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close this bookRehabilitation and Reconstruction - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1993, 47 p.)
close this folderPart 1 - Scope of rehabilitation and reconstruction
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentNature of the disaster
View the documentScale of the damage
View the documentLocation of the event
View the documentSectors affected
View the documentLosses
View the documentResulting needs
View the documentAvailable resources
View the documentPolitical commitment
View the documentActors involved in the reconstruction
View the documentSummary

Available resources

Balancing needs with resources is critical at all stages of post-disaster activities. While the relief period may attract large national and international inputs, rehabilitation and reconstruction may not benefit from such high levels of attention. Prioritization of investment becomes critical where monetary resources are limited and sectorial needs are too many to meet.


Following the devastating floods in the Anhui Province of China in July 1991, authorities decided to channel a part of limited financial resources into rehabilitating agriculture and creating small enterprises. Economic rehabilitation was identified as the way to speed up reconstruction of 2.78 million rooms (a measure of housing unit in China) damaged by the flood. A central Government decision to build a dam at the Three Gorges, with one of it’s functions to reduce future floods, was challenged by some Chinese economists as too high an investment at the wrong time. Their preference was to support economic development first, and finance building of the dam later out of the revenues from economic surplus. Economists claimed that this way the dam would be built quicker with the additional advantage of economic development.

In disasters of considerable magnitude, not only various sectors but also a large number of counties, municipalities or settlements are often competing for the same funds and for the attention of the same authorities and expertise. Strong community or administrative leadership is critical at this stage in marshaling national and international support. Local administrative preparedness plans and general capacity, together with technical mechanisms that are in place before the disaster, usually contribute significantly to expeditious recovery. Although some dependence on external resources (e.g. communities on local authorities, national governments on international donors) is to be expected after a large scale disaster, excessive dependence can cause loss of local control and delays in recovery. Small communities that have sustained heavy damage are most likely to become dependent on external inputs of this kind. In such circumstances resources should be channeled to enhance local capacities to cope with the effects of disasters and to maximize community self-reliance. Efforts should not duplicate or provide what can be locally available or undertaken. Consultation with the local agencies and the affected population is essential in this process as the Donor’s or the authorities perception of what is critical and essential may differ significantly from local perceptions.

In this respect, the role of external assistance should be to identify strengths and bottlenecks in order to mobilize the necessary resources that are not available and cannot be generated at the local or national level.

The bottlenecks for speedy recovery vary greatly from country to country, area to area. On the basis of past examples, however, hold-ups may occur in the supply of:

Funds and the appropriate mechanisms for channeling them to the survivors and the necessary sectors.

Large scale disasters often create inflation, balance of payment problems, fiscal expenditure increases and a decrease in monetary reserves. Interruption to economic activities, a decline in tourism in some countries, and delays to new development programs are contributing factors. Public savings, private sector investment, credit and loans by commercial banks and government, international funds, special taxation will be necessary to resolve this bottleneck. Revolving funds, grants and credit as opposed to gifts, income generating investments will be more appropriate forms of funding for long-term sustainability of programs. Repayment capacity of the recipients and limitations of the very poor in benefiting from funds need special attention. Writing-off loans in agriculture, stock breeding and commerce in high damage areas can revitalize critical economies more rapidly.

Materials for construction of temporary as well as permanent buildings, infrastructure, health provisions etc.

Need for vast quantities of construction material and sometimes for medicaments and equipment coupled with possible reduction in production and transportation problems can create the bottleneck. New safety standards in construction and infrastructure may also require materials that are not readily available in the affected area or country. Rehabilitation and reconstruction plans should consider the availability of material goods as an integral part of the assessment process. Where possible, preference should be to use locally or regionally available materials. If necessary, loans and grants should be arranged for this purpose to boost local manufacturing capacity This will not only reduce the cost of transport and possibly of the materials but also support economic recovery. In this option, management of production and distribution and quality control may become problematic and will require effective organizational arrangements. Introduction of new materials and imports from international markets should be limited to sophisticated construction or infrastructure as they may suppress national markets and, in the long term, create maintenance and supply problems. Supplies from external markets can sometimes be useful to control the increase in prices due to short supply or black-marketing.

Equipment and tools for the clearance of debris, repair and reconstruction, transportation of goods, revitalization of health facilities, agriculture, industry, etc.

Both simple and sophisticated equipment and tools will be in short supply throughout all sectors that suffer damage due to losses as well as increased demand to rehabilitate and reconstruct. Supply of simple tools for digging, cutting, cultivating etc., as well as credit to purchase them, will increase self-reliance at the local level. A plan must be made to appraise availability of equipment in the hands of various ministries, local authorities and the private sector. Co-ordination and sharing of these resources and the Prioritization of their use will improve effectiveness. Mandates for their acquisition and use during the reconstruction period must be integrated into preparedness plans.

The main power line between South Africa and Maputo after a severe cyclonic storm.

UNDRO News, Mar/Apr 1985, page 9.


Following cyclone Bebe in Fiji, there was little difficulty in diverting the shipping capacity of the Marine Department to relief work, but as the apparent urgency of the need to rehabilitate affected communities receded the Central Relief Committee often had to compete with other government departments in order to transport building materials to the outer islands.

Energy and power sources required for transport, communications, industrial production and functioning of the critical facilities.

Damage to infrastructure and power plants can bring most sectors to a halt. Shortage of emergency and power supplies can greatly delay rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. For example, after the earthquake in Armenia a shortage of fuel created problems at all stages from airlift of relief goods to production and transport of construction materials. Rapid restoration of power plants can partly alleviate the situation where such energy resources are available. If the problem is likely to extend over a long period of time, reliance on local materials and resources and facilitating production close to where it is needed will be the most realistic approach. Dependence on external support will be difficult to sustain throughout the reconstruction time.

Land to build on may not be available or may be too expensive.

Land is likely to become a scarce resource where the affected communities were landless or were renters prior to the disaster. Land will also be scarce where usable land has been destroyed through landslides, volcanic eruption or flood erosion, where population density needs to be reduced in the damaged area as a mitigation measure or where relocation becomes inevitable due to the high risks involved. Often safe land may not be easily available. Such was the case in China after the floods in Anhui Province in 1991 and in Bangladesh following the cyclones of 1970 and 1989. Building embankments and raising the level of ground can be solutions but they are labor intensive and, in the long run, may be rendered ineffective. Safeguarding land tenure and reducing population densities, especially in expensive urban areas, are politically contentious and often difficult to achieve. Releasing government and local public land, and providing emergency powers to expropriate private land can partly alleviate the pressure.


Some ingenious solutions developed in Mexico City are worth summarizing here. In low income areas the tenants formed resident groups and were granted low interest loans to purchase the land of their damaged flats. In commercial areas where building heights were reduced, the right to develop additional stories was transferred to low risk areas where land owners were encouraged to form partnerships for extra benefits.

Human resources to plan, co-ordinate and implement rehabilitation or reconstruction.

In large scale damaging events both administrative/technical staff and skilled/unskilled labor will be in short supply. High casualties also play a role in this shortage. At the local level, loss of able bodied members of families may reduce the capacity to rebuild and recover. Casualties among the administrative and technical staff can delay decision-making and response. The volume of work can also be difficult to meet with existing human resources. In Mexico City, rapid damage survey required large numbers of experienced technical staff which were not immediately available. As a result the quality of data collected varied greatly. External support of specialized technicians, health staff, etc., are often on offer during the rehabilitation phase. Reconstruction, on the other hand, takes a long time and if it goes slowly enough, skills can be developed internally through training and education. This was one reason why, after the war in Iran, some defended a more gradual process of reconstruction. As for many other aspects of rehabilitation and reconstruction, however, priority for utilizing human resources should be given to the local population from the affected area and only the expertise where there are identified and essential gaps should be provided from other sources.

Priority for utilizing human resources should be given to the local population from the affected area and only the expertise where there are identified and essential gaps should be provided from other sources.

Adequate and relevant information to act upon.

Reliable qualitative and quantitative information on damage, losses, needs, local national and international resources, future risks, and development programs are a prerequisite for decision making and planning. These will affect the scale, shape and timing of rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. While most information will be collected sector by sector, a sufficiently high level central system can improve quality control, co-ordination and dissemination of the data. Standardized formats for data collection and reporting, developing procedures and training for data collection and handling, creation of essential information bases will be a worthwhile investment in high risk areas.

Administrative structures and organizations to carry out rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.

Local administrative and technical mechanisms, community groups and NGOs in place before the disaster contribute significantly to expeditious recovery. While disasters can act as a catalyst to create cohesion in some situations, communities and administrative systems that have been muddling along before the disaster hit are very much at a disadvantage in coping with massive disaster-related demands.

Besides, most government departments are so rigidly staffed that undertaking extra post-disaster activities over an extended period of time may become difficult. The shedding of some ‘normal role’ activities, and training and employment of extra staff can reduce the pressure. Arrangements with other government departments for staff support and sub-contracting the private sector can also be effective in pulling in extra human resources. NGOs and voluntary groups can equally complement or supplement public sector efforts and strengthen community self-reliance. However, it should be remembered that in most situations the bulk of long-term reconstruction inevitably falls on the public sector.

Pre-disaster plans to co-ordinate inter-agency and inter-organizational relationships, creation of a centralized rehabilitation and reconstruction committee and integration of recovery planning into preparedness plans can improve effectiveness of rehabilitation and reconstruction response. Effective inter-agency and government collaboration has to be ensured and coordinated for the sharing of resources and avoiding duplication.

Q. Bottlenecks often occur that hamper speedy recovery after disasters. What are the usual causes for these setbacks?

A. __________________________________________________________



(Bottlenecks that occur in the recovery process are usually due to a lack of funds, materials, equipment and tools, energy and power sources, land, human resources, adequate information, and administrative structures.)