When the tsunami struck on December 26, 2004, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal for funds and received an unprecedented amount – £382 million.

The DEC funds normally had to be spent within an 18-month period, but DEC trustees agreed to double the timeframe, extending it to three years. Still, to carry out the construction necessary and to make communities more resilient to future disasters in such a small timeframe was a large undertaking. Aceh, in Indonesia, was the worst-affected. Over the three-year period, 42 per cent of DEC funds were spent in Aceh, mostly on reconstruction.

Lessons from Aceh

In 2010, the DEC and Arup published Lessons from Aceh. It focused on the number and quality of homes constructed, and schemes that helped the recovery of whole communities affected by both the tsunami and the 30 years of conflict that preceded it. The findings have changed the way aid agencies, including Islamic Relief, carry out post-disaster reconstruction.

Building new permanent homes in 2005

Building new permanent homes in 2005

Lessons from Aceh identified that the international community should conduct proper planning rather than rush to build new homes, schools and hospitals. They found that DEC agencies and their members did ‘build back better’, trying to reduce building vulnerability to disasters, but not all other agencies did. It found survivors in homes built by DEC members, of which Islamic Relief is one, were among the most satisfied. This was for many reasons, including the level of engagement with the communities about what they needed from the buildings.

A study by the International Organisation for Migration in 2005 found people preferred to return to their land after a disaster. If this was not possible, because the ground was not safe for example, then they wanted to be located as a community near their village. It was important that they could maintain their social links and re-establish their livelihoods. Legal ownership of this new land was also important.

Disaster-resilient homes

The DEC and Arup report found that the requirements of the occupants should be captured in a design brief that could then be developed into designs that reflected different sizes, room numbers, or construction types.

The building system must reflect the community’s capabilities, including cultural acceptability, skilled labour and future adaptability. It should rely on good quality natural construction materials that were available locally. This meant, in the future, after the international community had left, local people would be able to more easily find, afford and use the materials necessary for any repairs or expansions needed over the coming years.

Many people lived in camps until their permanent homes were built.

Many people lived in camps until their permanent homes were built.

The high sum of money collected for the tsunami created an unusual situation of too much money, rather than not enough. The DEC identified the need for permanent housing as a priority, but some charities remained unaware of the need for disaster-resilient homes, resulting in inconsistencies in the type of housing provided.

Some families had been displaced by the conflict but unaffected by the tsunami. However, only those affected by the tsunami were eligible for the new homes. Inconsistencies like this could cause local tension and the report found that schemes may exacerbate or create problems in communities. Equally, they showcased positive schemes. One member worked with women’s groups to design the new community layout, with positioning and design of houses and water sources discussed and decided by the women.

It became an empowerment scheme as well as ensuring all cultural sensitivities were met.