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Gujarat shows the way on long term solutions


AS THE race to supply initial emergency disaster relief gives way to more long term recovery it is clear that lessons from previous disasters were not fully applied in tsunami-affected countries.

In particular there is evidence that effective disaster management systems had not been established before the event - a move that recent disasters such as the Gujarat and Bam earthquakes have shown to be vital.

'When something like this happens we tend to rely on systems in place prior to the disaster, ' said RedR chief Bobby Lambert, reflecting on the scale of the challenge still faced around the Indian Ocean.

'Trying to invent systems immediately afterwards does not work.' Alan Stewart of Jacobs Babtie and a member of the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team agreed that a locally based disaster management agency is vital to boost the relief effort in the first days after the event.

He pointed to the Gujarat State Disaster Management Agency (GSDMA) in northern India, formed to deal with extreme events after the earthquake in January 2001 that killed 20,000 people and made 300,000 homeless.

The GSDMA, set up with advice from Babtie, has started to put in place five emergency response centres throughout the state, to ensure international aid gets to where it is most needed.

Such an agency does not exist in the tsunami areas. A network of control centres on high ground up and out of the danger areas could have been the eyes on the ground to show international aid agencies exactly what relief is required.

An effective local agency would also ensure that the common mistake of inappropriate reconstruction is not repeated. For example, evaluations of previous disasters have shown that resources were wasted on inappropriate temporary shelters that people are unwilling to live in.

'Solutions have got to be found that recognise that, ' said Stewart.

Previous disasters show that successful rebuilding hinges on training locally based engineers in specific techniques to strengthen homes.

In Gujarat, the GSDMA rapidly trained up 3,000 local engineers in basic engineering techniques to help local people rebuild their homes.

This is crucial because notwithstanding the huge amount of cash fl owing into the tsunami region, it would not be sufficient to fund long term rebuilding, predicted Stewart.

'Realistically that type of long term funding tends to dry up, especially when pledged money fails to turn up.' The result was that in Gujarat, people ended up with responsibility for rebuilding their own homes. The most effective initiatives were those that engaged local people on simple and cheap techniques to ensure their new or repaired homes were structurally robust.

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