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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.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOverview
close this folderPart 1 - Scope of rehabilitation and reconstruction
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentNature of the disaster
View the documentScale of the damage
View the documentLocation of the event
View the documentSectors affected
View the documentLosses
View the documentResulting needs
View the documentAvailable resources
View the documentPolitical commitment
View the documentActors involved in the reconstruction
View the documentSummary
close this folderPart 2 - Relationship to other stages of disaster management
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMitigation into reconstruction
View the documentReconstruction and development
View the documentReconstruction and preparedness plans
View the documentEmergency relief into rehabilitation
View the documentSummary
close this folderPart 3 - Assumptions, dilemmas and guiding principles
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDangerous Assumptions
View the documentDilemmas and alternatives
View the documentGuiding principles
View the documentSummary
View the documentGlossary

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. __________________________________________________________