthquakes, for instance by incorporating small openings, horizontal wooden
bands at different levels of the buildings, and the use of long corner stones and through stones
in random rubble masonry. The vernacular construction of the Marathwada region does not show
any such features, indicating that either an earthquake has not happened for a long time; or so
few people were affected during the last major earthquake that it did not cause any change in
building patterns; or existing knowledge about earthquake preparedness was lost when the
communities were preoccupied with wars and mass migration during later periods.
A major earthquake had struck
Latur in 1573. There is indirect
evidence of the destruction of
earlier settlements, such as the
rubble-filled mounds in many
villages, and reports of the
discovery of artefacts like swords,
vessels, and statues during
digging for the foundations of new
buildings and wells in the
excavation would be needed to
prove conclusively past
destruction by earthquakes.
In addition to the traditional
buildings, there were also many
newer, conventional houses. Of
these, 5 per cent had galvanized
Figure 2: Once an appropriate site is chosen, the house should
corrugated iron (GCI) sheet roofs
be built using good quality materials. A low one-storey building
on stone walls. GCI sheets were
in a square (with reinforced corners) or circular shape is best.
used quite widely in the region,
(Illustrations from Earth Construction: A comprehensive guide
especially to cover semi-open
by Hugo Houben and Hubert Guillaud. IT Publications, London,
spaces. Unlike RCC, GCI does not
radiate heat at night, so quite a
few houses had GCI verandas,
even though the exclusive use of GCI sheet roofing does not provide the house with adequate
thermal insulation. This is an important factor that had to be taken into account during the
technology selection process.
RCC-roofed buildings constituted only 3 per cent of the total housing stock, divided equally
between houses with earth, brick, and stone walls. Even the earth-walled buildings were built
with a fair amount of random stone rubble infill. Brick buildings were the most common
addition to urban settlements, especially among the higher income households who were
upgrading their homes.
Traditional construction practices were very strong in the Marathwada region, so a few basic
principles had to be followed in the design of reconstructed houses, whether they were executed
by private sector contractors, government departments, or local artisans.
Rebuilding after an earthquake
The following design principles were applied to all categories of buildings. Local buildings and
proposed designs that did not match these criteria were either modified or rejected in the public
Structural safety. Technologies should be earthquake-resistant to the extent of meeting all the
structural requirements of seismic zone 4 in the building standards.
Thermal comfort. Internal comfort had to be maintained, especially keeping the temperature
fluctuation to a minimum during the summer months.
Functional efficiency. Buildings should be able to accommodate all the essential functions of
current houses, especially the storage of agricultural implements, a separate sleeping area, an
independent cooking space, and shelter for animals. These needs determined a minimum area
that the basic core unit would occupy. The provision of open, semi-open, and covered spaces
should comply with existing practices, as should the layout and clustering of the buildings.
Cost effectiveness. Given the above three factors, the most cost- effective technical option
should be selected, taking into account the life-cycle cost of the buildings and its durability.
Use of local resources. This is a subsidiary constraint which is currently being promoted as the
most important factor in technology choice.
The bulk of international experience of reconstruction indicates that the average period of
return to permanent dwellings across all documented natural disasters is between one to three
years. Hence, the choice of construction technology on the basis of speed of construction is not
the most important factor. Many other constraints will delay construction, including the
availability of land; sharing and demarcation the plots; infrastructure development; and the
resumption of agricultural and other occupations. Speed of construction is probably not going to
emerge as a critical constraint.
Community participation. This is
an absolutely necessary condition
for the success of all relocation and
reconstruction programmes, as has
been demonstrated in both Indian
and international experience. The
participation of the local
communities in the process of
technology choice, decisions on
methods of construction, building
work, and supervision of works has
proved not only to be successful in
the long term, but also the most
efficient economic option because
of increased mobilization of
community labour and resources.
Figure 3: The use of long through-stones in a stone wall will
make the wall more stable. (Illustration from Technical
Principles of Building for Safety by Andrew Cobum, Richard
Hughes, Robin Spence. and Antonois Pomonis. IT Publications,
People from affected villages wanted
to relocate as they felt that their present villages were unsafe. In addition, as they had been
forced to cremate or bury the bodies of the earthquake victims in the village itself, they did not
want to build on the same site.
Purely in building terms, the relocation of the extensively damaged villages was desirable
In settlements situated on mounds and deep soil areas, future earthquakes were likely
to cause severe damage.
The cost of removing tonnes of rubble could have been exorbitant, especially as any
future buildings on these sites were likely to use thin stone walls. As most of the
villages were surrounded by good agricultural land, the rubble would have had to have
been dumped at a distance of more than 500m
The cost of building on rocky or hard murram would be much lower, as the foundations
could be less than a metre deep
Drainage systems would be cheaper and sanitation conditions would be much better on
sloping shallow soil sites than on flatter land.
Rebuilding after an earthquake
Technology interventions areas
There were four broad technology intervention areas in the affected districts:
reconstruction of new buildings on new sites;
reconstruction of new buildings on old sites (including the recycling of the material);
strengthening of lightly and moderately damaged buildings in lower intensity zones; and
retrofitting of undamaged buildings in the region under risk. The main technology
intervention in the reconstruction areas was the seismic strengthening of walls and the
use of good-quality engineered and non-engineered masonry.
The primary seismic strengthening options were:
RCC tie beams at lintel and roof level;
RCC nominal plinth tie beams. Since the new buildings were only single-storey
structures that would be used for residential purposes, vertical reinforcements were
provided in the comers of the buildings.
The major walling options that were considered were:
improved coarse random rubble stone masonry in combination mortar (1:2:9
cement:lime:sand) with 45cm wall thickness;
graded stone concrete block masonry in combination mortar (1:2:9); and
hollow concrete block masonry in cement mortar (1:6):
In addition, the possibility of improving local stone masonry (with wall thickness of 35 to 45cm)
by the use of mud mortar with suitable strengthening was investigated. The strengthening would
be provided using lintel beams, RCC roofs, and RCC plinth beams.
The use of brick masonry was ruled out because of the totally inadequate quality of local bricks,
which have a crushing strength that is below the accepted engineering standard of 35kg/cm 2.
Three foundations options were considered, including:
strip footings for murram soil sites;
strip footings for rocky sites; and
under-reamed RCC piles with a plinth beam for black cotton soils.
The earthquake in Maharashtra not only had a disastrous effect on the lives of its victims, but
was also a catalyst for change in the social fabric of the society. Relocation as part of
resettlement (in some cases up to 10km away) distanced the displaced victims from their vital
farming lands, and also led to other inevitable adjustments, such as the creation of a new
cultural environment, and, in relation to construction, a shift from a rural to a more urban type of
In the aftermath of an earthquake, providing housing is only one essential part of a disaster
recovery response. There are also issues of the mental and physical trauma of the victims to be
addressed, and rehabilitating the earthquake-affected communities not only materially but also
socially and economically.
Civil engineers must join forces with other agents involved in disaster response; consultants,
social workers, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and community-based groups
in order to ensure that a rehabilitation programme is appropriate and effective. An effective
disaster response engineer will be only one part of a wider process of managing the disaster
situation, and must co-ordinate and communicate with many of the agencies and individuals