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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.)
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View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOverview
Open this folder and view contentsPart 1 - Scope of rehabilitation and reconstruction
Open this folder and view contentsPart 2 - Relationship to other stages of disaster management
Open this folder and view contentsPart 3 - Assumptions, dilemmas and guiding principles
View the documentGlossary


Module prepared by
Yasemin Aysan and Ian Davis


Disaster Management Training Programme



This training module has been funded by the United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs for the Disaster Management Training Programme (DMTP) in association with the University of Wisconsin Disaster Management Center.

The draft of this text was reviewed by John Rogge and Everett Ressler.

Editorial services, including design, educational components and formatting, have been provided by Intertect Training Services. Design consultation and desktop publishing have been provided by Artifax.

Cover Photo: Hardware vendor - Ghana. UNDP photo by Lois Jensen, World Development, March 1990, p. 23.



This training module is for UN officers and government and local authority officials. It illustrates the key principles and strategies for effective rehabilitation and reconstruction after a disaster. It highlights the constraints and opportunities provided by these stages of recovery from the impact of damaging events.

Many of the decisions and issues concerning rehabilitation and reconstruction closely relate to emergency response, preparedness, mitigation and long-term development planning. Therefore, the module is designed to help the reader understand the linkages between the various stages of the disaster spectrum.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction are a combination of social, psychological, cultural, economic, architectural and political processes. The module explores some of the relationships between these elements.

The content has been written by experts in the field of disaster management and in general follows the principles, procedures, and terminology of the UNDP/UNDRO Disaster Management Manual. However, terminology in this field is not standardized and authors from different institutions may use the same terms in slightly different ways. Therefore, there is a glossary of terms used in this module at the end of this text. Definitions in the glossary are those of the UNDP/UNDRO Disaster Management Manual. Definitions in the text are those of the authors.


This training module primarily refers to recovery after fast-onset disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, high winds and flooding. Recovery after drought introduces many factors which are outside the scope of the module, since timing and actions needed in this context are significantly different. The module also excludes recovery after war or civil strife. However, while the differences remain many of the general issues and principles in the following text may be applicable to recovery after hostilities as well as drought situations.

Training Methods

This module is intended for two audiences, the self-study learner and the participant in a training workshop. The following training methods are planned for use in workshops and are simulated in the accompanying “training guide”. For the self-study learner the text is as close to a tutor as can be managed in print.

Workshop training methods include:

group discussions

simulations/role plays

supplementary handouts


review sessions

self-assessment exercises

The self study learner is invited to use this text as a workbook. In addition to note taking in the margins, you will be given the opportunity to stop and examine your learning along the way through questions included in the text. Write down your answers to these questions before proceeding to ensure that you have captured key points of the text.



This module is designed to help you:

Distinguish the terms rehabilitation and reconstruction and the appropriate uses of both these responses.

Understand the scope of rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.

Place these activities in the spectrum of disaster management responses.


Actions taken during the period following the emergency phase is often defined as the recovery phase, which encompasses both rehabilitation and reconstruction. The precise time when one phase ends and another starts will vary in each situation.


Rehabilitation refers to the actions taken in the aftermath of a disaster to enable basic services to resume functioning, assist victims’ self-help efforts to repair physical damage and community facilities, revive economic activities and provide support for the psychological and social well being of the survivors. It focuses on enabling the affected population to resume more-or-less normal (pre-disaster) patterns of life. It may be considered as a transitional phase between immediate relief and more major, long-term development. (See the UNDP/UNDRO module Overview of Disaster Management.)








Reconstruction refers to the full restoration of all services, and local infrastructure, replacement of damaged physical structures, the revitalization of economy and the restoration of social and cultural life.







Reconstruction must be fully integrated into long-term development plans, taking into account future disaster risks and possibilities to reduce such risks by incorporating appropriate measures. Damaged structures and services may not necessarily be restored in their previous form or location. It may include the replacement of any temporary arrangements established as a part of emergency response or rehabilitation. (See the UNDP/UNDRO module Overview of Disaster Management.)

To amplify the two definitions, following a damaging hurricane the rehabilitation of the power lines would aim to restore the system as rapidly as possible so that the essential services would continue to function. Whereas, reconstruction of the power lines should aim to rebuild the rehabilitated system to a higher or safer standard than before so that the future risks to the power lines from a similar damaging event would be reduced.

Sometimes, the term recovery is also used to embrace both activities. It should be remembered that rehabilitation and reconstruction actions do not always safeguard full recovery. It may take longer to return to ‘normality’ or, in some situations, recovery may never be possible. It is, therefore, not possible to suggest a ‘model’ time frame for rehabilitation, reconstruction or recovery as distinctive periods. The length of time required for rehabilitation and reconstruction depends on a large number of factors, including pre-disaster trends, the extent of damage, level of preparedness, availability of resources, administrative and legislative powers to act rapidly, and political stability and will to implement plans.

Furthermore, different sectors may vary in the time required to rehabilitate or reconstruct. For example, infrastructure requiring high levels of investment and sophisticated technology may take a very long time to fully rebuild to a higher standard. Similarly, economic setbacks due to a disaster can take time to recover from, and in some situations, a return to pre-disaster levels of production may never be possible. This will particularly apply where the disaster interrupted a key economic activity, thus allowing competitors (perhaps in other countries) the opportunity to intercept the market and hold onto it when recovery has been attained. An example of this type of economic destruction could be where a cyclone has destroyed trees, such as coconut palms or banana trees that produce vital cash-crops It may take several years for them to grow again to pre-cyclone cropping levels. Thus authorities have to provide income support or alternative employment to the affected population during this period.

The social and psychological recovery of the affected population are often assumed to be a community function and neglected in most post-disaster programs. Although this may be true for some societies, disasters can render some groups such as the elderly without an immediate family, orphans, single parents with young children more vulnerable due to a lack of adequate support. In the aftermath of a disaster family support systems can break down due to life losses, dislocation and migration of some members in search of work, food etc. These groups would need special social support to survive the impact of disaster.

Similar to social disruption, the psychological trauma of losing relatives and friends, the shock of the disaster event can take much longer to heal than physical recovery. It is, therefore, essential that social welfare and psychological support programs are considered immediately after a disaster as an integral part of recovery programs. This support should be provided not only for the affected public but also for the aid workers and the authorities operating in the disaster area as they can also become psychologically distressed from the event and working in difficult conditions.

Q. What does the term “reconstruction” mean?

A. __________________________________________________________



(Reconstruction is the full restoration of all services, local infrastructure, replacement of damaged structures, revitalization of the economy, and the restoration of social and cultural life.)

Q. What does the term “rehabilitation” mean?

A. __________________________________________________________



(Rehabilitation consists of the actions taken to enable basic services to resume functioning, assist victim’s self-help efforts to repair physical damage and community services, revive economic activity, and provide psychological and social support for the survivors.)

Q. Why is the distinction between these terms important?

A. __________________________________________________________



(The distinction between these two terms is in the extent to which they are integrated into a long-term development plan. Rehabilitation refers to repairs to pre-disaster status only, while reconstruction takes into account the reduction of future disaster risks. This may involve the replacement of temporary arrangements established as part of an emergency response or the upgrading of infrastructure and systems from pre-disaster status. Both activities (rehabilitation and reconstruction) may be required in the aftermath of disaster. One does not necessarily preclude the other.)



This part of the module will illustrate the scope of rehabilitation and reconstruction measures typically required for post-disaster situations. After studying this part, you will he able to identify the following eight aspects of disaster as a basis for analysis:

nature of the disaster

scale of the damage

location of the event

sectors affected

resulting losses - (direct and indirect)

resulting needs

available human and material resources including

institutional and local capacities

political commitment

Nature of the disaster

Each disaster results in a different type of damage. However, on the basis of past events the sectors that will be at risk to a particular disaster can be predicted with some accuracy. For example, earthquakes often result in high physical damage to infrastructure and buildings and high winds can destroy both buildings and utilities above ground such as power lines. Floods, on the other hand, can be damaging for agricultural land and fisheries in rural areas which would not be affected by earthquake impact. (For a full list, see the DMTP module, Disaster Mitigation, pages 7-13.) Planning for rehabilitation and reconstruction should therefore relate to the specific damage that results from a disaster and prioritize inputs to assist the rapid recovery of the affected population. For example, after a rural flood, replacing the lost livestock or seeds for the next planting season might be a higher priority for rural agriculturists than the rebuilding of their homes. Following the 1992 floods in Pakistan much of the government grants allocated for damaged houses were used by the communities to buy animals, fodder and seeds.

All major disasters have significant political consequences which have sometimes resulted in the weakening of authorities, or the strengthening of weak ones as a result of their positive handling of the recovery process.

While physical damage may vary from one type of disaster to another, all major disasters have a psychological impact on the affected population as well as disrupting economic and social life of the survivors. In addition, all major disasters have significant political consequences which have sometimes resulted in the weakening of authorities, or the strengthening of weak ones as a result of their positive handling of the recovery process. Therefore, rehabilitation and reconstruction programs should not only be seen as a way of replacing what is tangible but must be planned to strengthen what is not immediately visible, that is, the administrative, social and economic systems as well as the psychological well being of the people involved.

Scale of the damage

The scale and location of the disaster damage are critical in understanding the type of inputs required for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The ratio of what is lost or damaged to what has survived influences the nature of recovery. A localized event which affects a relatively limited area in a country, for example an earthquake in a city, needs to be treated in a different manner than a situation where the whole country might be affected by a devastating event for example a hurricane which hits a small island. In a large country it is likely that there will be adequate surviving material and human resources, and facilities to rehabilitate the situation whereas for a small country the same event may result in the loss of most facilities and resources that are needed for rehabilitation and reconstruction. A thorough evaluation of the local and national resources is essential before determining what is needed to be provided from outside.


In 1985 a major earthquake devastated Mexico City, which had a population of 18 million at the time. Despite the scale of damage, the affected area was only a small part of the city. There was heavy damage to medical facilities, however, 75,000 injuries were treated in the first 72 hours through surviving private and public health facilities in the city. Damaged water supply and electricity systems were repaired within a few weeks of the earthquake. About 20,000 families were moved into available rental property in the city with government aid, or stayed with relatives and friends in the city or other parts of Mexico until reconstruction was completed. Much of the initial rehabilitation was achieved by the resources available within the country.


After hurricane Bebe Struck Fiji in 1972, a limited number of tents were available but it soon became clear that more would be needed. Two weeks after the storm, a great many people were still without adequate accommodation. This problem was overcome by the arrival of 1,050 tents from the USA. Following cyclones Meli, Tia-Wally and Arthur, 95 per cent of food assistance originated from international donors.

Location of the event

Location of a disaster is critical in understanding the sectors affected and the rehabilitation and reconstruction implications of the event. The sectors that are vulnerable to the same type of disaster vary from one area to another.

While psychological needs may not vary greatly in relation to location for the same type of event, social, economic and physical damage can display a different pattern in urban and rural areas. Rural areas are likely to have less infrastructure and concentration of administrative, commercial and industrial facilities but more agriculture and livestock than urban centers. The priorities for recovery and reconstruction inputs clearly need to reflect this difference. For example, replacing the livestock, agricultural tools and seeds after a rural flood will often be seen as vital for rapid recovery by the affected population. Whereas in an urban flood, rehabilitation of the damaged infrastructure will be essential for renewed functioning of the economy s most urban activities depend on the availability of power supplies, communication facilities and transport. However, it should be remembered that in rural areas if the few infrastructure and facilities such as a health post or a road are damaged, rehabilitation and reconstruction can be delayed since alternatives would not be readily available. Under such circumstances rehabilitation of the critical rural facilities should be considered as a high priority for the rapid recovery of the affected population. For example, repair of access roads to markets or health posts might be a higher priority for the rural communities than reconstruction of their houses. The latter may be possible to rebuilt by their own resources but infrastructure will require investment, machinery etc. which are not easily available to rural communities.

Filipeno volunteer helps build a new road in Bangladesh.

UNV-World Development, November, 1989, inside cover.

Special problems that may arise in some urban disasters, especially in developing countries, lie in the concentration of administrative, political, commercial and cultural facilities in the cities, often in the capital. Heavy losses in a major city, therefore, can have a negative impact on the capacity for rapid decision making and long-term resources which are much needed for rapid recovery. Consequently, assessing the capacities of public and private institutions following a disaster and rebuilding or supporting them where they are inadequate should be considered before moving into other aspects of reconstruction planning.


The Armenian earthquake of 1988 destroyed many towns and cities, including Spitak, where most of the administrators and health staff were among the casualties. Combined with heavy physical damage the vacuum in administrative and health sectors resulted in the slower recovery in the city compared to other areas.

Location of the disaster also determines the possibility of secondary effects. For example, heavy rainfall and earthquakes in areas with steep slopes can trigger land slides. Damage to dams, bridges and industrial plants by natural events may lead to future disasters. Reconstruction and relocation decisions need to incorporate such secondary risks that may arise from the possible location of the event These potential threats need to be evaluated especially in planning for physical rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. Failure to do so may result in reducing one risk at the cost of creating another one.

Another critical issue in relation to the location of a disaster is the limited attention that might be given to some affected areas vis-a-vis others which attract disproportionate support. This may be due to a number of factors. Sometimes selective media coverage shapes the nature of subsequent support. It is the big city in relation to small villages, or, the center of the event as opposed to the peripheries that receive the most attention even at times when there are only a few survivors. The Armero volcanic mud-flow in Colombia is a classical example of this situation where the relocated town was built much larger than was needed for the very few survivors to benefit from the reconstruction. More often, however, it is the areas where ethnically, politically, economically or socially marginalised communities live that are overlooked. As these groups may not always be in a position to effectively articulate their needs, rehabilitation and reconstruction programs can easily neglect them as beneficiaries.

Q. What are the three primary areas of information required for the assessment of needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction?

A. __________________________________________________________



(In order to carry out assessment for reconstruction and rehabilitation needs the primary information required is that concerning: the nature of the disaster, the scale of the damage, and the location of the affected communities.)

Sectors affected

Rehabilitation and especially reconstruction often refer to the repair and rebuilding of the physical damage. Authorities and donors focus on the provision of housing, clinics, schools and eventually rebuilding of the infrastructure. As already emphasized in this module, the non-physical damage such as the psychological impact of the event, economic losses, social and cultural disruption to community life can be often overlooked.

The concentration on physical reconstruction is essential for a return to normality and is demanded by society. It is also an easily quantifiable and visible achievement for the authorities and donors. Social, psychological, cultural and even economic recovery is less tangible for government, agency or donor investment and is seen in most cases as the responsibility of the community.

A comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction plan should take into consideration both physical and non-physical needs of the communities. Failing to address reconstruction in its complexity can have adverse consequences - firstly it may result in large investment on buildings without the necessary inputs to help the victims to become psychologically fit, socially coherent and economically self-sustained. Secondly, it is important to recognize the links between physical and socio/psychological recovery. For example, the process of disaster victims being active in their own physical rebuilding can have an important economical and therapeutic value. Thus double dividends may result from their active involvement in physical rebuilding. Rehabilitation and reconstruction programs that encourage the affected population to act together in their own interest can also have psychological benefit as well as reducing dependency on external inputs.

The process of disaster victims being active in their own physical rebuilding can have an important economical and therapeutic value.

The sectors that need rehabilitation and reconstruction inputs relate to the disaster type and the elements that are at risk. A comprehensive correlation of these is in the DMTP module, Vulnerability and Risk Assessment.

The following list covers the sectors that can be vulnerable to disaster impact, and which, therefore, will require rehabilitation and reconstruction inputs.



Economic assets (including formal and informal commercial sectors, industrial and agricultural activities etc.)

Administrative and political






Damage and disruption to the above sectors will result in a number of tangible or direct and intangible or consequential losses. The aim of rehabilitation is initially to replace or normalize these losses and eventually to reconstruct them, if possible, to a higher standard than existed before.

Resulting Losses

Tangible Losses

Consequential Losses


Repair and rebuilding cost of housing, hospitals, schools offices, markets, warehouses, hotels etc.

Bed-capacity, educational and health facilities business, tourism, cottage industry, homelessness.


Repair and rebuilding cost of communication lines, roads, ports, airports, water, sewage.

Transport of goods, supplies, energy sources production, epidemics due to breakdown in water and sewage facilities.


Crops, land, livestock, food stocks, products, fisheries, premises, such as warehouses factories, storage, barns.

Economic outputs, opportunities and competitiveness in international and national markets, export, jobs, taxes, financial stability.


Archives, records, institutional structures human resources, power and control.

Decision-making capacity, political stability, coordination, diversion of staff and resources from other activities, loss of income due to loss of taxation records.


Mental and physical well being of individuals.

Productivity, social cohesion, health, coping capacity.


National heritage, places of worship, traditional ways of living and farming, homeland.

National symbols, history, local and national identity, social cohesion, moral values, continuity of traditions.


Neighborhood and community morale, law and order, social services.

Cohesion, family structure, community coping capacity, breakdown of leadership, development of fatalism and dependency.


Forests, land, water resources, nature reserves, clean-up costs.

Risk of future disasters, long term economic losses, health risk, dependence to outside provisions for resources, migration, relocation.

Q. In the discussion of tangible versus consequential losses, which sectors are the most vulnerable in your own community? In this sector which is the more critical the tangible or the consequential losses?

A. __________________________________________________________


Resulting needs

The assessment of needs that will arise from immediate and consequential losses will help to prioritize the rehabilitation and reconstruction actions. Initial assessment of a disaster naturally focuses on emergency needs, however, the losses that occur in each sector correspond to a wide range of needs to be met by the local communities, various ministries, local authority departments, NGOs and sometimes international donors and agencies. From the start of the emergency onwards, each of these groups will be making jointly, or separately, some assessment of the situation initially for relief response and eventually for rehabilitation and reconstruction decisions. Conflict of opinions and difference of perceptions on what is needed in what priority will be all too common.

Creating a clear picture of the situation for decision-making involves collecting reliable information on each sector by experienced staff.

Creating a clear picture of the situation for decision making involves collecting reliable information on each sector by experienced staff. It also requires consultation with the affected communities and their leaders in order to establish their perceptions and priorities. A comprehensive analysis of data collection and assessment processes are in the module, Disaster Assessment, in this series. The critical issues which relate to rehabilitation and reconstruction can be summarized as follows:

Monitor the situation in order to make decisions for the long-term inputs which may sometimes be based on early, fragmentary assessment of the situation. Continuous monitoring of the changes as the situation develops is essential in order to revise the decisions. For example shelter needs may increase due to aftershocks, the long stay of flood water on the ground or by climatic changes such as the onset of monsoon rains. Equally, availability of building stock and migration to other areas can reduce this need.

Balance psychological, social and economic needs with physical ones. High physical damage may distort the focus of attention to the neglect of other less tangible needs.

Recognize that communities are not homogenous. Some groups such as the politically well-connected or the economically better off can be more vocal in voicing their needs. Additional assessment may be necessary to cover the specific needs of the disadvantaged groups: the elderly, children, single headed families, physical or mentally handicapped, the very poor, minorities etc. Generalized response targeting the average surviving family may leave out those most in need of support.

Consider the less obvious needs. They may be essential in meeting the high investment inputs. For example, supporting administration, creating work for the disaster victims can speed up physical recovery.

Distinguish needs from wants. Disasters can increase expectations at all levels: communities from the authorities, local government from the central government, national governments from the international donors. Rank the needs and prioritize the necessary inputs to improve the conditions for the worst affected and the least able groups Identify the capacities and resources of the affected population. Do not assume that they are passive victims and aim to strengthen what is available for increased self reliance. This also applies to the strengthening of the local authorities and the national bodies.

Identify the un-met needs at each stage of decision making. As the situation develops conditions, problems and availability of resources change.

Ensure that the needs in all sectors and affected areas are assessed. There is often a tendency to focus on the worst affected areas, the most tangible or easily quantifiable damage. Equally, the make up of the assessment team or the bias of an agency can create a distorted picture of needs by highlighting the selected sectors where they have expertise.

Identify the critical needs upon which other sectors may depend for recovery. Business and industry cannot function without communication, transport and energy facilities; provision of health facilities will be meaningless without available staff, medicine and equipment; physical reconstruction requires production of construction materials; rural areas depend on market centers and vice versa.

Ensure that the assessment also covers what is not needed. Provisions that are not needed or are inappropriate can have an adverse effect on the recovery process. It is therefore essential that the assessment highlights what is locally available or manageable and hence should not be provided, as well as stating what will not be socially economically, or culturally appropriate.

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.)

Political commitment

Recovery from major disaster events necessitate large quantities of material and human resources and good organizational/institutional capacity. Although there may be various national and international organizations to support the local population in recovering from the impact of the event much of the responsibility for rehabilitation and reconstruction will fall on the government of the country concerned. Besides, effective recovery response very much depends on the authorities capacity to plan and coordinate the efforts of the various groups involved in this process. Facilitating all these actions requires political commitment of the government for the benefit of the disaster stricken areas. However, channeling of funds, allocating resources of all kinds, providing services and opportunities for recovery often happens in a political context. Electoral pressures and local power structures may become instrumental in shaping the nature of reconstruction. While most governments in the immediate aftermath of a disaster declare their intentions of making up for all losses, with the progress of time, they can easily lose the initial momentum. As media attention drops, the public loses faith in receiving support and the authorities shift their focus on other issues. Recovery will be delayed. In some situations such as civil conflict there may not be real commitment to begin with.

The speed and effectiveness of recovery, therefore, is as much a political issue as it is a matter of resources. In this respect, the nature of rehabilitation and reconstruction planning will be greatly shaped by the level of political commitment and its sustainability throughout the process.

Actors involved in the reconstruction

The questions facing the recovery planners are WHO is needed, WHEN, to do WHAT? The satisfactory answer to this question will, to a large extent, determine the overall effectiveness of the recovery effort. Given an overwhelming demand on human resources for full recovery, wise leaders will seek to mobilize a wide range of actors, including the public, private and voluntary sectors of society.


In terms of timing, Disaster Recovery relative to rehabilitation and reconstruction passes through five stages (see diagram).

The following matrix gives a rough indication of which actors might participate in a given stage. However, situations are all different. Therefore, those who plan recovery will need to develop their own ‘role casting operation’ to make certain that:

· all available ‘actors’ are involved
· qualified ‘actors’ are given appropriate tasks
· for each task there is clear definition of authority, resources, accountability.
· actors are co-ordinated by a designated focal point

Typical Matrix of Actors Involved in Disaster Recovery

Disaster Assessment

Damage Clearance

Immediate Rehabilitation

Reconstruction Planning

Reconstruction Implementation






Disaster Response Bodies




Government Ministries






Reconstruction Commission



Local Authorities






International - Governments/UN Agencies





Non-Government Organizations

NGOs Relief/Development Agencies










Professional, Commercial Sector










* Public information role in all stages of recovery.


The processes of rehabilitation and reconstruction are complex and depend largely on the analysis of the disaster itself:

- the nature of the disaster (hazard type)
- the scale of the damage
- the location of the events
- the particular sectors affected

Planning for rehabilitation and reconstruction will depend on the losses sustained by the community. These are typically:

- buildings
- infrastructure
- economic assets
- administrative and political systems
- psychological
- cultural
- social
- environmental

The losses sustained due to the disaster result in needs which must be carefully analyzed

Available resources must be incorporated into the planning for rehabilitation and reconstruction. These are typically:

- funds
- materials
- equipment and tools
- energy and power sources
- land (for building)
- human resources
- adequate and relevant information
- administrative structures

Political commitment is critical to the success of rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

There is a wide range of actors involved in the carrying out these efforts. Each of them have varying responsibilities throughout the phases of the disaster recovery. The actors usually include:

- military
- disaster relief units or agencies
- government ministries
- reconstruction commissions
- local authorities
- international agencies
- media
- professional/commercial sector
- communities



After reading this part of the module you will be able to describe:

the basic mitigation measures to be used in preparedness and recovery planning

other common elements of preparedness plans

the use of emergency relief in rehabilitation planning

Although rehabilitation and reconstruction are distinctive activities, they should not be seen in isolation from other pre- and post-disaster actions. Reconstruction after a disaster provides many mitigation and development opportunities that may not be possible in ‘normal’ conditions. If properly utilized, these opportunities can, in return, improve the effectiveness of recovery from possible future disasters. Similarly, integration of rehabilitation planning into local and national preparedness plans contributes to better recovery.

Mitigation into reconstruction

Ideally, reconstruction should aim to build to a better standard than existed before. Any actions to improve the pre-disaster conditions can help to reduce disaster risk and mitigate the damage of future events. There are several structural and non-structural mitigation measures that are discussed in the module Disaster Mitigation. Those that are likely to be implemented or improved in reconstruction are explained below.

Construction codes to protect buildings and infrastructure are almost always introduced after major disasters. While post-disaster reconstruction may be a good period in which to establish codes, problems may arise in relation to their enforcement and the time taken to develop them. Full investigation of structural damage (and in the case of earthquakes, micro-zonation studies), can take a very long time and slow down reconstruction. Many people start rebuilding and repairing within weeks of the event. An interim emergency code and standard for repair can speed up the process and protect reconstruction and repair of damaged buildings until codes are revised for future construction. However, in some situations emergency codes may in the long-term become the norm. Supervision and enforcement of codes in the long run can also be difficult In most developing countries the system can easily be corrupted due to the loopholes in the legislation, lack of trained inspectors, the extra cost involved in protective measures and decline in public awareness of risk as the disaster fades from memory. Rural areas and unauthorized buildings such as squatter settlements often escape code enforcement since they may not come under the control of any jurisdiction. Codes alone will be of little use to ensure higher standards, unless they are supported by increased public awareness for self-control, incentives to implement them and the economic means to pay for improvements. Mitigation planning should therefore recognize this fact and develop measures that are affordable and achievable by the groups who have the least knowledge and the means.

Land-use changes and zoning are easier to introduce where levels of damage are high. Reduction of densities and change of use during reconstruction in high risk areas can contribute to mitigation. In densely populated urban areas, clearance of damaged buildings for more open areas and parks, though expensive, can not only reduce future risks but provide areas for evacuation and erection of emergency shelters in a future disaster. Examples of such mitigation measures are; the building of schools on highest grounds as evacuation centers during floods in Anhui Province of China in 1991, increasing park areas in Skopje after the 1963 earthquake in the most dangerous part of the city subject to river flooding and maximum seismic ground movement due to alluvial soil.

The replanning of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake and Skopje in 1963 represent examples of major reconstruction efforts that incorporated many urban design principles for mitigation, including wide streets and increased open space. Obviously such grand changes are not always possible or successful. Lack of political will, pressure groups with interest in land and public resistance to change can counteract these measures. Where damage is limited, pre-disaster land use plans will be more difficult to alter, even though the future risk may be high. Property owners will fear that the value of their land or buildings will be reduced and that business will no longer be profitable. Authorities will also be more reluctant to divert resources into major alterations.

Groups who live on marginalized land will benefit very little from any of the above measures even when they are implemented. As these groups lead their lives in very vulnerable conditions they are at highest risk from disasters and the least able to benefit from any mitigation measures that might be introduced after an event. Sometimes disasters can provide opportunities that should be utilized to the benefit of these groups.

Land reforms, tenure or title-deeds for land and property, grants and credit schemes may become possible in the post-disaster situation. Disaster mitigation for the marginalized, therefore, should be addressed in a political, economic and social context, otherwise such groups who do not have a voice themselves may be left out of any provisions.

Disaster mitigation for the marginalized, therefore, should be addressed in a political, economic and social context, otherwise such groups who can not voice themselves may be left out of any provisions.

For example, following the earthquake in Mexico City, local authorities provided low interest loans and technical and legal assistance to the low income groups living in the damaged historical part of the city. Families who were tenants before the earthquake were able to organize themselves into groups and purchased the buildings at favorable rates from the owners. The following reconstruction and social upgrading Programme not only provided these families with safer housing but also with more economic and social security.

Decentralization of facilities such as administration, health, industry, infrastructure and communications is more likely to be implemented during reconstruction after a major disaster. While this measure safeguards survival of some parts of any system if facilities are concentrated in a high risk area, the management practicality and cost of dispersed services have to be carefully balanced with their level of risk. Maintaining a diversity of locations in agriculture and food crops can also minimize the damage to rural economies. This has been put into practice at the local level in Fiji where farmers work land in more than one location.

Diversification of economy during reconstruction of damaged industry and rehabilitation of agriculture can significantly mitigate losses and speed up recovery in future disasters. Reliance on one type of economy such as tourism, manufacturing, fishing or agriculture can create significant problems without alternatives to fall back on. Political will, public acceptance and international assistance will be more readily available to achieve diversification during reconstruction than pre-disaster conditions. Introduction of new seed types and plantation patterns can increase crop resistance and improve yields. In certain instances this may also help to alter plantation and harvest time to avoid damage from seasonal disaster, such as floods and hurricanes. Where applicable, activities such as stock breeding, poultry and beehive keeping, crafts etc., can provide an extra income if agriculture fails and cannot be restored rapidly. In this context rehabilitation has to be seen within a developmental framework.

Reconstruction and development

Post-disaster reconstruction can influence development programs both positively and negatively. Similarly, the pre-disaster level of development in a country will have a bearing upon the success of recovery and reconstruction (see Disasters and Development). Past examples prove that in areas of low pre-disaster development, recovery will be slow or, sometimes, can never be achieved. Delays in reconstruction will also decrease public and private investments, divert resources away from development activities to sustaining rehabilitation over an extended period of rime. Productive capital takes a particularly long rime to replace in the case of agriculture and stock breeding, which may result in migration from the disaster stricken area. Reduced industrial output, on the other hand, can lead to wage losses, unemployment and disruption of dependent economic activities. While loans and subsidies can act as emergency economic measures, reconstruction programs need to be planned with close consideration of the likely developmental status of the affected area. Since disasters often hit the least developed areas and the most disadvantaged groups hardest, rehabilitation and reconstruction programs should also aim to change the vulnerable conditions for the high risk population through development programs. These conditions can be much more deep rooted than they seem on the surface when revealed by disaster, such as lack of access to information, limited economic means to maintain safety, environmental degradation, lack of social networks or limited political power. A wide range of examples of developmental inputs in post-disaster programs to address some of the root causes of vulnerability are in the Disasters and Development module.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction programs should also aim to change the vulnerable conditions for the high risk population through development programs.

Q. What are some of the structural and non-structural mitigation measures that are likely to be implemented or improved in reconstruction?

A. __________________________________________________________



(Some of the structural and non-structural mitigation measures listed in this text that are likely to be implemented or improved during reconstruction are: construction codes, land-use changes and zoning, decentralization of key facilities, and diversification of the economy. Are there others equally important in your own community?)

Reconstruction and preparedness plans

Conventional preparedness plans often include stockpiling of food, shelter, medicine, tools etc. for emergency and rehabilitation needs. Increasingly, however, the advantages of incorporating reconstruction needs into preparedness plans is becoming obvious. This has several implications that can improve the speed and effectiveness of rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. These plans can include:

Assessment of hazard, risks and vulnerability, including both physical and human, identification of possible future problems and anticipation of the location, scale and nature of rehabilitation and reconstruction needs.

Improved standards and planning of data collection at the local level and dissemination of damage survey and needs assessment.

Plans for evacuation and sheltering of affected people and accommodating health, educational and administrative facilities until reconstruction is completed.

Resource inventories to meet rehabilitation and reconstruction needs, including community capacities and resources.

Training and education to improve human resources, especially at the local level for rehabilitation and a registry of specialized personnel to be deployed, e.g. in health, psychological support, shelter, water, sanitation etc.

Allocation of responsibilities for rehabilitation and reconstruction at all levels, definition of roles and responsibilities of the local and national organizations.

Legislation for co-ordination of sectors, NGOs and international assistance during rehabilitation and reconstruction; a clear structure for decision making.

Legislation and decrees to expropriate land, change land use, generate and channel funds for reconstruction; codes, standards and procedures for repair, urban plans.

Social and economic surveys to identify the community profile, living standards, repayment capacity, expected levels of local coping.

Procedures and methods for the identification of beneficiaries.

Strengthening of channels for local participation and self-reliance such as agricultural and housing co-operatives which may become useful institutions to operate through rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Q. Are there other critical elements for a preparedness and or reconstruction program for your own community or country which are not listed here?

A. __________________________________________________________


Emergency relief into rehabilitation

Although emergency relief is a distinctive stage of post-disaster activities, many of the actions and decisions of this period can influence later stages.

Extended external relief assistance can undermine local and national coping capacity and create dependency. For example, food aid following a typhoon in Fiji might meet short term food needs, but if the traditional coping mechanisms are underestimated and under used the communities ability to feed itself may be damaged. Any relief assistance, therefore, should balance relieving of immediate pressure on the communities with support for local coping for rapid recovery.

Large scale damaging events, often with pressures from the media, result in large amounts of international relief which leaves limited resources for the long-term recovery and rehabilitation. Continuity of support by agencies and donor governments beyond relief needs to be considered at early stages of allocating funds and other resources in a more balanced way. Articulation of rehabilitation and reconstruction needs into relief appeals and ways of integrating relief and long-term assistance also need to be explored.

While assessment of damage, needs and resources need to be specific and prioritized for the task at hand, i.e. relief, often rehabilitation and reconstruction decisions are based on these early data. This is partly due to the cost and time it takes to collect data and to meet the public demand to act rapidly. Ideally, it is necessary to monitor the changing needs as the situation develops. However, this may not be the case after most disasters. This common pattern needs to be recognized. Therefore, the drawbacks of early disaster assessment and the need to maximize the initial data collection must be taken into account in the planning of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

It is necessary to monitor the changing needs as the situation develops.

During the early stages of disaster response it is important to plan the co-ordination of data collection, multi-disciplinary assessment teams, and data generation for later phases. This will improve the quality and effectiveness of early information for rapid rehabilitation and reconstruction decisions. However, it should be remembered that as conditions change, decisions need to be modified in light of updated information. For example, after a major earthquake the number of homeless is often calculated in relation to damaged or destroyed buildings. However, due to the fear of after shocks, the public may refuse to go back to their surviving homes, which will increase the need for shelter provision beyond the initial assessment.

While it is important to recognize patterns from early diagnostic indicators for rapid response, decisions to effect long-term actions should not be taken in the haste of relief operations. Decisions such as relocation or provision of temporary shelters require careful examination of their long-term implications and consultation with the communities. There are many examples of temporary shelter provision as a response to an early identified need which eventually became permanent at great cost and often in wrong locations. Similarly, medical programs or food distribution should not be prolonged without monitoring of the changes at the local level.


Reconstruction should not be seen as an isolated activity. It is a unique opportunity to carry out other mitigation programs. Some of these are:

- implementation of construction codes
- land-use changes and zoning
- decentralization of critical facilities
- diversification of the economy

Reconstruction also has a direct link to development. Post-disaster planning must be carefully executed to avoid damaging development potential.

Reconstruction needs should be incorporated into preparedness plans for more efficient implementation of post-disaster programs. These preparedness plans should contain:

- assessment of vulnerability and risk
- improved standards of data collection
- evacuation and shelter plans
- resource inventories
- training components
- allocation of rehabilitation and reconstruction responsibilities
- supporting legislation
- social and economic surveys
- local participation



This part of the module will acquaint the reader with some of the common erroneous assumptions, dilemmas, and basic guiding principles of post-disaster planning. After reading this part you should be able to:

Identify several common “dangerous assumptions” in recovery planning.

Apply these assumptions to your own situation or community.

Address dilemmas regarding post-disaster planning in light of the experiences of others as presented in the text.

Use the 12 guiding principles presented here as an aid in new program design or as a model for testing existing programs.

Dangerous Assumptions

“Any assistance provided in disasters can only be useful if it is based on correct views or assumptions of what actually occurs (during the emergency period). If the assumption is wrong, the assistance may well be misdirected, unnecessary, inappropriate, or simply duplicate what is already available.”

E.M. Quarantelli

Quarantelli was referring to the dynamics of an immediate post-disaster situation when making this telling statement. However it is equally appropriate to the longer term recovery context. While the literature on post-disaster response is thin, knowledge of recovery/reconstruction is even less developed. Therefore, until there is better documentation of recovery/reconstruction, officials have to act on the basis of assumed behavior. The following assumptions are commonly made, but they may be incorrect, over-optimistic or unrealistic.

Political support will be maintained throughout the period needed for recovery.

Support will be at its highest in the aftermath of the disaster and will gradually decrease in time. Pre-election time often increases the political will to act swiftly. Effective leadership and organizational capacity at the local level can put pressure on the authorities for the sustainability of political support. Better media coverage beyond the initial relief phase can also help to put pressure on the authorities. Ways of keeping the interest of the media to follow up progress with recovery needs should be sought. Professional bodies and community organizations can also be considered among the pressure groups to maintain political interest.

There will be continuity of funding support throughout.

Most national and international funding will be available during the relief and sometimes rehabilitation periods. As reconstruction needs increase, often available funds are decreased. At this stage local income generation, revolving funds, and private sector support and other funding possibilities are essential.

The above assumptions can be represented in graphic form which indicate that paradoxically, political and media support needed to maintain funding for reconstruction is apt to decline just as implementation gets under way, just when it is most needed.


Therefore, the implications are:

Incorporate recovery planning into preparedness planning.

Act swiftly after the disaster while ‘political capital’ is still available.

Maintain interest of the influence groups.

There will be synchronization of perceptions, expectations and capacities of the parties involved in rehabilitation and reconstruction processes.

The complex nature of the recovery phase, the large number of actors involved from the press, donors, various authorities to the different interest groups at community level often result in conflict of perceptions, concerns and values not to mention difference of opinions among the technical community. This will run through the whole process from the needs assessment to the final stages of reconstruction. These conflicts can delay the recovery process considerably, and if not resolved by active collaboration of all parties, may result in unsatisfactory programs.

There will be adequate levels of competency to undertake the required rehabilitation and reconstruction tasks.

Depending on the scale of damage and the country’s level of development, there may be lack of skilled human resources and administrative capacity to facilitate the necessary actions. The import of external expertise can help fill the gap in the short-term but may not be maintained in the long-term. Training and education will improve the situation but pre-disaster investment in human development will be the key. Maximizing the local capacities in self-reliance rather than depending on external support and aiming for programs that can increase local involvement will also reduce the need for ‘expert’ inputs in some aspects of recovery.

Recovery is confined to physical reconstruction and it must precede economic and social recovery.

As already noted in this module, physical, economic, social and psychological recovery are all linked and inter-dependent processes. They are not normally sequential, however it is important to recognize that if economic recovery occurs rapidly this can provide the necessary impetus to support physical reconstruction. It needs to be emphasized again that successful recovery is not only a product oriented exercise measured in numbers but must also address local organizational capacities and long-term economic and social development concerns.

Rapid reconstruction is possible without any sacrifice in quality or safety.

Reconstruction can provide extensive work opportunities with the potential for profits for building contractors. Unless authorities maintain effective quality control and enforcement, there is a real risk that the seeds of the next disaster can be sown at this time. Delays in reconstruction decisions, land allocation, micro zonation, new codes, provision of materials and expertise etc., can also result in the public taking its own actions to repair or rebuild without proper guidance and control by the authorities. In such situations it may still be better to make some sacrifices and act from available information and emergency codes rather than delay all actions for more thorough scientific studies. Likewise, mitigation measures that are acceptable and affordable by the vulnerable groups may have a chance of reducing future risks more than sophisticated measures that cannot be implemented or maintained by the affected population.

There will be high levels of acceptance and obedience to the codes and controls that the government imposes.

Government officials and politicians regularly make this assumption. To initiate building codes or land-use planning controls is one thing, to enforce them over time is another. It will be particularly difficult to ensure the obedience of poor families who cannot afford the extra expense of the code requirements or who have no access to safe land. One option will be to link codes and controls with some form of subsidy or incentives, and training for the public as well as inspection to ensure that the resources are available to ensure that compliance occurs. Nevertheless, it will still be optimistic to assume that marginal settlements and most rural areas will benefit from codes and controls without comprehensive planning that incorporates their wide spectrum of needs to achieve safety.

It will be particularly difficult to ensure the obedience of poor families who cannot afford the extra expense of the code requirements or who have no access to safe land.

Effective reconstruction is an isolated process from normal (pre-disaster) planning and building

Officials must recognize that before effective implementation of any reconstruction it will be imperative to look at the administrative system, planning procedures, codes of practice, quality control systems, land ownership, local power structures, general standards of living etc. to see if they need improvements prior to bricks being laid, seed sown or trees planted. The problem that is often faced is that authorities find themselves undertaking a double reconstruction process; they are reconstructing the failures of the system in reducing disaster risk and vulnerabilities, as well as post-disaster reconstruction.


“... when you embark on reconstruction planning everyone you talk to blames this or that problem you encounter on the disaster. But gradually as you proceed it becomes all too apparent that at least 90% of the problems you are confronting were present well before the disaster occurred. All that has happened is that the disaster has acted as a surgeon’s scalpel to expose these latent weaknesses in buildings, the urban fabric, the planning system or the administrative infrastructure.”

George Nez 1975


Q. Of the eight dangerous assumptions listed in the text, which in your own experience are the most likely to threaten the recovery/reconstruction plan if made and unverified?

A. __________________________________________________________


Dilemmas and alternatives

There are many dilemmas that decision makers face in planning for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Each set of actors involved in the process, such as the central government, local authorities, various sectors, a large variety of professionals, donors, NGOs and different segments of the community, is likely to have different priorities and perceptions and subsequently would like to act according to their own preferences. There are always alternatives, and before a decision is made on a course of action their short-comings, advantages and long-term implications need to be evaluated. Failure to recognize these conflicts and alternatives can create resistance by one group or the other and can ultimately hinder the progress of decision making. Some of the likely dilemmas and alternatives in rehabilitation and reconstruction planning cover the following issues.

Rapid damage survey versus accurate technical surveys

A rapid damage survey is essential in defining and prioritizing the rehabilitation needs. It also helps to reduce eventual distortions that may occur in the scale of damage. However, initial surveys may not involve the necessary range of expertise to accurately define the losses. Consequential losses from damage to agriculture or business premises may require evaluation by economists; accurate definition of building damage require inspection by structural engineers. Detailed damage assessment can also help to determine the causes of damage, and the sources of risks and vulnerability. As this level of information becomes available, planning tasks can be more precisely defined. The dilemmas concerning detailed technical surveys usually relate to the time it takes to complete the surveys, and the appropriateness of this information for the user.


Following the El Asnam earthquake of 1980 in Algeria, geological and seismic studies took three years to start and two years to complete. This delayed rebuilding considerably. The studies have been turned over to local authorities for use, and often they do not understand how to use them.

- From: Rebuilding After Earthquakes, William Spangle and Associates, Inc.

Repairs versus rebuilding

Restoration of services and lifelines through repairs after a major disaster is a high priority as rebuilding can be delayed considerably and requires high levels of investment, and sometimes technology. Quick repair of buildings, especially domestic buildings, on the other hand, is usually discouraged by the authorities who prefer detailed technical inspection, improved codes and identifying the safety of land.

The dilemma is the trade off between rapid repair of rebuilding to higher standards, which may take longer to plan. Quick repairs, however, can alleviate some of the need for temporary housing and public facilities. In fact, domestic repairs are often carried out by individuals if decisions are delayed.

Training, technical and material support to families and builders can be effective in improving safety as mistakes are often carried over into repairs. This will be particularly useful in marginalized settlements and rural areas as they will have limited access to technical expertise. Rapid assessment of areas where repairs can move ahead without engineering evaluation, emergency codes and streamlined procedures to issue building permits, should be considered as alternatives to facilitate rapid reconstruction.

Immediate repair: response and restoration activities were undertaken within 72 hours of the disaster. Here, in Montserrat, a tarpaulin cover is being spread over a roofless house.

UNDRO News, Sep/Oct 1989, page 21.

Creating a clear picture of the situation for decision-making involves collecting reliable information on each sector by experienced staff.

Safety standards versus rapid reconstruction

Evaluation of the causes of losses, risks and vulnerabilities after a major disaster can be complicated, expensive and time consuming. Yet they are essential for improving the safety standards against future damaging events. Lack of safe land to build on and setting new safety standards can equally delay reconstruction decisions. Without security of land and tenure it will also be wrong to expect people to invest in safety.

Pre-disaster planning for post-disaster reconstruction must address land use issues in advance. Existing general information can be useful in identifying where reconstruction can begin without further studies. Phasing in decisions and prioritizing areas for different safety standards can help to start reconstruction. For example, certain sectors or parts of a damaged settlement can be reconstructed more rapidly while others may need further investigation and planning.

It should also be remembered that the speed of recovery is not solely a technical problem. Control of resources by influential local interest groups, limited institutional and economic capacity of the less powerful, political preferences of some authorities for some areas or groups may all result in different speeds of recovery, sometimes even in the same neighborhood.

Relocation versus reconstruction on the same site

This is a major dilemma that decision makers have to resolve after most disasters. The idea of starting afresh is assumed to resolve all the inherent problems attached to rebuilding in a vulnerable place and/or a damaged environment. However, past experiences reveal that there are several reasons why this option may not be desired by the communities or successful in the long run:

Safer land is often unavailable.

The vulnerable site may also be essential for the economic livelihood of the communities, such as flood plains or fertile volcanic ash areas; tourism or fishing etc. Proximity to work and markets can be critical for those with limited economic alternatives. In other words, the benefits of the original site may outweigh the risks.

Cultural, symbolic and historical value of the damaged site to the nation or the inhabitants cannot be easily transferable to a new site.

attachment to the place, neighbors, friends may be more important than safety.

relocation requires substantial investment in infrastructure

relocating a community or a settlement can affect local and regional balances negatively; for example, relocation of a market town may create problems of transport etc. for villages to sell their products.

Relocation may be desirable in some specific situations where:

The proposed area is sufficiently close to the existing settlement to enable livelihood patterns to be retained.

The original area is under frequent threat of damaging events with high losses.

Risk reduction measures are too costly and difficult to implement for the area.

The benefits of relocation outweigh the advantages of rebuilding the original location; communities refuse to live under threat.

Psychological impact of the event associated with the original site might be too strong on the community.

The area has been under considerable decline before the disaster, for example, due to environmental degradation, pollution, economic changes etc.

Participation versus rapid response

Public participation is essential in planning for reconstruction. Often this is seen by the authorities as a lengthy process. Where this has happened, such as in the reconstruction after the Friuli and Mexico City earthquakes, it took time and organizational capacity, but the resulting reconstruction was widely accepted and successful. Rapid reconstruction at the expense of public participation may have an initial inertia but can result in delays in the process of rebuilding due to public opposition or apathy.

Planning for reconstruction and actual reconstruction may require international and central government support but ultimately they are local functions. Positive interactions among decision makers, local authorities and affected communities increase the chances that plans will be carried out.

Special organization versus existing organization

Existing Organizations

New Organizations

A wide range of organizational structures for rehabilitation and reconstruction have been used after major disasters. Existing organizations often have the staff and resources but may not have the procedures to act rapidly. Emergency powers granted to existing institutions can expedite decisions concerning rapid rehabilitation. Reconstruction on the other hand can take a long time and requires a clear structure, resources and authority to oversee the work. Sometimes one agency, department or ministry can be designated with support from others. However, more often some new organization is needed to plan and manage rebuilding. The dilemma is that the existing organizations will have staff and other resources which a new organization has to create. But the new organization will have the special authority and power to handle reconstruction more independently and rapidly. A further problem with the creation of a new organization is that pre-disaster collaboration and coordination of various groups and institutions for better rehabilitation and reconstruction preparedness will be limited. Ultimately, the choice will depend on the specific conditions in each country and in each situation. The critical issues in any organizational structure will be the co-ordination of all relevant agencies and institutions and the mobilization of resources. A high level Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Commission (e.g. in the Prime Minister’s Office) can be effective. It should also be remembered that in some special situations such as conflict-induced disasters or where loss of life among the officials is high there may be a need for rebuilding the capacities of necessary institutions.

Public versus private investment

Public funds are usually available for rehabilitation and rebuilding of public facilities, but they can also extend into supporting rehabilitation of the economy and domestic losses such as buildings or assets. However, public investment alone is never sufficient to bring about full recovery nor does it necessarily help to develop an effective strategy for rebuilding.

Private investment is more likely to happen in areas which are economically strong and are not perceived as high risk. International and public inputs into economic recovery can create confidence for private investors to invest in rebuilding. Such funds can also be useful as loans to pay for reconstruction to be recovered eventually. Even in centrally controlled economies and with paternalistic governments, total reliance on public funds may delay recovery considerably. In fact, such situations may raise expectation, create dependency and bring private investment to a complete halt. Furthermore, heavy government or international assistance may delay or reduce the willingness to take self-help actions.

Total reliance on public funds may delay recovery considerably.

Physical reconstruction versus economic rehabilitation

Governments face a dilemma following any disaster that causes extensive damage to both the local economy and to the physical environment. Both demands require immediate attention and the deployment of extensive resources. In a rich country the two sectors are likely to be fully addressed in parallel, but in a poor country the overwhelming financial and administrative burden may be such that choices have to be made about which should have priority attention and at what stage in the reconstruction process.

There is a growing awareness by many governments and international funders of the need to regenerate a damaged economy - whether agricultural or industrial - as rapidly as possible. The logic is that if the damaged economy can get back on its feet rapidly then this can be one of the ‘motors’ to drive physical rebuilding.


In December 1991 UNDP sent an appraisal mission to Anhui Province in the Peoples’ Republic of China to review actions that the international community could take to assist the Province to recover from the devastating flood of July 1991. The mission examined various options for this predominately rural society and developed criteria for economic investment to assist recovery.

The mission recognized that the rehabilitation of the economy had to address both the flood impact as well as residual unemployment throughout the region. They also saw the need to divide the task into two stages:

- urgent, short-term employment for flood victims, particularly women who had suffered severe losses, and

- longer-term needs.

First stage criteria

1. Generation of work to minimize dependency on the relief ‘hand-outs’, thus a preference for labor rather than capital intensive projects.

2. Cash grants to restore damaged economic enterprises.

3. Promotion of any economic enterprise that produced materials or components needed for reconstruction i.e. (building materials, tools etc.).

Second stage criteria

1. Careful appraisal of the financial viability of a given enterprise. Money should be invested in secure operations although calculated risks might be taken where there have been acute shortages of work or few requests for support.

2. Priority attention to any project that would involve the training of workers to develop their industrial, agricultural or building skills

3. Preference for projects that would produce products for local use.

4. Preference for projects with export potential.

5. Support projects that use locally purchased materials to strengthen a ‘chain of employment’ from producer to retailer.

6. Consider any project for its positive or negative impact on the local ecology/environment.

7. Support projects that could be developed with revolving loan funds (RLF) to maximize initial investments.

8. Evaluate the capacity for replication and sustainability. The latter issue was considered particularly critical since the recovery process is often a time of new inputs, fresh ideas and a willingness for change. However, this conducive climate for enterprise may change rapidly as political will and external resources decline as the disaster fades from memories.

Construction of earthquake resistant homes in Ecuador by locally trained work teams.

UNDP Annual Report, 1989, p. 31.

Local resources versus imported resources

Effective reconstruction requires skill, labor and materials. It also requires them in a vastly greater quantity than normal demand. Therefore, officials tend to look in all directions for the support they need. This is a natural and necessary response, but a dilemma remains whether to select local versus imported people or products.

The advantage of local resources is the obvious need to strengthen the local economy which may have been significantly damaged or disrupted. As noted in the example from Anhui in China, the selection of a local product can have consequences through a chain of producers to retailers. The use of local skills and labor can also provide vital employment and these may enhance local commitment to the recovery due to strong solidarity with their own wider community.

However, local resources may be inadequate for the task, therefore external support may be essential to close the gap between needs and resources. It is also clear that some aspects of reconstruction require expert skills and knowledge which has to come from other parts of a country or from international sources.

Q. This text has listed several operational dilemmas and alternatives which are common in the planning for reconstruction. Which of these are most important to resolve in your own country, community, or organization?

A. __________________________________________________________


Q. Are there other dilemmas that you face in your own situation that should be included in this list?

A. __________________________________________________________


Guiding principles

As can be seen from the preceding sections, planning and management of rehabilitation and reconstruction are highly complex processes that cover a sequence of actions from data collection to assessment of needs, planning, implementation and evaluation. Recovery actions embrace numerous sectors of society and involve actions by individuals, communities, governments and international bodies. Although similarities exist between one recovery situation and another, each case has unique characteristics, diverse patterns of damage, different needs, varied constraints and levels of resources Therefore, given such variables, only very general principles can be established. The following list covers a range of critical issues. Principles one to seven are processes to recognize while numbers eight to twelve relate to essential tools required to manage the recovery.

1 The planning of recovery needs to be broad in scope and fully integrated.

Planning has to be wide ranging because the impact of disaster can be felt on all sectors requiring very detailed co-ordination. In addition, planning has to be integrated because each situation is complex, involving various actors risking a fragmented response.

2 A balance has to be achieved between the conflicting yet vital processes of reform and conservatism.

In any major reconstruction process two powerful forces will exist; reformers, who recognize the opportunity to change administrative patterns, introduce new laws, modify urban forms and conservationists, who resist all changes and want to return to what existed before the disaster. Wise officials will seek to balance these opposing forces. Both change and continuity are essential.

3 Reconstruction should not be delayed to await political, administrative or economic reform.

Following major disasters there is a tendency for politicians to introduce reforms at various levels and in varied sectors. However, it is critically important that reconstruction not be delayed until laws are enacted since this will lose vital momentum for action. New legislation is normally essential, and reforms may be necessary, but they can be implemented in parallel with reconstruction to avoid costly delays.

4 Economic recovery should be regarded as a prerequisite for rapid physical recovery.

Officials are faced with many options in recovery management. They could invest in rebuilding the economy or rebuilding structures. If they devote initial resources for economic regeneration this can stimulate physical recovery as well as addressing some of the root causes of vulnerability for the poor and the marginalized.

5 Reconstruction offers unique opportunities to introduce a range of measures to reduce future risks to persons and property.

Reconstruction offers a unique opportunity for public officials wanting to improve the protection of people and property. This is due to the heightened public and political awareness following a major disaster, which stimulates a demand for safety.

6 The relocation of entire communities is usually not effective and is rarely feasible.

Despite the risks of populations inhabiting dangerous sites, which can result in extensive casualties and property losses, relocation to safe sites is not normally feasible in social, cultural, developmental or economic terms.

7 Recovery actions can be regarded as a therapeutic process to assist individuals and their communities to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

If the victims of disaster become active participants in the recovery process as opposed to being mere spectators, they can play a valuable role in their emotional recovery. Psychological well being of the affected population and those who are engaged in helping them should be seen as an integral part of recovery process.

8 The basis of effective recovery is the availability and maintenance of an adequate flow of cash and credit throughout the entire process of recovery.

The flow of finance through cash grants and loans is essential throughout the entire recovery process. A particular problem is that the initial political support after a disaster inevitably unlocks resources which decline over time when extensive finances are needed for reconstruction. Public, private and international funds need to be focused to support local level capacities for long lasting and sustainable impact.

9 Successful reconstruction is closely linked to the resolution of land ownership problems.

Within urban areas suffering earthquake or floods there is often a serious pressure on available land, resulting in the occupation of unsafe sites. Governments will need to grasp the difficult issue of making safe land available with tenure for the occupants and enforcing land use planning controls within reconstruction planning. Although land can sometimes be more readily available in rural areas, it may be controlled by the few. Reforms to improve ownership and tenure of agricultural land can be relatively more feasible after a disaster.

10 To aid recovery it is preferable to maximize the use of local resources.

Before planning for external support, it is vital for officials to check whether locally available expertise, labor and products are available in order to regenerate the local economy. It is preferable to use these resources rather than import skills and materials. Strengthening the capacities of affected people will increase self reliance, long-term sustainability of mitigation efforts as well as protect their dignity.

11 Physical recovery is dependent on the development of effective local institutions as well as training and leadership at all levels and in all sectors.

Frequently, political leaders want to see rapid ‘action on the ground’ in response to public pressure for recovery. However, these actions depend on the development and maintenance of committed leadership, staff training and resilient institutions in each affected locality.

12 Political commitment is vital to ensure effective recovery.

Political support is needed from the very highest level of government and right through the political system to ensure that integrated planning, financing and implementation of recovery and reconstruction continue from inception to completion without interruption.

It is not a platitude to state that recovery after disaster poses a challenge. It can easily become a series of lost opportunities: minimal advances in safety, protracted years, even decades of unfinished projects and an economy that has failed to reach pre-disaster levels of productivity. But, with careful planning, conscientious management and the full commitment of a society it can be regarded as a unique opportunity to bring many benefits which can lead to an improved natural and built environment.


Rebuilding after Earthquakes, Lessons from Planners; California, William Spangle and Associates Inc., 1992.


There are several erroneous assumptions made regarding post-disaster situations. These are:

- political support will be available when needed
- funding will last as long as required
- all actors in the process will think alike
- all agencies concerned will be competent to carry out required tasks
- physical recovery must precede economic and social recovery
- there is no trade-off between speed and quality of reconstruction
- codes and controls will be rigidly followed
- reconstruction is an isolated process from pre-disaster planning

There are dilemmas and alternatives which face post-disaster planners. Some of these are:

- survey quickly or survey accurately
- repair or rebuild
- rebuild quickly or rebuild safely
- rebuild or relocate
- respond quickly or invite wide participation
- create new organizations or rely on existing ones
- rely on public or private investment
- pursue physical reconstruction or economic reconstruction
- use local resources or imported resources

There are several guiding principles that can be distilled from experiences in rehabilitation and reconstruction activities:

- recovery planning should be broad in scope and fully integrated.
- a balance must be reached between conservatism and reform
- reconstruction must not be delayed
- economic recovery will stimulate physical recovery
- reconstruction offers opportunities to introduce mitigation measures
- relocation of entire communities usually fails
- recovery efforts can be therapeutic for individuals as well as communities
- effective recovery depends on adequate cash and credit
- reconstruction is closely linked to land tenure issues
- maximize use of local resources
- physical recovery is dependent on local institutions, training, and leadership
- political commitment is vital to recovery


This glossary lists the disaster management terms as used throughout this module. Different usages which UNDP and other users of this module might encounter in other documents are mentioned in the definitions as necessary.


(Post-disaster) (sometimes Damage and Needs Assessment)

The process of determining the impact of a disaster or events on a society, the needs for immediate, emergency measures to save and sustain the lives of survivors, and the possibilities for expediting recovery and development.

Assessment is an interdisciplinary process undertaken in phases and involving on-the-spot surveys and the collation, evaluation and interpretation of information from various sources concerning both direct and indirect losses, short- and long-term effects. It involves determining not only what has happened and what assistance might be needed, but also defining objectives and how relevant assistance can actually be provided to the victims. It requires attention to both short-term needs and long-term implications.


The occurrence of a sudden or major misfortune which disrupts the basic fabric and normal functioning of a society (or community). An event or series of events which gives rise to casualties and/or damage or loss of property, infrastructure, essential services or means of livelihood on a scale which is beyond the normal capacity of the affected communities to cope with unaided.

Disaster is sometimes also used to describe a catastrophic situation in which the normal patterns of life (or eco-systems) have been disrupted and extraordinary, emergency interventions are required to save and preserve human lives and/or the environment. Disasters are frequently categorized according to their perceived causes and speed of impact. [See: Sudden natural disasters; Slow-onset disasters; Technological disasters; Human-made disasters]


A collective term encompassing all aspects of planning for and responding to disasters, including both pre- and post-disaster activities. It refers to the management of both the risks and the consequences of disasters.


A collective term used to encompass all activities undertaken in anticipation of the occurrence of a potentially disasterous event, including preparedness and long-term risk reduction measures.

The process of planning and implementing measures to reduce the risks associated with known natural and man-made hazards and to deal with disasters which do occur. Strategies and specific measures are designed on the basis of risk assessments and political decisions concerning the levels of risk which are considered to be acceptable and the resources to be allocated (by the national and sub-national authorities and external donors).

Mitigation has been used by some institutions/authors in a narrower sense, excluding preparedness. It has occasionally been defined to include post-disaster response, then being equivalent to disaster management, as defined in this glossary.


Measures that ensure the readiness and ability of a society to (a) forecast and take precautionary measures in advance of an imminent threat (in cases where advance warnings are possible), and (b) respond to and cope with the effects of a disaster by organizing and delivering timely and effective rescue, relief and other appropriate post-disaster assistance.

Preparedness involves the development and regular testing of warning systems (linked to forecasting systems) and plans for evacuation or other measures to be taken during a disaster alert period to minimize potential loss of life and physical damage; the education and training of officials and the population at risk; the establishment of policies, standards, organizational arrangements and operational plans to be applied following a disaster impact; the securing of resources (possibly including the stockpiling of supplies and the earmarking of funds); and the training of intervention teams. It must be supported by enabling legislation.


An extraordinary situation in which people are unable to meet their basic survival needs, or there are serious and immediate threats to human life and well being.

An emergency situation may arise as a result of a disaster, a cumulative process of neglect or environmental degradation, or when a disaster threatens and emergency measures have to be taken to prevent or at least limit the effects of the eventual impact.


The actions taken in response to a disaster warning or alert to minimize or contain the eventual negative effects, and those taken to save and preserve lives and provide basic services in the immediate aftermath of a disaster impact, and for as long as an emergency situation prevails.

This includes, as and where needed: evacuation (pre- or post-disaster impact) and other precautionary measures; fire- and flood-fighting measures; search and rescue; relief; and the establishment of essential communications and transport services.

Precautionary (pre-impact) measures are taken on the basis of established preparedness plans. Post-disaster emergency responses are planned and implemented on the basis of the (post-impact) assessment.


Natural phenomena which occur in proximity and pose a threat to people, structures or economic assets and may cause disaster. They are caused by biological, geological, seismic, hydrological, or meteorological conditions or processes in the natural environment.


A period when there is no immediate threat but long-term actions are taken in anticipation of the impact in the future of known hazards.


The permanent reconstruction or replacement of severely damaged physical structures, the full restoration of all services and local infrastructure, and the revitalization of the economy (including agriculture).

Reconstruction must be fully integrated into ongoing long-term development plans taking account of future disaster risks and possibilities to reduce those risks by the incorporation of appropriate mitigation measures. Damaged structures and services may not necessarily be restored in their previous form or locations. It may include the replacement of any temporary arrangements established as a part of emergency response or rehabilitation.


The period and actions taken following the emergency phase to enable victims to resume normal lives and means of livelihood, and to restore infrastructure, services, and the economy in a manner appropriate to long-term needs and defined development objectives.

Recovery encompasses both rehabilitation and reconstruction, and may include the continuation of certain relief or welfare measures in favour of particular disadvantaged, vulnerable groups.


Actions taken in the aftermath of a disaster to enable basic services to resume functioning, assist victims’ self-help efforts to repair dwellings and community facilities, and revive economic activities (including agriculture).

Rehabilitation focuses on enabling the affected populations (families and local communities) to resume more-or-less normal (pre-disaster) patterns of life. It may be considered as a transitional phase between (i) immediate relief and more major, long-term reconstruction and (ii) the pursuit of ongoing development.


The provision on a humanitarian basis of material aid and emergency medical care necessary to save and preserve human lives and enable families to meet their basic needs for shelter, clothing, water, and food (including the means to prepare food).

Relief supplies and services are provided, free of charge, in the period immediately following a sudden disaster. They may need to be provided for extended periods in the case of slow-onset emergency situations and population displacements (refugees, internally and externally displaced people).


The period immediately following the occurrence of a sudden disaster (or the late discovery of a neglected/deteriorated slow-onset situation) when exceptional measures have to be taken to meet the basic needs of the survivors in respect of shelter, water, food, and medical care.


Sudden calamities caused by natural phenomena such as earthquakes, floods, tropical storms, or volcanic eruptions. They strike with little or no warning and have an immediate adverse impact on human populations, activities, and economic systems.


Situations in which large numbers of people, property, infrastructure, or economic activity are directly and adversely affected by major industrial accidents, severe pollution incidents, nuclear accidents, air crashes (in populated areas), major fires, or explosions.


The extent to which a community, structure, service, or geographic area is likely to be damaged or disrupted by the impact of a particular disaster hazard, on account of their nature, construction, and proximity to hazardous terrain or a disaster-prone area.

For engineering purposes, vulnerability is a mathematical function defined as the degree of loss to a given element at risk, or set of such elements, expected to result from the impact of a disaster hazard of a given magnitude. It is specific to a particular type of structure, and expressed on a scale of 0 (no damage) to 1 (total damage).

For more general socio-economic purposes and macro-level analyses, vulnerability is a less-strictly-defined concept. It incorporates considerations of both the intrinsic value of the elements concerned and their functional value in contributing to communal well-being in general and to emergency response and post-disaster recovery in particular. In many cases, it is necessary (and sufficient) to settle for a qualitative classification in terms of “high,” “medium,” and “low;” or explicit statements concerning the disruption likely to be suffered.


Arrangements to rapidly disseminate information concerning imminent disaster threats to government officials, institutions and the population at large in the areas at immediate risk. They normally relate to tropical storms and floods.

A warning system involves links to forecasting systems, the organizational and decision-making processes to decide on the issuing of particular warnings, and the communications facilities (radio and other) to broadcast the warnings. Their effectiveness depends on the prior education of officials and the population to the meaning of the warnings and the actions each should take.