Vol. 4, No. 1  October 1998

Editor's Corner

book review



duryog nivaran

AUDMP - making cities safer

From the grassroots

Upcoming ADPC training programs

IDNDR news


WWW Sites

From the grassroots...


As a result of its experience in relief and response following the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, CARE Bangladesh established a Disaster Management Unit (DMU). In December 1997, the DMU joined with 18 partner NGOs to form a new national network called the Network of Information, Response and Preparedness Activities on Disasters (NIRAPAD). The network's vision is to empower and enable the people of Bangladesh to equip themselves with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and resources to face disasters. Managed by an elected steering committee of seven members, NIRAPAD will assist in enhancing the organizational capabilities of its member organizations. CARE Bangladesh will serve as the Secretariat for NIRAPAD for the initial five years.

Each of the member organizations of the Network will include disaster management as an integral component of their ongoing developmental programs and earmark resources in their annual budgets. Among its planned activities, NIRAPAD will establish a public archive of disaster information for BAngladesh and will organize workshops, seminars and training at national, provincial and community levels.

Building Human Relationships to Prevent Disasters

Preventing disaster is largely convincing people to do things differently, often, only a little differently. This requires communication, trust, credibility; it requires building human relationships. Assisting with masons training for the reconstruction of a Himalayan village after the 1991 Uttarkashi earthquake led me to this conclusion.

The architects and geologists of the wholly Indian nongovernmental organization, TARU (The Action Research Unit), stayed continuously for months in the broken village, training masons and providing technical information about the five possible reconstruction sites which residents had identified. The residents moved their village about 100 m downslope, thus avoiding the hazards of a rockfall zone and a national highway, while retaining the same access to water, forest fodder, and agricultural fields. The residents also chose to have more space between their houses than in the old village, and to reconstruct houses with local stone and mud mortar reinforced with concrete plinth and lintel bands and corner columns.

Because we, as professionals, stayed in the village, eating meals with households of every socioeconomic group and participating in activities at the temple, residents came to trust us. We talked to women, men, and children, regardless of their social status. We learned about residents' needs for storing agricultural produce, caring for livestock, and building incremental additions to their homes. The professionals could then use appropriate language and metaphors to explain technical information from their urban, college educations to unschooled residents who had practical local knowledge and aspirations for "modern" houses.

Mutual understanding through dialog made it possible for residents to rebuild a little differently. Residents obtained the structural strength they sought from concrete, while maintaining the thermal comfort, lower cost, and familiar repair and expansion possibilities of random rubble stone masonry. Residents replaced traditional heavy slate roofs with more earthquak- resistant, lightweight sheet metal roofs, but house design retained the roof's slope to shed snow and provide attic storage space.

A geologist and I returned to the village three consecutive summers to observe the impacts of reconstruction. Only in the third year, after being settled in the new houses for awhile, did the residents notice that they preferred having their cowsheds downslope rather than across the slope from thier houses so they could keep easy watch over their livestock. Contrasting my actions with that of government officials who made only one brief visit after the earthquake, women in the village said, "You are from far away, but yu care enough to keep coming back." Residents are happy to have my colleagues and I return anytime. We will return this summer to benchmark manuals for earthquake-resistant construction in the whole of northwest India to the 1991 quake.

Because we built human relationships, along with reconstructed houses, we can continue learning from the village residents to better prevent earthquake disaster throughout the Himalayas. We could also avoid future disasters related to food shortages, water resources, or road hazards because we listened to residents' needs.

As disaster management professionals we are often kept completely busy with our technical tasks. Yet, by doing our work a little bit differently, by consciously building human relationships, we can do an even better job preventing disasters. The personal rewards are worth the effort.

Martha P. Kirpes

To get announcements whenever this page is updated, please subscribe to adpc-announce-subscribe@egroups.com by sending a blank email.

Newsletter Search Our Site Forums Disaster Links Web Server Statistics ADPC Home

Information, Research & Network Support
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
P.O.Box 4, Klong Luang, Pathumthani 12120, Thailand.
Tel: (66-2) 524-5378; Fax: (66-2) 524-5360; Email: