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by Michael James Casey, December 8, 2010 This report is an examination of the logistical and architectural responses that have been enacted by governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) in the wake of catastrophic emergencies throughout the world. Defined as “a natural or manmade hazard that has come to fruition”, disasters are always characterized by widespread physical destruction and chaos. Whether natural or manmade, disaster agents are the precipitating events that lead to this great loss of life, physical property, and livelihoods. In addition to the the death and destruction that results directly from such events, disaster agents have a lasting effect on survivors, exposing the vulnerability of a group or groups in such a way that their ability to live is directly threatened. The report will begin with a discussion of the logistics of relief as administered by major aid organizations, followed by specific case studies of historic and contemporary disaster relief strategies and an assessment of their successes and failures. The conclusion will be a discussion of the role that media plays in relief efforts and how developed societies are instrumental in deploying assistance to disaster victims. Going beyond a simple taxonomy of the tent cities and trailer parks that crop up in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, I will seek to demonstrate that the logistics of relief delivery are the most critical determinant of success in disaster relief situations, in terms of lives saved and qualities of life restored.
The Logistics of Relief
We are living in an era when information has become the top commodity to control, with search engines and twenty four hour news cycles to enable constant streams of data and media. When disasters occur these days, images of the destruction and stories directly from the source are available instantaneously, which draws an initial spike in the world’s attention to the plight of a population in some remote corner of the globe. Although this initial peak in concern from those in the developed world compels international aid organizations to coordinate relief efforts, in any disaster situation the ultimate responsibility for deploying assistance lies with the stricken nation7. Whether or not outside intervention is appropriate for a nation’s relief efforts is largely determined by the scale of the disaster, and the international community cannot even begin provide aid to disaster victims without the specific request of the recipient government. While it can be assumed that the poorer the country the more likely it is to be lacking in disaster planning and preventative measures11, a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina proves that rich, highly developed nations can also fall
short in providing their citizens the most basic life requirements in the wake of great destruction. The reasons for failure do not result from a lack of available resources, but rather from the failure of the many vested interests - multiple levels of government and NGOs - to communicate with each other and effectively coordinate the deployment of food, temporary shelters, and other raw relief materials. Weaknesses in the management of human capital within organizations like the United Nations, Red Cross, UNESCO, Unicef, Oxfam can result in errors and shortcomings in the distribution of relief goods and services to victims7. Because each of these entities operates independently, their methods of implementation and operational policies vary and may even conflict with each other. The first step in the disaster planning process is determining the capacity of a population to meet their most basic needs of food, shelter, and sanitation. In most large-scale disasters, there is a great need for external assistance, and many emergency programs are imposed on disasteraffected communities that suffer from a lack of involvement or concern by the affected population and other stakeholders3. The delivery of dry foodstuffs, blankets, clothing, and bottled water is a fairly straightforward act of repeated dispensation at crucial locations, but providing short and long term shelter for displaced populations that are scattered over many miles is a responsibility that requires substantially more money, raw materials, and logistical consideration. The most common causes of death in refugee camp children is diarrhea and pneumonia, caused by viruses found in contaminated drinking water3. Therefore, sanitary bathing quarters are always an imperative requirement for relief architecture, with access to clean water and proper drainage infrastructure a crucial determinant of the hygiene and overall quality of life in relief camps. The following is a series of case studies for several different historic and contemporary disasters, and their relief management strategies.
San Francisco Earthquake, 1906 Owing to its proximity to a major seismic fault line, San Francisco has a long history of contending with and preparing for earthquakes. The most destructive quake to ever strike the city occurred on the morning of April 18, 1906, and resulted in substantial building loss and a widespread conflagration that claimed over 3,000 lives. Government intervention in relief for this early twentieth century disaster consisted of the construction 5,600 housing units in city parks, with costs varying from $100 to $700 each. These temporary settlements were built by union carpenters, and were gradually transported out of the camps as rebuilding progressed, eventually providing many the opportunity to own their first homes. Within three years of the quake, 20,000 permanent buildings had been reconstructed, representing an impressive 70% of the buildings destroyed1. The swift pace of San Francisco’s recovery after the 1906 quake points to the nation’s growing prosperity and the city’s strategic location as a commercial port for the Pacific coast, and presents a stark contrast to the pace of relief seen more recently in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Bam Earthquake, Iran, 2003 This 6.6 magnitude quake struck near the Bam settlement, in the Kerman province of eastern Iran on December 26, 2003, killing over 25,000 people. Within days of the disaster a population of 125,000 had been placed in temporary tents, provided swiftly by the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), which coordinated closely with
local provincial governments in tent distribution and placement2. Most families that owned a house preferred to stay within walking distance of their property, even when all that was left was rubble. The most common complaint among members of the population was the lack of toilets and showers, making the construction of these facilities a top priority for the IRCS relief efforts. The authorities in charge of relief efforts in Bam considered using prefabricated sanitation modules in public places to meet these needs, but aid agencies rarely selected this option due to expense and the constant need for maintenance of public facilities2. Instead of shipping in elaborate manufactured trailers, the first wave of relief workers relied on local and readily available materials such as wooden or lightweight metal poles, cloths, traps, and sheets of plywood to satisfy the sanitary requirements of victims. These rudimentary relief facilities consisted of a meter deep hole in the ground, filled with bricks for wastewater drainage from showers, and covered by boards supporting a metal “squatting plate” for toilets2. Predictably, the Iranian women were reluctant to use these temporary showers due to the lack of privacy they afforded. In this situation, Oxfam was unique among the other aid organizations in its choice of relief architecture. Instead of prefabricated trailers, Oxfam’s program consisted of constructing or reparing toilets and showers in the villages outside the city, opting for brick structures built with local materials and labor. The remains of standing but heavily damaged masonry buildings were utilized to their fullest extent after repair and seismic reinforcement2. Builders of the new bathing and living facilities used a traditional material palette of clay bricks and limestone foundations, but with walls and roofs as light as possible and thicker columns. Showers were built with 13 inch thick columns and brick arched roofs topped with clay and reinforced with steel beams, providing excellent thermal insulation and privacy for users2. Due to wide familiarity with the construction type, local masons were capable of replicating
these structures fairly easily, greatly aiding in relief implementation and improvement in the quality of life for displaced populations.
Kashimir Earthquake, Pakistan, 2005 This magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck northern Pakistan on October 8, 2005, affecting neighboring India and Afghanistan and causing the deaths of over 75,000 people. Leaders of relief efforts for this particular disaster suffered major challenges in coordination, mainly by relying on a cluster approach that divided victim needs and human resources into ten categories (shelter, food/nutrition, sanitation, communication, etc.) without an overall implementation plan or central governing body. Several international agency networks operated with a measure of autonomy in needs assessment, procurement, distribution, and reporting5. In order to distribute the vast quantities of construction materials needed for reconstruction, approximately ninety different aid distribution agencies asked the UN Joint Logistics Center to help coordinate the movements of their cargo. The extremely rugged topography of the Kashimir made transportation capacity along narrow mountain roads a significant relief constraint. On top of transportation challenges, hundreds of private aid organizations operating alongside multiple levels of government lead to egregious overlaps and disparities in aid distribution. For example, the Pakistani military and health cluster of NGOs both constructed field hospitals according to their own independent assessments,
resulting in either too many hospitals and clinics in one location and not enough in another7. Across commodity types, delivery decisions and outcomes were more determined by terrain than by population size or degree of destruction. By March of 2006, Pakistani authorities had dissolved all the formal camps for the displaced, dispatching families to the roadheads of their destroyed villages and leaving them to fend largely for themselves5. As well as being a tale of caution for disorganized management of aid entities, the case of the Kashimir earthquake relief efforts shows that among disasters, the nuances of topography and settlement patterns are very important as well.
Once the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) realized the scope of the destruction and totaled the displaced, they implemented a plan to house the newly homeless in what they considered the most cost and time effective venue, intermodal trailers. When considering the location of the trailer parks, FEMA identified three different site types: 1) private property, 2) preexisting commercial trailer parks, and 3) greenfields and undeveloped farmland4. A trailer park requires a certain amount of surface to “breathe” properly, pointing to greenfields as a good option. However, the people who were going to live in these parks needed reliable access to healthcare and education, meaning that locations closer to the urban core were critical in FEMA’s considerations of trailer sites. From the beginning of the planning process for FEMA relief camps, there was enormous local opposition in towns that were considered for accommodating the temporary settlements. Just as any new building development encounters opposition from locals, prevailing stereotypes about trailer parks and their effects on housing values drove the hostility towards these FEMA neighborhoods. This xenophobia can be attributed to deeply engrained racial inequalities in the southern U.S., the more general “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) phenomena, or just a lack of empathy among people who perceived the disaster victims as different from them. When asked whether or not they would mind having a temporary trailer park in their neighborhood, almost 65% of black respondents said that they would not mind at all compared to just 32% of white respondents4. The potential number of citizens who were angered by the trailer park placement far outweighed those who would be served by the temporary shelters.
Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, 2005 In the years leading up to this most recent and calamitous American natural disaster, there was no shortage of speculation as to what might happen if a strong enough hurricane were to strike low-lying New Orleans. These scientists and climatologists saw the realization of their what-ifs on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall and devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Of the 1,816 deaths attributed to the storm, the vast share (over 1,500) were from Louisiana and more specifically, the New Orleans metropolitan area. In the immediate wake of the damage, the middle and mobile classes of New Orleans dispersed to regional relief cities like Baton Rouge and Houston, while thousands who lacked the means to travel formed a sudden refugee population in the deserted core of a previously thriving city.
The preparations and response of FEMA in the case of Katrina fell far short of the expectations for such a developed nation. With the media machine spinning full throttle on the story of the storm and its devastating impacts, it was impossible not to see how Katrina disproportionately impacted the black community that had called the low-lying wards their home. Because of sedimentary deposits along the Mississippi River, valuable riverfront properties in New Orleans tend to be elevated compared to less valuable properties further inland, as a result, there was a concentration of low-income populations in the lowest-lying areas1. It would be unfair to judge government disaster relief and resource allocation based on racial factors that preceded a disaster, but the fact remains that five years later the predominantly black and low income neighborhoods still contain wide swaths of flood ravaged homes, while the more affluent districts that flooded have mostly been restored. The decrepit state of many properties in the Lower Ninth Ward owes to a lack of private reconstruction funds, partially because many insurance companies won’t cover flood damage, contending that the hurricane and its subsequent effects were not a “wind-driven occurrence”1. Haiti Earthquake, 2010 As an island country with a long history of poverty and injustice, Haiti was the last nation in the western hemisphere that could handle a calamitous earthquake like the one that occurred on January 12, 2010. This epicenter of this magnitude 7.0 earthquake was just miles outside of the center of the capital city, Portau-Prince, and resulted in the instantaneous collapse of hundreds of thousands of buildings and a staggering loss of life within them. Within hours of the quake, relief camps naturally formed as dazed survivors sought shelter far away from buildings and walls. The millions of suddenly homeless occupied streets, empty lots,
playgrounds. schoolyards, soccer fields, plazas, parks, and Haiti’s only golf course. In an absence of any authority in the quake’s immediate aftermath, survivors formed their own security brigades, while doctors set up impromptu clinics to treat their injured neighbors6.
The unprecented scope and widely broadcast images of destruction soon resulted in an outpouring of support for Haiti from the international community. As a number of well-heeled relief organizations lined up to help, logistical conflicts ensued between these aid entities and the U.S. military, which had seized control of the Port-au-Prince airport and was giving priority to troop and heavy equipment deployments rather than food and clothing6. Additionally, many aid organizations would only conduct food distribution in the presence of armed troops, an ultimately ineffective means of controlling the melee that often characterizes refugee food distribution. Most of the official plans for rebuilding Haiti call for decentralization and re-investment in agriculture. The government is encouraging the 600,000 people who fled devastated Port-auPrince for the countryside to stay there6. Although Haiti was able to produce the bulk of its own food for consumption just thirty years ago, previous military juntas which were supported by the U.S. government have shifted the country toward consuming imported cheaper rice and beans from America, undercutting the native farmers’ ability to compete and decimating a once vital agricultural economy6.
To fix this cycle of dependency will require more than just the $23 million requested from the UN6 to help Haitian farmers obtain seed and fertilizer. Haiti needs strong government leadership and a comprehensive strategy for reviving local food growth to wean the nation off of the handouts that are currently sustaining it. Six months after the January quake, there were still over a million people (10% of the country’s population) in Port-au-Prince and surrounding environs living in tent cities. With poor sanitation and security features, these crude human settlements are ill-suited for the rainy seasons that plague this Caribbean country each summer. During particularly long downpours, residents have no choice but to stand above the damp ground for hours on end, unable to sit or rest as they wait for the rain to pass and their mud floors to dry out. To cope with this increasingly dire situation, government officials have been asking donors for better tents and more durable forms of temporary housing that can potentially shelter refugees for years, as the city works on rebuilding its permanent structures8. One semi-permanent housing option is to relocate the tent dwellers into unused shipping containers, many of which are already being utilized by UN officials for field offices and certain public amenities like showers. Another idea that has been put forth is to use readily available materials to build stable, waterproof homes out of widely available materials such as paper tubes and plastic tarps. The man behind these proposals is Shigeru Ban, an acclaimed Japanese architect who has previous experience in designing shelters for the refugees of Asian earthquakes and African genocides. He claims that the materials necessary for these paper and plywood structures can be procured locally, for under $300 per shelter. With the help of architecture students from a technical college in the neighboring Dominican Republic, Ban has begun the initial design and deployment of these housing prototypes in Port-au-Prince and surrounding countrysides9.
Conclusion The effects of Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake are still being felt among the large displaced populations that resulted from both disasters. The previously discussed catastrophe relief strategies convey a variety of lessons that should be considered in the mitigation of future disasters. The earthquakes in Pakistan and Haiti showed that quick aid can be as disruptive as no aid at all, if survivor needs are not carefully determined and classified beforehand. The state of Haiti’s agricultural capacity and plans for postquake consumption and settlement patterns demonstrate how a community must have the ability to restore itself with its own coping mechanisms, instead of relying on incessant handouts that destroy the success and confidence of local farmers11. Global media outlets play a crucial role in the process of securing aid for disaster victims and maintaining concern among the well-to-do in developed nations. Aside from the victims and workers directly involved with relief efforts, journalists are the main constructors of disaster narratives and therefore have a great influence on securing international support for victims. The exponential rise in venues for disseminating the stories and images of catastrophes that afflict the world has only augmented the reach of non-governmental relief organizations. This report has shown that while these international actors have a crucial role in getting a devastated
population back on its feet, the solutions to disaster displacement go far beyond monetary donations. The physical design of relief camps, provisions for sanitary infrastructure, and logistical coordination of many vested interests are the most crucial determinants of success or failure in mitigating despair in the wake of shared tragedies.
References 1. Thomas Craemer, “Evaluating Racial Disparities in Hurricane Katrina Relief Using Direct Trailer Counts in New Orleans and FEMA Records”, Public Administration Review. May/June 2010. 367 – 377. Accessed December 2, 2010. 2. Jean-Francois Pinera, Robert A. Reed, Cyrus Njiru, “Restoring sanitation services after an earthquake: field experience in Bam, Iran”, Disasters. Volume 29, Issue 3. September 29, 2005. 222 – 236. Accessed November 5, 2010. 3. Peter A. Harvey, “Planning environmental sanitation programmes in emergencies”, Disasters. Volume 29, Issue 2. May 23, 2005. 129 – 149. Accessed 2 December 2010. 4. Belinda Creel Davis, Valentina A. Bali, “Examining the Role of Race, NIMBY, and Local Politics in FEMA Trailer Park Placement”, Social Science Quarterly. Volume 89, Number 5. December 5, 2008. 1176 – 1194. Accessed December 2, 2010. 5. Aldo Benini, Charles Conley, Brody Dittemore, Zachary Waksman, “Survivor needs or logistical convenience? Factors shaping decisions to deliver relief to earthquake-affected communities, Pakistan 2005-6”, Disasters. Volume 27, Issue 4. October 30, 2006. Accessed November 5, 2010. 6. Reed Lindsay, “Haiti’s Excluded: How the earthquake aid regime sidelines those it is supposed to help”, The Nation. March 29, 2010. 18 – 22. Accessed November 9, 2010. 7. Esther K. Hicks, Gregory Pappas, “Coordinating Disaster Relief After the South Asia Earthquake”, Society. July/August 2006. 42 – 50. Accessed November 9, 2010. 8. Garry Pierre-Pierre, “Living under tents: Haitians brace themselves for rainy season”, The New York Amsterdam News. February 25-March 3, 2010. 2. Accessed December 2, 2010. 9. Naomi Pollock, “Shigeru Ban Aims to Build Waterproof Shelters in Haiti”, Architectural Record Online. May 11, 2010. Accessed November 21, 2010. <http://archrecord.construction.com/news/daily/ archives/2010/100511shigeru_ban_shelters.asp >
10. Jonathan Benthall, Disasters, Relief, and the Media. New York. I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. Publishers. © 1993. 1 – 40. 11. Randolph C. Kent, Anatomy of Disaster Relief: The International Network in Action. London. Pinter Publishers Ltd. © 1987. 1 – 68. Image Sources Page 1: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article95870.ece Page 2: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/06/sci_nat_san_francisco_earthquake___1906/html/1.stm Page 3: http://news.in.msn.com/gallery.aspx?cp-documentid=3482069&page=11 Page 4 (left): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/dispatches/050901-01.html Page 4 (right): http://www.daylife.com/photo/058ZbfO2wO154 Page 5: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Haiti-Earthquake-Diary/2010/0125/Haiti-earthquakediary-The-lives-within-the-tent-cities Page 6: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/SBA_WORKS/SBA_PAPER/SBA_PAPER_6/SBA_ paper_6.html