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earthquake

Three countries show why culture matters for post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction and recovery

Sameh Wahba's picture
In Mali, residents of Timbuktu take part in the maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque, a World Heritage Site, applying traditional repair techniques. (Tiecoura Ndaou / UN Photo)
In Mali, residents of Timbuktu take part in the maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque, a World Heritage Site, applying traditional repair techniques. (Tiecoura Ndaou / UN Photo)

Imagine a city destroyed by a natural disaster, killing people and wiping away infrastructure. For instance, an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010, killing over 200,000 people and displacing around 895,000.

Even worse, imagine a city demolished by a manmade disaster: conflict. Recent examples include Aleppo, Syria and Kabul, Afghanistan. Here conflict goes far beyond violence to include erasing a place’s culture, heritage, landmarks, and its traditions.

Now, imagine the enormous undertaking required to rebuild these places and the many stakeholders that need to be brought together. It would take an integrated, holistic approach to restore torn heritage, infrastructure, and service delivery systems after they have been wiped out by a natural or manmade disaster. Culture needs to underpin such a rebuilding approach.

To build resilient cities, we must treat substandard housing as a life-or-death emergency

Luis Triveno's picture

Also available in: Español

Damaged houses in Long Island, New York after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by UNISDR.

The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths. 

But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because in the developing world, it is mainly housing that kills people, not disasters.
 
Worldwide, most injuries and deaths from natural disasters are a result of substandard housing. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, one-third of the population – 200 million people – lives in informal settlements, which are densely packed with deadly housing units. In 2010, when the 7.0-magnitude Haiti earthquake killed 260,000 people, 70% of damages were related to housing. Similarly, it’s estimated that if an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit Peru, 80% of the economic losses would be to housing.
 
But the story in rich countries is different. In the past 10 years, high-income countries experienced 47% of disasters worldwide, but accounted for only 7% of fatalities.

Building more affordable and disaster-resilient housing in Latin America and the Caribbean: a few policy ideas

Julian Palma's picture
Photo by C64-92 via Flicker Creative Commons

Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.

In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.

Innovating with the past: How to create resilience through heritage

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Also available in: 日本語
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo by Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo: Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Bosai (防災) means disaster risk reduction or management, and it became our word of reference. As a group of professionals from disaster risk and cultural heritage management backgrounds visiting Japan, we used it in activities, as nicknames, and shouted in unison every time a group photo was taken. It represents a lesson that Japan has learned very well. Disasters have been part of the Japanese experience since the beginning of history. The Kobe Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 are just two recent examples of disasters from which Japan recovered under the motto “build back better.” On November 5 we will be marking the World Tsunami Awareness Day, and I cannot think of a better word than Bosai to capture its significance.

In an environment rife with natural disasters, Japan recognizes that climate change is a tangible reality that increases the intensity and frequency of these disasters. The country knows very well the threat they pose not only to its people, economy, or infrastructure, but also to its cultural heritage.

Intangible culture is equally important, especially helping people in the recovery process and ensuring that we learn from the past. Take for instance the example of ancient local knowledge used around the world, and ask yourself: are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Ko Takeuchi's picture
Also available in: 日本語
Also available in: Russian
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The “miracle pine,” a 250-year-old tree that survived the 2011 tsunami in Japan, has been preserved as a memorial to the 19,000 victims of the disaster. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In disaster risk management, we often pay close attention to the latest technological boosts to better understand risks and help communities prepare for the next disaster. While such efforts are commendable, I noticed that insightful messages from our ancestors can also help us better anticipate tomorrow’s disaster risks.

Such messages teach us how to keep hazards away from people (reducing existing risks) as well as how to keep people away from hazards (avoid creating new risks). On my latest trip to Japan, we hosted government officials from Armenia, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan as part of an experts’ visit focusing on disaster risk management, acting on Japan’s rich culture of passing on such decisive messages to future generations.

Model Disaster Preparedness

News story by Susana Seijas, Mexico City

Recalling its monstrous 1985 earthquake, Mexico City trains 10,000 of its civil servants in disaster recovery techniques.

MEXICO CITY – Japan’s cataclysmic March 11 earthquake and tsunami have evoked painful memories of Mexico City’s 1985 quake and made many here reflect on how well prepared the city is for a similar disaster.

earthquake damage“You can never really be ready for a disaster like the 1985 earthquake, or a catastrophe of that magnitude,” says Carlos Morales Cienfuegos, a search and rescue volunteer who pulled people from Mexico City’s crumbled buildings.