Why is technical assistance crucial?
On average, housing repairs and reconstruction make up 50% of total post-disaster reconstruction costs, representing billions of dollars annually. Poor design and construction – often driven by a lack of awareness and a lack of enforcement of building codes, poor quality materials, and sub-standard construction practices – are two of the largest factors contributing to such heavy losses. Climate change is likely to result in more disasters and higher losses. The Worldbank predicts that global average annual losses from disasters in the built environment are estimated to increase by 32% by 2030.
Post-disaster housing recovery involves massive, simultaneous (re)construction of people’s homes, carrying both huge opportunities, and enormous risks. Post-disaster assessments and recovery plans almost always aspire to ‘building back better’ or ‘building back safer’. Key to this are the ‘soft’ components of technical assistance: training for construction workers, awareness raising and outreach to communities, and dialogue with legislators and material suppliers.
In post-disaster recovery, rebuilding and repairing homes not only involves the largest number of buildings of any sector in post-disaster recovery, but also the largest number of actors, including home owners and occupants, legislators, financers and funders, material providers and labour. This represents both a huge opportunity and a challenge to support stakeholders across the spectrum to improve the quality and safety of housing.
The quality of housing and the systems that ensure safe housing construction, are important factors in how well communities deal with crises, which is how ‘resilience’ is defined. Safely constructed houses prevent death and injury, and allow people to focus their energy elsewhere, for example on rebuilding their livelihoods. Having systems in place that ensure safe (re)construction allows for a rapid and sustainable reconstruction.
What could be improved in terms of technical assistance in housing reconstruction?
Increasingly, humanitarian post-disaster assistance strategies are moving from a ‘hardware’ and ‘direct delivery’ approach of construction or provision of materials, to a support approach focussing on cash and technical assistance. The growth of financial support and housing disaster insurance payments means that, more-than-ever, labour and materials are being procured from local markets, and reconstruction decisions that are taken by households themselves.
The implications for governments, and humanitarian and reconstruction agencies are enormous. These include the necessity of the design of new roles; emphasising communication over supervision, new models of funding and programming focused on training rather than direct construction, new initiatives with the private sector to ramp-up the supply and quality of materials, and new coordination priorities to ensure the consistency and reach of information. Large-scale technical assistance is a major undertaking, requiring leadership and cooperation to harness partners and resources. The challenge of scale is mirrored by the challenge of sustainability; ensuring building improvements are institutionalised and normalised, and adopted at the local level, for the long term.
There are numerous examples of effective technical assistance in post-disaster housing reconstruction, but these have usually occurred inconsistently and in small areas. Large scale post-disaster technical assistance that reaches everyone across all affected areas remains a tantalising opportunity. This initiative aims to contribute to making that a reality.
This project is developed in coordination with existing networks, programmes, and projects. It for instance relates to the work of the Global Shelter Cluster on messaging for safer construction, the work of the World Bank on building codes, and the ‘promoting safer building’ project of CARE,