Building back better



Rebuilding homes after the tsunami.

The tsunami on the 26th December 2004 wrecked not only vast parts of the coastal areas of countries bordering the Indian Ocean, but the lives and livelihoods of many, of which a large part is of the vulnerable and very poor.

In Sri Lanka over 50,000 lives were lost and more than 100,000 households were displaced along the eastern, southern and western coastline.

While many organisations responded to this emergency situation we decided to leave this work to experts and started on concentrating on what Practical Action does well. We had close to 10 years experience in promoting a sustainable and long term approach to disaster mitigation in South Asia through its involvement with the South Asia disaster network Duryog Nivaran.

Based on this experience of a holistic approach and long term perspective, we took on the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation. New human settlements had to be identified and displaced persons had to be relocated, rehabilitated and their livelihood concerns addressed.

Starting in January 2005 our post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation project worked with affected communities to reconstruct housing and to improve livelihoods, infrastructure, sanitation and health. Its achievements were recognised in the World Habitat Award where it was one of the 2008 finalist of this prestigious annual award for practical and innovative solutions to housing needs and problems.

Over 160 homes have been built using cost-effective appropriate building technologies, including rat-trap bond masonry and filler slab RCC roofing. These have reduced the amount of construction materials required for each house by one third.

Houses are single-storey units based on beneficiaries' drawings of their previous homes. The average cost of each has been LKR600,000 (£3,280). Constructed using burnt brick walls and a flat concrete slab roof, they typically have two bedrooms, a kitchen and living space plus an area of 46sqm.

Over 300 masons have been trained in the building technologies. Incorporated into each house was a proven smoke-free kitchen hearth ensuring improved indoor air quality. The houses were built in partnership with 13 local NGOs, and included six demonstration houses and one training building. The demonstration units have been used to promote the sustainable housing technologies and approaches used. Locally-available materials were used as much as possible, which saw a reduction in the amount of asbestos, steel and concrete that was used. Combined with the use of appropriate building technologies, the amount of basic construction material used was reduced by 30 per cent compared to the quantity required for an average house of the same size.

Bio-gas technology and small wind, solar and energy efficient stoves were demonstrated and adopted by tsunami-affected communities in southern and eastern Sri Lanka. The house structures have increased thermal efficiency, reducing the need for electrical appliances such as fans. Solid waste management practices were demonstrated and adopted in the south, east and north of the country. The process included training and knowledge transfer on waste separation, waste-bin manufacture and small scale recycling.

Housing costs have been reduced through community involvement in the provision of land for construction, supervision of material storage and finishing of the houses. The houses built are permanent houses and land deeds were a basic requirement. Some of the beneficiaries had their own land or bought land. Others had deeds that had been donated to them by benefactors. The ability to extend the houses incrementally has increased affordability.

Through partnerships, the capacity of community-based organisations to monitor and evaluate the reconstruction process, supervise material storage and stocks, finish the houses (painting, adding fixtures and fittings) and add modifications and extensions to the houses has increased. This has promoted active community ownership of the process taking place in their locality.

Based on these experiences Practical Action has recently published a book Lessons from Aceh: Key considerations in post-disaster reconstruction

Technical information for reconstruction

Click here for links providing information on building construction and water and sanitation, from Practical Action and others. If you are looking for information on a topic not covered here, please contact our Technical Enquiry Service.

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