Tag Archives: #disasterrecovery

Long road to recovery in Assam: Recurrent floods again in 2015!

DSC_0499_2Floods are ravaging Assam again as official records state 18 lakh affected and more than five people dead across 20 districts due to the current wave of floods. The recent announcements by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the dwindling Centre-State relations have badly affected state funding for disaster response. There is no doubt that Assam is strategic due to 2,800 miles of international borders shared with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. However, the repeated floods, which have increased in the recent years with recurring floods in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 – 2015 have failed to highlight Assam floods as national problem.

The displaced populations are residing in schools run as relief camps, and will return to their villages once the water recedes. The access to water supplies, sanitation facilities in these camps is inadequate to meet the needs of the lakhs in number displaced. The floods in Assam affect drinking water sources and the quality of drinking water creating an acute drinking water problem. As a result, the affected people are depending on floodwaters and open defecation becomes challenging especially for women and adolescent girls. The recurring floods have impacted the water, sanitation, health and education systems in Assam.

In order to continue with schooling of children, these camps are shut down within a fortnight, forcing the people to leave the camps and fend for themselves. Their road to recovery is clearly distraught as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil societies and NGOs. In my research of community recovery after the 2012 floods in the state show that destroyed families had not received the promised financial damage compensations even two years after. The populations living in the fringes were displaced once again when the embankments are constructed, paid nominal land value, and no further support for resettlement. In many areas in Morigaon, the newly constructed embankments breached in the following monsoons causing further distress to riverine communities in Maihang and Bhuragaon blocks.

This year again the floods have magnified the challenges of recovery for these marginal groups, the women especially who bear the responsibilities of running households, child-care and rebuilding homes after floods every year. This strangely takes a toll on their physical and mental health, overall well-being and economic conditions. The Indian Disaster Management Act, 2005, does not recognize the chronic challenges of erosion suffered in Morigaon, Lakhimpur and Nalbari among other districts as a natural disaster. Probably the recent flood events and resultant erosion will serve a reminder to the top brasses in the centre to take stock of the situation and deliver the promises.


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7th i-Rec conference is here!

For the past few weeks I have had the i-Rec conference on my mind, while ensuring CGI gets delivered to remotest regions in Nepal. Now I am in London UCL, to welcome 120 registered participants to the 7th international conference brought together by i-Rec, Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL) and official sponsors International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB).

The innovative conference format includes 14 round table sessions, 7 plenary sessions, London reconstruction walking tour, key note presentations and also introducing the book launch of the Second Edition of the Reconstruction Text-Book “Shelter After Disaster, by Ian Davis”, which was originally published in 1978 by Oxford Polytechnic Press.

This 7th biennial conference looks at the following sub-themes: 1) Disasters in urban context, 2) Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities, 3)Linking a past, present and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design and its influence on urban recovery, 4) Supporting urban risk reduction through reconstruction, 5) Relocation from hazardous areas and 6) Local governments, urban governance and institutions.

There are participants from both academic and practitioner backgrounds presenting research across both urban and rural contexts, and debating the major issues revolving in themes and trends in disaster recovery and reconstruction. What entails in the organising of such a conference of massive scale and what lessons can be drawn from such a collaboration of high levels of expertise and experience?

The conference had initially received 85 abstracts which were blind, peer-reviewed by 13 members of the scientific committee requesting for further details, improvements and encouraging practice-based approach, threading a balance between empirically-rich practice accounts with academic rigour and methodological preciseness. Tomorrow delegates from across 22 countries will gather to hear from and discuss newer areas of research and collaboration on disaster recovery and reconstruction in urban areas. More details are available on the conference programme and abstracts online. For live updates starting tomorrow follow me on Twitter: @snek87

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Some immediate reflections while leaving Nepal

Having spent two months in Nepal since the earthquake, I am taking some key lessons with me on how the relief happened and will shape the recovery processes in the future. It will be interesting to learn how Nepal rebuilds after this twin earthquake and what lessons apply for agencies involved in relief and recovery process.

1. Aid delivers: In the immediate aftermath, for almost a month there was a huge influx of international search and rescue teams – SARAID.UK being one of them. Many relief and charity organisations providing essentials, many volunteer groups providing medical and psycho-social support, such as students from TISS. These actors risked their lives, bearing the aftershocks and living out in tents as the general tendency was to live outside the buildings for the fear of collapse due to the still-ongoing tremors.

However within 30-45 days these players left, and only those who were interested in the long-run process stayed and planned for longer-term recovery and reconstruction. These included experienced humanitarian actors such Christian Aid, Oxfam, Care, Acted etc.

2. Cluster coordination is a jamboree: In another blog, I have already addressed what happens when cluster systems kick in a nation! In the second month, it seemed overpowering the local mechanisms and the government got onto a front foot to deliver aid to all the affected households.

3. Geography and politics matter: Although there was a huge impetus on getting aid delivered to one and all affected, there were lot of geographical constraints, poor logistical support, lack of roads and vehicular access. All the hilux, 4-wheel drives were hired by international organizations, and trucks and tractors by UN bodies to deliver food and relief.

4. Local government leads the process: The CDO – Chief Development Officer is the nodal person in the Nepal Disaster Management Framework at the district level. he ensured that international donors and all other actors in the district comply  with local mechanisms for relief delivery by sending out regular circulars, memos and MoU for agencies to sign on the dotted lines and deliver prescribed goods within prescribed timeframe to top-down indicated geographies.

5. Humanitarianism in recovery: Targeting and timeliness are two concepts that saw reluctant acceptance among the development actors in the nation. Although time seemed of crucial importance with oncoming monsoons, standards and quality of goods distributed due to supply chain bottlenecks were questionable. Moreover development mindset of actors prevailed who imagined that everyone affected had equal right to the relief goods being distributed. Although this has been seen elsewhere in disaster affected areas, it loses significance to give a CGI sheet to someone whose window is broken, or house has observed wall-cracks after the earthquake. The need-based approach vs top-down standard response strategies locked horns once again in the context of Nepal.

8. Development in WaSH pre disaster instrumental in ensuring that post-disaster sanitation and health scenario did not worsen post-earthquake. The use of safe water springs, safe water handling, and sustained use of shared toilets despite the damage of family latrines due to earthquakes ensured fewer people were susceptible to water-borne diseases.

These are immediate off-the-hip observations from being a reflective practitioner, a tag I have lately lovingly picked up for myself. I will churn these thoughts and empirical anecdotes and follow up with rigorous understanding and conceptual foundations. More to follow on this soon.

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Rethinking resilience over email exchanges

Today I was browsing my email history, and came across this from a senior practitioner from India who asked me the academician’s take on IFRC definition of resilience, as the ability of individuals, communities, organisations, or countries exposed to disasters and crises and underlying vulnerabilities to – anticipate, – reduce impact of – cope with and – recover from the effects of adversity without compromising their long-term impacts.
I responded by saying:
There are two things that come to mind when we talk of resilience, and then many more nuances of the debates
open up. Firstly, some view resilience as ‘resistance’ where the idea is that any system or unit will retain its original characteristics when faced with shock so minimum or least damage is caused. like a rubber. This is from engineering or mechanics and physics school of thought. While an alternate thought is that a system will adapt n evolve and re organise when faced with disaster or any shock. this is ecological or geography perspective.
However in social systems, the resilience definitions understand that there is a capacity to adapt and recover from disasters and retain normal functioning. the concept of “bringing back to previous state of functioning ” or bounce back means that one recreates the conditions which led to disaster in first place, but still disaster provides with a window of opportunity to make a change- political conditions. practices. community capacities etc.
Finally resilience I have began to realise is very abstract. To operationalise, it’s challenging because everyone works as DRR or development or conflict resolution or humanitarian or clim change adaptation etc. to break through these barriers there is opportunity., but it also puts a value to certain conditions. for ex poverty has sustained for so long, so maybe poor and marginalised who live in poor conditions are still surviving because they have become resilient. Also if there are power imbalances then those who suffer inequality will have less support systems to adapt and become resilient.
Today I find value in above definitions, on concepts of recovery because resilience incorporates that factor of recovering from disasters. Therefore I think holistic recovery from disasters has more potential to build resilient communities as it loops back to the cycle of preparedness, mitigation and prevention of disasters
Any thoughts on this are welcome

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Solmari: Another village lost

2013-10-16 15.57.54I said good-bye to my study village yesterday, and celebrated their festival Id with them. Gave my thanks for the time I spent there for the past two years and the support and motivation the people of Solmari gave me for my research. While unpacking resilience and recovery debates in Solmari I have discovered layers and linkages within me, and around me that were unknown to me all the while. I would like to share this particular story with all of you.

I first came to Solmari in July 2012, just when it was flooded due to the heavy rains that caused the breach in the embankment.  (Image – breached embankment). I am a photographer – researcher, so my memory and mind functions in the form of images. Lasting images that are etched in my mind are that of the run-down school and concrete community building that had borne the brunt of the breach. Few other images are of vast stretches of land filled with river water, shattered houses built under Indira Awaas Yojana, people stranded on the embankment and many others trying to salvage from the ruins. The impact of these images were so powerful in my mind, that I was motivated to return here to understand how the communities recovered post-floods.

As I had been remotely keeping an eye on how things developed here, I found news reports and Oxfam situation updates that there were consecutive waves of floods until October 2012, and people were forced to leave their villages and continue living in camps.

I visited Solmari twice this year in January and in August 2013. It was very evident, that the entire village-land was sand-casted and no agriculture was possible in this land. The repeated onslaught of floods indeed had prolonged the rebuilding of their lives and livelihoods. The urgent needs and concerns of the most vulnerable groups were met by Oxfam interventions. Resilience for them was construction of the new embankment for protection from floods, and raised platforms for shelter during floods. The Panchayat undertook construction of the new embankment, and two raised platforms. The quality and durability of these are questionable as the rains

Today I look back at Solmari, which stands nowhere, lying on the wrong-side of the new embankment, the entire community was forced to relocate without any support from the government. The crops and the tree-cover owned by few, lie exposed to the river, which is eroding the soil everyday. With a focused review of recovery processes in water, sanitation and hygiene practices, I found that it remains the primary challenge, besides land and livelihoods. But the question still remains – what makes Solmari resilient in the larger scheme of things? Without adequate support systems – either from government or non-government organizations, what will catalyze the recovery or redevelopment process?

And this is not the only Solmari in Assam, there were many other villages whose name none remember, that were washed away by Brahmaputra today – except for those to whom it belonged, there will be many more Solmaris this year and the next and in the future as well. I saw a similar pattern, and have heard about decades of erosion stories from my research in Morigaon as well? Where do we draw a line, or is it really ok if such unheard stories of villages gets lost in the relief-resilience-development conundrum?

How do recovery lessons from Assam applied elsewhere like in the case of recent Uttarakhand cloudburst or Cyclone Phailin?


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