PCR TOOL 11
Defining Standards for People-Centred Reconstruction
On January 12th 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haïti, killing 222,570 people. Less than two months later, on February 28th, a quake measuring a massive 8.8 hit the Concepción region of Chile but killed 562 people. Both earthquakes affected heavily populated areas so how was it possible that an earthquake nearly a hundred times stronger led to 400 times less casualties. A major factor in this was Chile’s adoption of high quality building standards that incorporate requirements for disaster-resistance. These are both applied properly, and affordable for the Chilean people to comply with. Haïti also has standards, but they are more lenient than those in Chile. Furthermore, these standards are often poorly implemented, (with inspection turning a blind eye) and most importantly unaffordable for the large proportion of the population to comply with. The lesson from these two disastrous events is that good building standards can save lives, but they need to be properly implemented and inspected, and above all, affordable. Poverty is still widespread in the developing world and there is ample evidence that with disasters of a similar size, poor countries suffer more than rich countries. Similarly, the poor in any country tend to suffer more than the rich (see PCR Tool 10: Quality Control). Poverty is a key factor in determining what level of building quality people can afford. Countries define that level of quality through a regulatory framework that includes acts, regulations, standards etc. (see the section on Definitions for details on the various components). Within those frameworks, standards are the most important component to define disaster resistance. Unfortunately, many of the regulatory frameworks in place in the developing world borrow heavily from the developed world, making them inappropriate and unaffordable for the poor. Furthermore, disaster resistance can be inadequately covered by the frameworks, but including additional requirements would reduce affordability further. Unaffordable standards are a likely factor to add to the loss of life from disasters. In many countries, sub-standard housing is considered illegal and can be demolished by the authorities. Therefore, home owners who know they will never be able to meet the standards are often inclined to under-invest in housing, as they risk losing such investments. They may not even make the small improvements or carry out the proper maintenance that could help to reduce their risks. Donations of aid for reconstruction are high following large-scale disasters. This influx of money can help to overcome affordability problems and enable the reconstruction of housing that meets disaster-resistant building standards. Out of hundreds of people interviewed after the tsunami in Sri Lanka, 41% answered that housing built afterwards had much better walls and 58% said it had a much better roof than the house they owned before the disaster; it often was larger too. The question, however, is whether people can maintain the standard of building if they expand their house in the future, or build a house for their children. How sustainable are standards that need to be heavily subsidised? After observing the impact of disasters on buildings (see PCR Tool 3: Learning from Disasters), we know that some of the traditional ways of building in many countries do stand up relatively well to disasters. Also, with limited improvements such vernacular technologies can become even more disaster-resistant. Thus, the timber frame (dhajji dewari) houses of rural Pakistan, which were on the decline before a
Improved quincha, used here in reconstruction after an earthquake in Chincha, Peru, is proven to have good earthquake resistance.
photo © Practical Action Latin America
recent earthquake, became a popular option for reconstruction. The advantage of using vernacular technologies is that they use local knowledge, skills and materials, and tend to be affordable. But in many countries no standards exist for them which limits their acceptability, (for example because the regulatory framework does not accommodate them, or because building professionals, whose studies focused on modern materials and technologies are reluctant to venture into unknown territory). Disaster-resistant building standards can certainly help reduce the loss of life and property when natural hazards strike. However, the standards currently in place in many countries do not reduce risk for their poor. To achieve this, they need to be changed, primarily to be made more affordable. If they are not, they could do more harm than good. There is a lot of variety in how people in different countries build, and what disasters they are vulnerable to. Describing in detail the technical standards that provide disaster-resistance in all those different contexts would require a book, not a simple tool. Besides, there is a growing amount of literature, (some of which is included in the Resources section), that describes how particular ways of building can be made more resistant to a range of disasters. This tool therefore focuses on the possible approaches to setting and achieving an adequate standard of disaster-resistant construction.
The rapid urbanisation of Lima forced some people to build their houses on very unstable slopes.
What makes construction vulnerable to disasters in developing countries?
From assessments of disaster damage in many countries, we know that the absence of a proper regulatory framework, its improper implementation or incomplete use (as highlighted above), is only one of the factors having an impact on the scale of damage. Others include: • Poorly defined knowledge and mapping of disaster hazards and risks; • Insufficient awareness of disaster hazards and risks; • Lack of preparedness planning or early warning of impending events; • Lack of protective infrastructure such as flood barriers or slope stabilisation; • Poor quality and unreliability of infrastructure services; • Poor quality materials and insufficient quality control of building techniques; • Low priority for emergency evacuation and safe public shelters. These and other deficiencies in mitigating the impact of disasters have a number of underlying causes:
• Widespread poverty; • Lack of education; • The need for many poor people to prioritise immediate needs (ie day to day survival) over disaster risk • Rapid urbanisation - including a tendency to concentrate large populations in vulnerable locations such as steep slopes or flood plains; • Lack of secure tenure; • Landlords placing profit before the safety of tenants; • Lack of capacity and resources of local and central authorities; • Poor governance, including complex bureaucracies, a lack of popular voice and corruption. Getting the standards right is therefore not necessarily enough to guarantee reduced disaster impact. Furthermore, the above factors may actually hinder both the development and implementation of appropriate standards. PCR Tool 3: Learning from Disasters provides the most common structural factors that lead to disaster damage to buildings for example a lack of disaster-resistant features, poor quality work or materials, or a lack of maintenance. These are the issues that standards and regulations can improve. PCR Tool 8: Participatory Design gives some of the design principles for withstanding major disasters, which should be considered too.
What difference can standards make?
After almost every major disaster in a developing country, people have called for building standards to be tightened and enforced more strictly. After all, this has worked to reduce the impact of natural disasters in more developed countries. But can the same approach work in the developing world? The above section has already argued that
photo © Practical Action / Colin Palmer
Building in developing countries
Between 40 and 90% of housing and private commercial buildings are constructed without former title of land or property, i.e. considered informal. A lot of building work is carried out by owners with the help of family or friends and sometimes building artisans A lot of housing is incremental, starting small, but expanding and/or improving in quality over time, as resources allow. Vernacular construction is still significant, based on traditions that can date back a long time. It is important in rural locations, but diminishing where urbanisation occurs Many countries are still predominantly rural, though urbanising rapidly, with a high concentration of people in and around one large city. In most rural areas, building standards and regulations do not apply; quality is defined by tradition. In urban areas, a significant proportion of housing is in slums, usually far below prevailing standards. Close to 1 billion people live in slums; they tend to be very vulnerable. For many people, their home is also their workplace.
Building in developed countries
The vast majority of buildings are formally registered.
Most building work is executed by contractors. Most housing is a one-off final product that meets quality standards from the onset. Vernacular buildings are mainly of historical interest. Nearly all current construction uses standardised socalled modern materials and products. Nearly all countries are highly urbanised, with a good balance between large and middle size cities.
Very little of the housing stock can be considered slums in most countries.
Strict zoning regulations mean that few commercial activities can be undertaken from home. Builders need formal education and a qualification in building to be considered skilled. Trade associations for builders and contractors usually exist as well.
Few building artisans have had formal education or training in building skills. Most learnt their craft from other builders. Many countries do not have a formal register of builders. There is unlikely to be a formal certification process for new materials, products and techniques.
There usually is a formal approval and certification process for new materials, products and techniques that also provides quality and performance specifications.
Many buildings are not built to conform to standards, either because they are in locations where standards do not apply, or because they are in informal settlements where standards get ignored. For buildings that do comply, inspection may be lax or corrupt; thus bad practice is overlooked.
The systems for checking, approval and issue of building permits and completion are usually thorough. Almost all construction requires approval, except for small temporary buildings. Compliance with building standards and regulations is therefore high.
Many countries do not have their own systems of building regulations and standards. They often use the standards of their former colonial power or other developed country without significant revision to reflect their own context. Consideration of country-specific disaster risks might also be absent.
Building regulations and standards are often countryspecific, but some are internationally or regionally agreed (e.g. by ISO). They are regularly updated to reflect new knowledge and legislation or to overcome specific problems that have emerged with aspects. They incorporate measures to mitigate disaster risks of the country. Ensuring quality of construction is usually the responsibility of the architect (if one is employed), building contractor and building inspector. Users or owners are far less involved in day to day construction. There is then some risk that the final building is not entirely to their satisfaction.
As many buildings are owner-built, the owner is often present for much of the construction and so ensures that the work is completed to his or her requirements. Where no formal building codes or standards are followed, diligent supervision by an owner can still help to ensure that the outcome is a good and disaster resilient building.
A People-Centred view of standards
Historically, building regulations, codes and standards were developed to ensure protection of people from illness, injury and accidental death when they live, work-in or visit a building. However, this system of building control developed largely for the public good has often failed to deliver an adequate level of protection against natural disasters in developing countries. Past experience shows that regulatory frameworks derived from
The inhabitants of this house in Moquegua, Peru had a narrow escape, because the failing roof slid sideways rather than falling in on them.
photo © Practical Action / Theo Schilderman
improving standards alone does not guarantee safer construction. There are some important differences between building housing in developed and developing countries which would have to be considered when deciding how to make postdisaster reconstruction safer. These differences are summarised on page 3. When there is a lack of capacity in a developing country to devise standards in specialist areas, such as disaster resistant structures, it becomes tempting to adopt the standards of developed countries that have proven to withstand disasters. Thus, several Latin American countries have adopted standards for earthquake resistance from the USA, and Asian countries have derived standards from Japan or New Zealand. This often only had a limited positive impact, because: • The standards are set at a very high level which makes them unaffordable to a majority in developing countries. • The standards over-emphasize engineering solutions, encouraging the use of modern materials and techniques by building contractors, rather than allowing for informal construction. They overlook vernacular construction and its own disaster-resistant elements. • The capacity for adequate implementation and inspection is often lacking. The adoption of such ‘ideal’ standards may have worked for some buildings, but generally has helped make low-income housing less vulnerable to disasters. That is not to say that having standards is wrong, just that they need to be fit for purpose. Having the best standards may only protect a small proportion of the population. Instead, moderate standards with simple processes of compliance might be able to protect a majority from all but the highest magnitude disasters. Finally, some consideration needs to be given to retro-fitting as an option for strengthening existing dwellings, some of which may have suffered repairable damage. Rather than replacing such dwellings with entirely new ones of a high standard, retro-fitting is a much more cost-efficient solution for providing disaster resistance. Standards for reconstruction should therefore not just cover new buildings, but also the retro-fitting of existing ones.
developed countries are often inappropriate for developing countries (see e.g. Yahya et al., 2001). Reform of regulations can take several decades because of the need to pay attention also to the processes of applying, decision making, appealing, communicating with applicants, record keeping and dealing with non-compliance. If those processes are too complex and costly, few property owners will bother to comply (see e.g. de Soto, 1989: chapter 2). It is important for reform to have a group of champions who manage to overcome the obstacles thrown in their way by stakeholders who have something to gain from maintaining the status quo. In People-Centred Reconstruction, people are what matters most. In other Tools and a Position Paper on PCR, we have argued that the ultimate aim of PCR is more than just achieving safer housing; it is to make the people themselves more resilient. In the reconstruction process itself, this means empowering them by involving them much more in decision making. The process should not just aim to rebuild houses, but also livelihoods, local markets and social networks, as these all are crucial in generating resilience. If people are what matters most, then standards should protect people first and foremost, and aim to substantially reduce the number of casualties that natural disasters cause. Lives cannot be replaced, but buildings and other assets can, and often are with the aid that is given following disasters. Applying this principle to building practice, means that a certain amount of damage to buildings could be acceptable, but their collapse on people inside should be prevented. This thought can be translated into regulations and standards to define the weight and integrity of roofs and intermediate floors, the strength and technologies for supporting structures, and their connections. However, if for example walls have no structural contribution, they could be allowed to be relatively flimsy. For certain types of high-
magnitude hazards, such as tropical storms or floods and tsunamis people can be warned of their approach. In these cases, lives could be saved through evacuation into disaster-resistant shelters or to safe locations such as high ground at community level. These shelters could have alternative uses when there are no imminent hazards, which would help to avoid the high cost involved in increasing the resistance level of a lot of housing from medium to high. In PCR, it is important to involve the end users in thinking about the types and levels of standards, regulations and compliance processes required for disaster-resistant reconstruction. In considering how regulatory frameworks could be made to work better for housing the urban poor Payne and Majale (2004) outlined a series of guiding principles on which the conceptualisation of such frameworks would need to be based. These guiding principles, summarised in the table below, can also be useful for deciding on standards and regulations for postdisaster reconstruction. Similarly, it is worth considering the newly revised minimum Sphere standards for Shelter and Settlement (The Sphere Project, 2011). Whilst
Minimum Sphere standards for shelter and settlement
1. Strategic planning: Shelter and settlement strategies contribute to the security, safety, health and well-being of both displaced and non-displaced affected populations and promote recovery and reconstruction where possible. 2. Settlement planning: The planning of return, host or temporary communal settlements enables the safe and secure use of accommodation and essential services by the affected population. 3. Covered living space: People have sufficient covered living space providing thermal comfort, fresh air and protection from the climate ensuring their privacy, safety and health and enabling essential household and livelihood activities to be undertaken. 4. Construction: Local safe building practices, materials, expertise and capacities are used where appropriate, maximising the involvement of the affected population and local livelihood opportunities. 5. Environmental impact: Shelter and settlement solutions and the material sourcing and construction techniques used minimise adverse impact on the local natural environment.
Guiding principles for getting standards right
• Recognise and accept the realities on the ground • Focus on key aspects of public concern • Understand and acknowledge knowledge and information systems of people living in poverty • Adopt an enabling role • Invest in precedents drawn from targeted research and pilot projects • Strengthen inclusiveness • Promote partnerships between key stakeholders • Facilitate local ownership of processes • Identify champions of change and create a critical mass • Apply rules consistently • Integrate planning and development strategies • Accept regulations as a process rather than a product • Acknowledge the principles of incremental development • Guarantee access to information • Take advantage of windows of opportunity • Build institutional capacity • Cultivate political and professional will • Consider enforcement still as important, although enforcement mechanisms may have to be modified from those conventionally used for the regulation of construction.
these standards are focused on emergency and transitional shelter, the underlying principles are often also valid for permanent reconstruction.
Approaches to determining the quality of reconstruction
When deciding how to set the level of construction quality in reconstruction after disasters (or for the mitigation of them), authorities and agencies have a number of options that include: • adopting international standards • adhering to a national framework • setting regulations in the context of a specific reconstruction strategy • Allowing users to decide on quality. In People-Centred Reconstruction, it is important for the people affected by disasters to have a say not just in how houses are designed or constructed, but also in what level of quality should be adopted. If other stakeholders set quality at levels that appear unachievable or unreasonable to those people, it can subsequently become quite difficult to obtain their interest and participation in projects. What approach is most appropriate is very much dependent on the local context and needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
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