Friday, August 10, 2018

Other factor more crucial than government deadline to boost reconstruction progress


There were a lot of discussion on deadline for homeowner driven reconstruction. Whether it is important or helpful to speed up reconstruction progress. In Nepal, the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA)[i] issued a deadline for distribution of cash grant[ii]. It mentioned that on mid-January 2018 will be the last disbursement of the 2nd tranche[iii]. There were pros and cons but the effect of the deadline was contributed to increase the pace of construction.[iv][v] Many homeowners have started their house construction to catchup the deadline. It was reported that the deadline was successful to motivate homeowners as number of house construction jumped to certain level[vi]. But there are two important ideas which easily overlooked and many people just fascinated with homeowners enthusiasm. First, the successful of government deadline only just like the tip of the iceberg. Only organizations who are invested their effort months before the deadline can ripe the benefit of this deadline. Second or lastly, every house reconstruction stakeholders should thoroughly measure the increase of construction pace of house construction number. This degree of increment should be maintained until the project completion or to the end of construction season.

Field investment is more important than just focus on deadline

In every post-disaster house reconstruction there always be deadline. Donor deadline or government deadline. Therefore every reconstruction organization should invest their effort on strategic initiatives which can be used as a solid foundation to propel the construction pace. The impact of government deadline may vary from one organization to others. Only organization who had these investments would ripe the benefit of the deadline.

Same like owner driven reconstruction in other places the enthusiasm of homeowners are crucial. This enthusiasm should be maintained and this can also be obtained from confident on having skilled builders. Builders who knows well on seismic resistant construction which ensure their house will be built robust and strong enough to withstand future earthquakes. These builders will also construct houses which will pass the government engineers checklist which will allow them to access the next tranches. Therefore investing on continuously building capacities of the builders are strategic undertaking. There are many organization participate on providing training for masons as per government curricula[vii]. But it was only 7 days or even 50 days on the job training. If we want to change practices or habits to adopt the new understanding of seismic resistance the approach should be coaching. It would take months, but for sure it is worth it.

Since coaching of builders will take months hence builders should be retained. There should be proper project management to ensure their continuous work in the field. Builders always want to have continuous income so the project management has to guarantee there will no idle for them. Therefore the task of project management is to produce house design as per homeowner needs. Provide layout and conduct site measurement. Put homeowners on ready to build as many as possible. The indicator of this success is there are homeowners queueing for builders. Scarcity of builders to some extent is good for construction progress. More builders could come from other area and at least there is job security for current skilled builders.

Not every stage of construction need skilled builders. There are unskilled ones can participate at certain stage of construction. Land clearing, digging foundation and working on foundation theses unskilled builders can work alongside with the skilled builders. Same like skilled builders due to massive construction post-disaster these unskilled builders also will not sufficient. Therefore rebuilding post-disaster even construction of private houses should be understood as community effort. Each homeowners need to be supported by their neighborhood by giving their hand to work building the foundation. Then in turn they have to work for their neighbors houses. In Nepal this known as aalo palo and it is a community tradition which a group of 5 to 10 homeowners will work in rotation. Even though the unskilled builders still insufficient hence women also can participate.[viii]  This valuable tradition is proven to be a big help for speeding up the construction pace. This working in turn also has economic benefit to minimize the risk of inflation. Since there is no payment to all who are working in rotation, there will be no inflation in unskilled builders. If the unskilled has more opportunity to work, more house they can build it means more construction skills will they get. This will be reduce the risk of inflation on skilled builders even the scarcity is quite big.
 
All of the initiative above need cash grant to be disbursed timely. The cash grant usually a half or one third or even less compare to the cost of the house. But most of the house owner are really need the cash support in order they could continue to build the house.  The effectiveness of the organization who support this owner driven construction can be measured on how long the beneficiaries receive the funding after certain eligible stage on construction. There are layers of government stakeholders who need to approve paperworks in order the bank can send the money to each beneficiaries. Therefore coordination and establishment of system is crucial in order the process can be streamlined and at the same time maintain its accuracy. From the organization itself, good financial management is needed to ensure there will be sufficient funding available in the bank. So when the request for money transfer issued the bank can immediately wire the money to the beneficiary account.

Effort to increase pace of construction is more important than just focusing on government deadline

There is always limited timeframe on every reconstruction post-disaster. For massive reconstruction usually special institution is established by the government.[ix] The institution is not permanent and therefore they have finished certain task within specific time. Hence it is understandable if government issues on deadline. This is same with organizations who work on recovery which also have limited time. This limited timeframe then translated as deadline in the field.

But in Nepal context there are other more important deadline since the construction might only effective in a certain window of opportunity. The construction will not effective in planting and harvesting season since the homeowners and builders reside in the area are working in the field. There are festivals like Tihar and Dashain which everyone enjoy the holiday with their families. There is monsoon which rainfall can affect the transportation with landslide or road damage. Transportation of construction material like steel rebar and cement will be halted. Therefore construction will boom somewhere after festivals and before monsoon. It means if we want to have flourish reconstruction it will be between October to July. The nature itself has given its own deadline.

Hence as a project management strategy every recovery organizations have to maximize the house construction during this construction season. It means in every month until the monsoon it is important to ensure that every month should has increase number of finished house. It can be seen that it should be steeper curve in the S-curve[x].

Investment during low season of construction to gain benefit of any deadline

Considering there is only small window for construction season therefore investing in low season is significant. Qualified engineering team with back-up of community mobilization expert need to bring all homeowners in ready-to-build mode. Therefore house designs should be available. This is crucial to motivate home owner. When they can see the house design they can imagine what kind of house they will get, they can be encourage to start and complete the house. Engineering support also needed in calculating the budget. It means they will choose the design which suit to their budget. Investing on builders’ expertise is also crucial. Then houses can be constructed faster and comply with the building code. If all of those are in place then the government deadline become additional boost for the progress.

Arwin Soelaksono



[i] The NRA was established in August 2015 with a mandate to complete the reconstruction drive within five years.
[ii] In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, the government decided to provide Rs 200,000 per household as private housing rebuilding aid, which was later increased to Rs300,000 to be distributed in three instalments—Rs 50,000, Rs 150,000 and Rs 100,000. The amount is being disbursed in three instalments for ensuring that the quake survivors rebuild quake resilient homes in line with the compliance and design set by the government
[iii] The 1st tranche was distributed on early September 2016. Then reconstruction program then went on across the 14 most affected areas. NRA has published a deadline (Annapurna Post July 21, 2017) which all the beneficiaries must sign agreement by November 16, 2017 and must receive 1st tranche. Those beneficiaries who have already received 1st   tranche within January 13, 2017 must receive 2nd tranche within January 14, 2018 and those receiving 1st tranche within November 16, 2017 must receive 2nd tranche within April 13, 2018. Those beneficiaries who will be receiving 2nd tranche within January 14, 2018 must receive 3rd tranche within June 13, 2018 and those who will be receiving 2nd tranche within April 13, 2018 must receive 3rd tranche within July 14, 2018. Then again the deadline was extended - Government extends deadline for second tranche of grant.
[iv] There 37% of homeowners start to rebuild their houses due to NRA tranche deadline https://www.nepalitimes.com/here-now/building-homes-on-a-deadline/
[v] Ghimire calls the deadline pressure a success, as construction rates have risen over the last year. Today, more than 800,000 households qualify for government subsidies, which are distributed in three separate payments totalling $3,000, depending on the stage of construction. More than 440,000 have received the second of these payments – a year ago, only 55,000 people had. https://www.irinnews.org/news-feature/2018/08/06/nepal-rushed-earthquake-rebuild-leads-mountain-debt
[vi] Nepal has witnessed a dramatic spurt in progress in home reconstruction over the past few months, driven in part by government deadlines announced last year. https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/nepals-desperate-race-to-rebuild/
[viii] Reconstruction a pathway for women to contribute more on sustainable development. http://disaster-response-reconstruction.blogspot.com/2018/03/reconstruction-pathway-for-women-to.html
[ix] For instance for recovery following the tsunami 2004 in Indonesia there was Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias (2005-2009).
[x] S-curves are an important project management tool. They allow the progress of a project to be tracked visually over time, and form a historical record of what has happened to date. Analyses of S-curves allow project managers to quickly identify project growth, slippage, and potential problems that could adversely impact the project if no remedial action is taken. http://www.maxwideman.com/guests/s-curve/using.htm

Saturday, June 23, 2018

No one left behind in house reconstruction post-disaster in owner-driven setting

The need for recovery is always our human nature once people recover after shock following the natural disaster. Natural disasters are generally considered as a coincidence between natural hazards (such as flood, cyclone, earthquake and drought) and conditions of vulnerability.[i] But how fast and to what extent the recovery outcome might be different for each affected people. To those who have sufficient resources and capacities they might bounce back within certain times. But to those who unfortunately live in vulnerable condition they might feel helpless. There is a high risk of disaster when one or more natural hazards occur in a vulnerable situation.[ii] For vulnerable people, other than food, medical and other item which needed to continue for their survival, the need of having safe shelter are also crucial. Particularly in owner-driven setting, this might be a big challenge to those who are most vulnerable due to build a robust and safe structure are considerably expensive.


More on the vulnerability issues, people with certain social characteristics are more likely than others to be affected by lack of access and lack of resources. Other type of vulnerability also can be seen at the effects of age (very young and very old), gender (including complications of pregnancy), and disability[iii]. For these people even to access their livelihood has already quite challenging. As they might perceived the shelter is beyond their capacities, therefore fulfilling their basic needs such as food become the only thing they could pursue.
The most vulnerable on house rebuilding – they are at risk of being left behind

Further discussion among the government and humanitarian agencies is to what extent the most vulnerable people might get help on house rebuilding. Because their self-capacity – even might be very small – could not be undermined. They might have relatives who are willing to support. Or there are some salvage material still can be used from the ruined house. But to give similar support as other affected people received from recovery program might not be effective. Their ability to fit in the recovery program is far below from their neighborhood.

Other factor that those vulnerable people still have capacity is they still have neighbors which might help them. The community contribute their resource such as construction material or labor to support their neighbor. This is social capital might vary. Stronger social capital might ensure there will be no-one left behind on rebuilding their houses. But depend only on social capital still not adequate. Social capital helps groups to overcome collective action problems, but there is no guarantee that in doing so they will produce public goods available to people outside that group.[iv]

For vulnerable people having a safe land to build their houses has already quite challenging even before the disaster. Other than the land rights issues they might live in vulnerable land. Landslide prone, riverbanks which disaster might occur at any time or season. Their economic condition hampers them to own land with safe environment.

Even they have safe land to rebuild their house they have to compete with their neighbors when the government launch the recovery program. Tens or even hundreds of thousands houses will be rebuild in certain period of recovery. After a large-scale disaster, housing reconstruction projects are susceptible to numerous resource bottlenecks inherent in post-disaster circumstances, such as a lack of suitable resources and alternatives[v]. The vulnerable families will have to wait since the builders will prioritize them who can pay them according to the market wage. If the time to wait might be prolonged other imminent problem is the inflation. The inflation is very common due to supply and demand, the longer the reconstruction period the prices tend to increase. This is due to a great amount of money pour in this construction sector and for many people increase their purchasing power.

Supporting the most vulnerable for house reconstruction

Even there are some weaknesses on social capital but still social capital is highly influential for how much and how fast societies are able to recover, rebuild, and sometimes even improve after having been hit by a disaster.[vi] Since the vulnerable families live in the community most possible of the support is from within. In some cases support from the neighbors is needed if there is external assistance from the government or humanitarian agencies. Their support are any means that might increase their access in recovery program. For instance more affordable construction material which usually come as discounted price. Since this kind of support might be limited, therefore support from the community is needed since this kind of assistance should be agreed for only the most vulnerable families. 

The government should take lead on helping the most vulnerable. The government obviously develop the policy and strategy on recovery but supporting the most vulnerable should be clearly mentioned. The policy might open access for humanitarian or development agencies to support the most vulnerable. From this policy the agencies can provide various direct intervention such as technical assistance or cash grant as additional to the government support. These assistance should be perceived as closing the gaps as the most vulnerable might be left out. Reconstruction processes should be considered as a redevelopment opportunity, with environment protection a priority on the sustainability agenda.[vii]

Helping the most vulnerable should be the call for humanitarian agencies. The effectiveness mostly depends on the resources are available within the organization. This kind of assistance needs special skills from the design until the implementation. The program should be designed to match and complement the government plan. Specifically for house reconstruction understand of adaptable construction technology is the key of successful implementation. The recovery program should maximize local resources, the construction material, equipment and builders. The implementation should abide with the code but still open to new practices as long as scientifically approved. Therefore within the organization there should be qualified team to handle this responsibility.      

Arwin Soelaksono



[i] Maskrey, A., Disaster Mitigation: A Community Based Approach.  Development Guidelines No. 3.  Oxfam, Oxford (1989).
[ii] Maskrey, A., (1989).
[iii] Wisner, Ben. Marginality and vulnerability. Why the homeless of Tokyo don’t ‘count’ in disaster preparations. (1998)
[iv] Aldrich, Daniel P. Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery. (2012).
[v] Chang, Yan, et.al. An integrated approach: managing resources for post-disaster reconstruction. (2011).
[vi] Aldrich, Daniel P. (2012)
[vii] Chang, Yan. (2011).

Monday, June 4, 2018

Psychological milestones of house reconstruction post-disaster


Owner driven reconstruction approach has been introduced following Gujarat earthquake in 2001.[i] Striking difference with reconstruction post Asian tsunami 2004, the survivors has to rebuild their own houses. They have to put their own money and other resources in order to complete their houses. While support from the government or organizations is only some part. In comparison with reconstruction post-tsunami the survivors get completed houses from the government or donors. There are report and studies discussed owner-driven approach are much better compare to the donor driven.[ii] As it is proven to be successful it is important to see this approach from the beneficiaries’ perspective. Particularly their psychological factor which drive them to rebuild and complete their houses.

Building a house - once in a lifetime experience

For many people building a house might be once in a life time. They will put almost all of their savings, months of efforts and sacrifices their other needs in order to have a house. They will wait until the right time to construct their houses according their needs and budget.


For the disaster survival, there is no such ideal time to rebuild houses. It will always a narrow period of rebuilding otherwise they have to live in temporary shelter or in refuge. The pressure might getting larger to those are economically deprived. The money needed for rebuilding is beyond their capacities even they already sacrifices their needs to have sufficient space. Many of them just build two rooms houses which in fact they need more rooms. The cost of construction is always more expensive compare their common practices. For instance to have robust structure they have to put earthquake resistance attributes in the structure. They have to follow building codes in order the government officers approved their houses and eligible to get the funding assistance. Hence for many people this condition put them in big dilemma. If they choose not to rebuild, they would live in temporary shelter. But if they decide to rebuild they might not finished it due to lack of money.

Psychological barrier

Indeed in the owner driven reconstruction setting, the government provide funding mechanism to support the rebuilding. The homeowners will receive some amount of money from the government or from the donors through the recovery organizations. The amount of money is only some part which usually less than fifty percent of the two rooms house. Therefore the support can be perceived as stimulus to kick start the reconstruction. This kind of support will be given in tranches according to the government procedure.

There are at least two milestones which homeowners experiencing psychological barrier in order could start and then finish the house reconstruction. These barriers located at the particular cash disbursement milestones. The first barrier is after they receive the first tranche. At this first milestone, the cash support is expected to build confidence to do the groundbreaking which later on to finish the foundation. 

In reality the first tranche does not automatically move the homeowners start the reconstruction. Most of them is on wait-and-see their neighbors whether will start or even complete the house. The amount of first tranche definitely is not sufficient to finish the foundation or achieve the next milestone. The homeowner need to use salvage material and inject cash through their own saving or from money lender to achieve next tranche.  

If they can reach the next milestone which is eligible for the second tranche another psychological barrier need to be broken. The second tranche is the biggest amount compare to other tranches. The amount is more than enough to repay all expenses from previous phase. New dilemma arise which made them paused when they realize the amount of money to invest to finance the next construction is even larger. If they want to stop they can save the second tranche money but they will only have house foundation.

In normal condition there are barriers for people to start house construction. National event such as festivals, elections and also local weathers always become consideration. This situation will increase the psychological barrier for the disaster survivors.

Building the confidence

Even there are hindrances, at some but many of homeowners eventually can finish the construction and happily living in their new houses. It does not mean that each of them have sufficient money but their confidence are strengthen during the process.  There are factors which can strengthen their confidence. The first is the continuous flow of the cash support. All homeowners could expect there will be money just in time to finance their construction. Though they realize the cash support is insufficient at some extent they can calculate how much money they need to provide to finish their house.

Other factor is assurance that their undertaking is according to the regulation which made the eligible to obtain the support. Therefore those homeowners who receive technical assistance are more progressing compare to those who have absence of such support. Because in the reconstruction the have to follow build back safer which many of the practices are different with their traditional way. It needs close monitoring and lots of training to the homeowners and the builders.

Building the confidence mostly part of the government responsibility who develop the policies and the systems. It depends on the readiness of government to set up funding and monitoring mechanism and also deploy sufficient engineers for technical support. Other important undertaking is the market stabilization, inflation has almost become the biggest nightmare in reconstruction. All of these are beyond reach of the organizations who support the reconstruction which usually in local level.

There should be better project delivery systems, better mechanism for providing supervision and technical advices, more down-to-earth training and capacity building mechanism as well as smarter financing and incentives system, supported by appropriate technology approaches.[iii]

If all system and support are in place it is fine if the government declare deadline. Recovery agencies always have deadline. Their mandate usually limited in certain time. But during the period of recovery the message is clear that whoever wants to rebuild they might access sufficient support. This condition could boost optimism to beneficiaries personally and also as communal. But if the condition is the other way around which is no sufficient support, the deadline will have no impact. Furthermore the deadline might create apathy and distrusts towards the recovery agencies.

Psychological momentum of house completion

Though the construction process might take a long process but there is one stage that mostly made them complete their houses. When they almost finish the roof beam with the door and window frame installed they will their own pressure to complete their house. They can vividly imagine their new house. They realize there was a lot of money being spent and it would be ashamed if they could not finish their house.

Other encouragement might also come from their neighbors who already finished their houses, particularly to those community with high social cohesiveness. One finished house not only meant as encouragement but sometimes shameful for someone who failed the rebuilding.

Therefore supporting the disaster victim to rebuild house construction should be perceived as an effort of develop their capacities and self-confidence. As this initiative is owner driven setting, they recognize that their preference are respected but they too should be accountable of the risks. For all recovery agencies this undertaking should be perceived as not just giving funding and technical assistance. Moreover to develop their self-ability and find their momentum. It is a marathon not a sprint.    

Arwin Soelaksono



[i] Practical Action, London South Bank University, and
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2010), Barenstein, Jennifer Duyne  and Iyengar, Sushma Building Back Better, Delivering people-centred housing reconstruction at scale. India: From a culture of housing to a philosophy of reconstruction.
[ii] Gayani Karunasena, Raufdeen Rameezdeen, (2010) "Post‐disaster housing reconstruction: Comparative study of donor vs owner‐driven approaches", International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Vol. 1 Issue: 2, pp.173-191, https://doi.org/10.1108/17595901011056631 Beneficiary satisfaction is higher on owner‐driven approach compared to the donor‐driven approach.
[iii] Pribadi K.S., Kusumastuti D., Sagala S.A.H., Wimbardana R. (2014) Post-Disaster Housing Reconstruction in Indonesia: Review and Lessons from Aceh, Yogyakarta, West Java and West Sumatera Earthquakes. In: Shaw R. (eds) Disaster Recovery. Disaster Risk Reduction (Methods, Approaches and Practices). Springer, Tokyo