PCR TOOL 1
People-centred Reconstruction (PCR):
When disasters strike, they often affect the most
vulnerable people; this is particularly true in the
developing world. Home owners may lose their
biggest asset; many people may be forced away
from their livelihoods.
This toolkit focuses on reconstruction by and for
poor people in urban and rural locations. The tools
recognise that reconstruction often starts very soon
after a disaster occurred and therefore needs to
be planned for at a very early stage. In most cases
some people start to repair or rebuild their houses
immediately whilst others in the same location may
be supported with tents or transitional shelters.
Out of disasters, low income communities
realise their own houses with little or no
professional inputs. This may be a lengthy,
incremental process, with rooms being added or
improvements made over the years, as money
becomes available. And whilst they are in charge of
the process, they may not do all the construction
works themselves, but hire artisans or make use
of more skilled friends or relatives. What makes
the difference with more top-down approaches is
that home-owners manage the entire construction
process and take decisions individually or
collectively to achieve this. Being in charge of the
process can empower people and helps to reduce
In rural areas, this is by far the most common
housing process. In urban areas, though, there is
a greater variety. In larger cities, the cost of land
is so high, that vertical development e.g. in the
form of multi-occupancy buildings has become a
more affordable solution. Also, the most vulnerable
cannot afford to own a house, and therefore
become tenants. Others again end up as squatters,
sometimes in very makeshift housing. The case
of Mama Susan, to the right, is one example of
current urban housing development.
Participatory practices exist since decades
and, throughout the world, these methods are
commonly accepted to be an important component
of successful development programmes.
Whether we call them house owner-driven,
community-based or simply ‘people’s process’,
there is evidence of growing interest in the use
of participatory approaches also for post-disaster
recovery and reconstruction in both urban and rural
Mama Susan builds a house
Mama Susan Taplokoi Maina lives in one of the
spontaneous settlements that have sprung up
around Nakuru in Kenya. Practical Action first
came across her in 1997, when she was about
60 years old. She had lost her husband, and
of the six children she had with him, four died
young. She had managed to buy a plot with her
savings and the help of others, and was living in
a single-roomed house made of timber off-cuts
and galvanised iron sheets. Her main income
came from selling second-hand clothes and
vegetables in the market. As she was getting
older, she did not want to end up being a burden
on her children. She needed a more secure
income that could help her to improve her house.
Using some of her income from sales, she
extended the house to add a single room that
she rented out. The rental income helped her
to build another room, and another. The more
rooms she built, the more her income increased.
By 2003, she was letting 12 rooms, at about $7
per month. From this, she managed to raise the
capital to invest in materials to build a better
house for herself.
For many years, Mama Susan has been a
member of a self-help group, initiated to improve
the neighbourhood. They also started to discuss
how their houses could be improved. They finally
opted to build their walls with stabilised soil
blocks, and Practical Action worked with the
group to build their capacity to do so. Mama
Susan now lives is a much better and larger
house on her own plot.
photo © Practical Action/Liz Fredericks
What PCR means
Mama Susan’s house in Nakuru
The challenges and benefits of PCR
It is often believed that any participatory housing
programme is slower, more arduous and timeconsuming compared with conventional marketdriven/ top-down approaches. A misleading
assumption is that PCR lacks quality control
mechanisms, leads to sub-standard buildings or
opens the door to corruption.
However, there is no escape in the fact that
long-term recovery and real bottom-up development
requires long term commitment. In order to
ensure that more marginal groups are involved and
empowered, significant efforts must be invested
to consult widely. In this sense, there are no
shortcuts to getting this process right. Designing a
building is much easier than designing a process of
social engagement – by which recovery strategies,
ideas, practices and core values are shared and
disseminated in collaboration with the greater civil
Despite this, examples illustrate that well
planned and implemented projects can produce
quite the opposite: house-owners will be faster at
purchasing materials, at contracting out part of
photo © Léon, IFRC
People building improved adobe walls, following an earthquake
in Pisco, Peru.
the work if they need to, at assisting on technical
supervision and quality control. All this generally
ensures that the level of satisfaction with the end
product is higher.
Guidance for PCR
We have chosen not to produce a manual on PCR,
but a toolkit, for two reasons:
• Three guidance documents, listed below, are
in an advanced stage of production, and aim
to reach those involved in reconstruction, at
decision making as well as field levels. They
contain a lot of information, on which PCR can
draw. Whilst a manual on PCR would add other
information, that in itself is not sufficient reason
to produce one at this stage.
• Tools can be more flexible. They will be designed
to add value to the existing information, e.g.
to address gaps in the handbooks, or explain
aspects that make PCR different from other
approaches being discussed in the humanitarian
community. Above all, they can easily be
updated as and when new experience becomes
What are the handbooks, and how does this Toolkit
relate to them?
photo © Gonzalo Lizzaralde
areas. Both the scale of present interest and their
widespread acceptance among the aid community
suggest that their application will continue to grow.
But the path ahead to ensure broad adoption and
mainstreaming of PCR is still not straightforward,
hence the need for further tools and guidance.
PCR promotes the idea that housing is a
process, not merely the provision of a product. The
people living in these houses and their surrounding
community should rightly be at the centre of
this process. This means that households make
their own choices including the project design,
procurement of materials, construction preferences
and use of specific technologies. They can opt for
grants and rebuild themselves, or outsource part
of the construction to external service providers,
artisans and contractors. The may chose how much
they wish to spend on the construction, care and
maintenance of houses, in order to save some
money to start livelihoods activities.
The case studies below exemplify how peopleoriented processes that served to design spatial
forms, enable livelihoods and build social
infrastructures; taken together, they make people
less vulnerable to future risks. The programmes
described have had profound and durable effects
on the local communities, which increased their
sense of ownership and self-reliance. The variety
of designs of houses and settlements demonstrate
the vitality of the building culture and local
construction practices that can be produced when
residents are encouraged to take the lead in the
In this reconstruction project in Colombia, money was made
available to rebuild livelihood infrastructure (in this case for
coffee processing, the elevated part) as well as housing
Guiding Principles for PCR
Support and empower communities to recover, rebuild and become resilient.
In particular, invest in training, of communities, local builders and local authorities. Where possible,
use local training colleges and build their capacity to provide and continue the training, to prepare for
Work with affected communities to plan their rebuilding and coordinate the response effectively
according to the expressed needs of the communities, and the resources available.
Ensure the active participation of all the most vulnerable groups and people in community recovery
and give special attention to the needs of people who were tenants or squatters, have lost family
members or are disabled.
Be firm and realistic about commitments to time-scale. Donors, governments and the media often
have unrealistic expectations to get results quickly. This creates pressure for rapid centralised capital
expenditure and reduces popular participation.
Base the reconstruction plan on a thorough assessment of risks, damage, needs and resources with
active community participation.
Adopt or improve indigenous construction technologies that have proven to resist the disaster
reasonably well, as these are well known and would need less capacity building. Provide adequate
technical support to ensure appropriate construction quality.
Ensure that communities have the capacity to maintain buildings and infrastructure as well as
institutions established by the reconstruction process in the future.
Avoid relocating households or settlements unless there are critical safety risks, as this moves people
away from where they make a living, and may slow down reconstruction as land may be hard to find
and the provision of trunk infrastructure can be costly and lengthy.
Minimise duration and distance of displacement, when relocation is essential, and ensure transport
Ensure security of tenure and property rights for affected people, and in particular women.
Support the affected population to make informed choices on recovery and reconstruction, recognising
the important roles of NGOs and CBOs in promoting information sharing and community-based
Prioritise reducing vulnerability and mitigation of potential future disasters through reconstruction.
Use reconstruction as an opportunity to rebuild livelihoods and local markets.
Where needed, integrate productive or commercial activities in house designs (e.g., grain storage or
livestock rearing in rural areas, or small shops or home-based enterprises in urban areas).
Ensure fair and transparent distribution of government and agency money and resources for
reconstruction, according to needs.
Strengthen the resilience of the affected population to future potential disaster risks through
awareness raising and participation in contingency and preparedness plans.
Prioritise environmental sustainability in recovery and reconstruction because degradation of the
environment is quite often and important contributory factor in the occurrence of a disaster.
Ensure compliance with reconstruction standards that reduce vulnerability to future disasters,
adopting local building regulations and codes that are relevant. Do not set standards too high, as
that would make compliance difficult, once reconstruction aid dries up. Consider incremental and
affordable housing standards.
Advocate for government recognition and support for People-Centred Reconstruction, particularly
through enabling policies, strategies, laws and regulations.
Monitor achievement of the plans together with affected populations and amend if necessary; build in
the flexibility in the reconstruction processes to make changes if they are needed.
Evaluate the reconstruction process comprehensively and effectively, together with communities who
undertook the rebuilding; use the evaluation to learn lessons, improve processes and change policies.
Insist on an independent ombudsman or monitoring unit, to which individual households can take
1. Shelter after disaster: strategies for transitional settlement and reconstruction
This handbook, produced by the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Shelter Centre and
the Department for International Development (DFID) has been produced in collaboration with members of the
humanitarian community and has been tested as a field edition from 2008. The guidelines cover coordination,
strategic planning and implementation relevant to transitional settlement and reconstruction following natural
disasters. Guidance covers the transition following a natural disaster from the emergency shelter needed for
survival to recovery for communities, including identifying needs for support to communal infrastructure such
as roads and hospitals, after a period of several years. The guidelines introduce the six options for displaced,
and six options for non-displaced populations which have been shared through extensive consultation with the
humanitarian community. Based on the field test, some of the categories will need further definition.
Six options for displaced populations
Six options for non-displaced populations
The 2008 field edition categorised 12 assistance methods, which following field testing and further
discussion within the humanitarian community have expanded to 16 and are now classified in relation according
to their contribution to the different livelihoods assets.
The The PCR Toolkit will aim to contribute additional information that can be used in the six options for nondisplaced populations, and the two self-settlement options for displaced populations. It will also add information
on assistance methods, but not to all 16 of them.
2. Safer homes, stronger communities: A handbook for reconstructing after natural disasters
This handbook, written by A. Jha et al. on behalf of the World Bank, is meant to assist Bank staff and their
government counterparts in planning large-scale reconstruction programmes. The book contains a set of guiding
principles that are being harmonised with those of the previous handbook, and have been mostly incorporated
in those for PCR. The various chapters then take us through the stages of reconstruction: needs assessment,
planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, as well as some cross-cutting issues like participation.
Each chapter contains its own guiding principles, useful checklists for planners, and recommendations. But
since the handbook is aimed at decision makers in the first place, it is rather short of practical tools and
examples, which is where the Toolkit will add value.
3. Owner driven housing reconstruction guidelines
These guidelines, written by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are
designed for use by the IFRC and its national member societies and meant for field practitioners planning and
implementing reconstruction programmes. They are currently in final draft format. After an introductory chapter
on what ODR is, further chapters cover programme development, participatory process, technical support and
financial assistance. Since the guidelines are written for people in the field, they are of a more practical nature
than the above two handbooks that are more geared towards decision makers. The annexes cover a number of
tools promoted by the IFRC, e.g. on community action planning, community development funds and community
contracting, which are particularly useful to PCR too.
This Briefing was produced by Practical Action Publishing. © Practical Action, April 2009
How long does reconstruction take?
After a disaster strikes, a small proportion of
people- usually the ones with more resources or
less losses - manage to recover within a few months
to a year. The bulk of the people though tend to
recover their most important assets, including
permanent housing, within 12 to 36 months after a
disaster. But for those who lost most of their assets
or have more constraints to overcome, it may take
four, five, or even more years. The recovery pattern
after disasters thus follows an S-curve, as shown to
Disasters of large magnitude attract worldwide
attention and funding. Whilst much of this is for
immediate relief, increasing proportions of aid
are now being used for longer-term recovery and
reconstruction. Humanitarian agencies, however,
are often under a lot of pressure to achieve quick
results and therefore reluctant to stay on for much
more than three years.
This may leave those who are struggling to
recover and perhaps most in need of support typically often including the landless, disabled or
tenants - deprived of it. Agencies adopting PCR will
have to commit themselves to work with affected
communities for the medium term, to address
housing problems and reduce the vulnerabilities of
affected by disasters such as floods, or under threat
of slow-onset environmental disasters often take
steps by themselves to reduce their vulnerabilities
and minimise loss of assets. This can work well in
stable communities, usually in rural areas. In the
event of small to medium disasters, even small PCR
projects with limited external resources can still be
quite effective, to increase awareness of disaster
mitigation and preparedness, address underlying
vulnerabilities, identify and strengthen traditional
skills and coping mechanisms, and ultimately
support people to rebuild.
What about small-scale disasters?
Reconstruction in an urban setting
In between the occasional large-scale disasters
which get the majority of media coverage, a
multitude of smaller disasters are affecting poor
people worldwide on a daily basis. These however,
rarely make the headlines. Such disasters attract
little external help; the affected rely mostly on
community resources and traditional knowledge
for their recovery. Communities that are regularly
Post-disaster reconstruction in urban areas has
proven to be particularly challenging because
communities are less stable; people have lost
traditional skills or access to traditional resources
and they often lack secure tenure and face a
multitude of regulations. Many of these challenges
have been overcome in normal urban housing or
upgrading projects and programmes, from which
photo © Samaj Kallayan Sangstha (SKS)
photo © Practical Action, Theo Schilderman
Graph showing post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh and Nias,
after “Building Back Better: Delivering people-centred housing
reconstruction at scale”, Practical Action Publishing,
Rugby, 2010, p. 154.
Rural residents of Gaibandha district in
Northern Bangladesh get flooded every few years
Slum in Mavoko, 30 Km to the East of Nairobi, Kenya, with
houses built of waste materials, and hardly any infrastructure