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disaster recovery

When, what, and how to survey after a disaster strikes – an experience from Tonga

Liana Razafindrazay's picture
Winny, an elementary teacher enumerating for the household survey (Uiha Island, Tonga, April 10, 2014). With the support from the Ministry of Education, 35 teachers from Ha'apai participated during the survey.

Back in March 2014, I had the opportunity to be part of a World Bank team supporting the Tongan government to develop a reconstruction policy after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit earlier this year. To implement the policy, the Ministry of Infrastructure led a series of surveys to inform housing reconstruction. This post, which does not intend to be scientific or exhaustive, is to share some of the key lessons I learned from this experience.

Damage assessments are routine in the aftermath of disasters, but they differ depending on their objectives (Hallegatte, 2012 - pdf). A rapid survey in the wake of a disaster event could help to estimate grossly the direct human and economic losses and damages. This type of survey is best to capture the amplitude and the severity of the disaster. However, such survey could present some flaws, often because the survey will be conducted in a very short time frame with minimal design. On the other hand, a survey conducted a few months after the event is best to understand better the context of the disaster. It also allows a better design and better preparation. But, equally, such survey could include biases. For instance, the time lag between the event and the survey itself could create some level of challenges. Most likely, people would have started to fix their houses or have moved away from the affected area, and that will add a layer of complexity to the survey.

Tonga: a national effort to reconstruct Ha’apai after Tropical Cyclone Ian

Liana Razafindrazay's picture
Woman with her baby in a shelter after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit the Ha'apai Islands (Haano Island, Tonga, April 9, 2014). The woman left Haano to deliver her baby in Lifuka Island (the capital of Ha'apai). When she got back, her house had been completely destroyed by the cyclone. She stays in a shelter with her baby and husband.

In the morning of January 11, 2014, after an early warning from the Department of Meteorology and the National Disaster Management Office on the upcoming category 5 tropical cyclone Ian, power and radio transmission went off on the Island of Ha’apai, one of the most populated among the 150 islands of the Tongan archipelago in the South Pacific.

The Pacific Islands are inherently prone to hazards due to their geographic location and small size. Each year Pacific Island countries experience damage and loss caused by natural disasters estimated at an average $284 million, or 1.7% of regional GDP (World Bank 2013). In the coming decades, climate change is expected to make things worse through sea level rise and more intense cyclones.