Post Disaster Housing & Resettlement: What can we do?

Angeles_Post-Disaster-Reconstruction_image05by: Amy Gorman & Jonathan Fredrickson

The Filipino national government estimates that the cost to rebuild from Super Typhoon Haiyan total more than $8.2billion over the course of the next 4 years. [1] Within this estimate, sheltering is by far the largest task at 51% of the estimate (~$5billion).  The cost of re-housing is not unique to the Philippines.  The problem is not the cost of a simple home.

Why is shelter such a difficult problem to solve?  Shelter following a disaster is one of the areas where we just don’t have a good solution. History shows that the international community can only meet 20% of the (shelter) need.  “Then we can only conclude that 80% is met by affected people themselves, rebuilding their homes using their own labor.”[2] Understanding this, we need to find creative ways to help the other 80%.

The Problems:

Following a disaster, people scatter to where they can find the best safety, stability, and shelter within their financial and logistical means.  Where to they go and do they plan to return?  Philippine communities scattered throughout the archipelago. Many with financial means to leave or with family outside the most distressed areas have left. Others without these options went to evacuation centers.  These crowded, often unsafe, refugee camps are full of emergency housing (for up to 60 days) and interim housing (up to one year), none of which are meant to provide a long term sheltering solution for its occupants.  Still others return to their communities, often living in homemade shelters salvaged from poor quality materials left from the typhoon and in areas not suitable for development.  This places them in more vulnerable situations for the next disaster.  With so many disaster victims homeless and scattered, the task to identify shelter needs and for who is challenging.

Sustainable Housing Solutions

Housing solutions need to be long-term, sustainable and more resilient against the next disaster, and be adjusted to the location. Ignoring safety in reconstruction opens a disaster-affected community to repeating the same disaster in the future. In the Philippines, in particular, natural disasters are commonplace, and shore-front property is often not safe enough. The Filipino government understands the need and is working to relocate its citizens to safe areas, but safety must be balanced by the human element; people making their subsistence living from the sea must live near the sea.

How should these building be built? In addition to establishing settlement areas in safer places, construction designs and materials must incorporate hazard mitigation.[3] The government is encouraging residents to rebuild their homes with the proper materials, but there is a shortage. [4] Many who remain in their communities do not have access to and are forced to rebuild with substandard products.  The best way to ensure proper materials are used is to get them flowing into the local economy at affordable price-points. Happily, the Philippines are working with the international community to facilitate faster importation of goods and also to speed up Filipino production.

Sustainable Housing Education

With 80% of housing needs met by affected people themselves,[5] a strategic housing plan must include the development of a knowledgeable local population.  Ecosystems, weather, available materials, and culture are very important and locals understand those issues best. The aid community and the Philippines federal government have recognized that they are unable to provide enough for the overwhelming need of permanent housing, and are focusing on empowering communities to help themselves.[6]  The Filipino government has primarily asked the international community for expertise in debris management and technical experience and government capacity building, importation breaks and then finally sheltering materials.  The Philippines have a long way to go, but it looks like they are on the right track.  This desire for self-sufficiency needs to be encouraged in all post-disaster situations.

Following a major disaster, safe, resilient housing for all cannot be accomplished with one answer, one group or one technique.  Given that 80% of housing is completed by the locals themselves, how should the humanitarian assistance world approach solve shelter issues in disasters?  What can humanitarian assistance, government, and local organizations do to incorporate an understanding of a community and rebuilding resilient communities in to their operational planning?  Every effort to build safe homes must make central the empowerment of locals with the expertise and opportunities to use the right materials.


[1] Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States of America, “Status Update and Assessment,” at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) event, “U.S. Response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, 8 Jan, 2014.

[2] Bill Flinn, “Changing Approaches to Post-Disaster Shelter,” Humanitarian Exchange Magazine (Issue 58, July 2013), retrieved 21 Jan 2014 at http://www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-magazine/issue-58/changing-approaches-to-post-disaster-shelter

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cuisia.

[5] Bill Flinn, “Changing Approaches to Post-Disaster Shelter,” Humanitarian Exchange Magazine (Issue 58, July 2013), retrieved 21 Jan 2014 at http://www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-magazine/issue-58/changing-approaches-to-post-disaster-shelter

[6] Ibid.

Amy Gorman is a Research Analyst Contractor working on the TIDES project at the Center for Technology & National Security Policy at National Defense University (amy.gorman.ctr@ndu.edu)

Jonathan Fredrickson is a TIDES intern at the Center for Technology & National Security Policy at National Defense University

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About startides

TIDES Research Assistant Intern
This entry was posted in Building Partner Capacity, Humanitarian Assistance/ Disaster Response, Shelter, Stability & Reconstruction, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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