“‘Building back better‘ refers to rebuild in order to attain a state that is said to be less vulnerable than before” (Kennedy et al., 2008, cited in Le De, 2011, p.30). After the tsunami of 2004, former US president Bill Clinton (2006) proposed 10 focus points aiming to define the ‘build back better‘ concepts.
‘Building back better‘ adopts an approach “in which natural catastrophes must be put in the context of building sustainable development for communities and avoiding to reproduce existing vulnerabilities of even create new ones” (Lewis, 1999; Wisner et al., 2004, cited in Le De, 2011, p.30). Emerging international ‘best practice’ policies include “adaptive capacity, building capacity, technology transfer, technical assistance, knowledge sharing, learning and sustainable development” (Hewitt, 1983; 1995, cited in Le De, 2011, p.31). However, rebuilding efforts often do not achieve the desired outcome because of the way the villages are built.
Le De (2011, p.84) criticizes that external construction companies often do not pay enough attention to the social aspects of a community when they rebuild villages. “Villages rebuilt by professional companies most of the time consist of standardized houses, with little concern about social organization of communities affecting restoration of livelihood and their social capital (Downing, 1996; Duyne Barenstein, 2008). One of the consequences is a low occupancy rate of new homes constructed by external contractors as people refuse to move in and generally choose to repair their old damaged property (Davis, 1997) which has a sentimental value”. To avoid the scenarios described above, the community should be actively involved in the planning and rebuilding process. Le De (2011, p.85) highlights a study conducted in Sri Lanka that “analyzes different outcomes between the Owner-driven Reconstruction Program (ODRP) and the Donor assisted Program (DAP) and concludes that ODRP performed better on both quantitative and qualitative criteria”. Community involvement beyond labor appears to be crucial for the acceptance and long-term success of a rebuilding program. It also helps the community members to overcome their trauma faster because they are occupied while building, and their thoughts will be future-oriented (Le De, 2011). “Under the Owner-driven Reconstruction Program (ODRP) communities rebuilt their house and external agencies have the limited role to provide financial and technical assistance. ODRP have been said to be cost effective, with higher occupancy rates, leading to a better restoration of confidence after a traumatic experience, keeping people occupied after the disaster, allowing them to rebuild according to personal preferences, strengthening building capacity, and conserving local culture identity (Duyne Barenstein, 2006; 2008)” (Le De, 2011, p.85).
Christie and Laboukly (2015) suggest an interesting approach that allows communities to rebuild stronger after a disaster using local materials. The authors assessed the damages caused by Cyclone Pam that swept across Vanuatu in March 2015. Before and after satellite images show that many buildings were blown away or collapsed while others built from the same materials remained relatively unaffected. Christie and Laboukly conclude: “This shows that buildings are more than the sum of their material parts: the way they have been put together is also crucial”. They are aware of difficulties that may complicate reconstruction, such as “limited funds, the dispersed geography of the archipelago, limited import regulations for building materials, the decimation of local building material supplies, and the necessity for immediate shelter, which has led to dwellings being quickly rebuilt from salvaged materials”. However, they suggest some basic strategies that would lead to a safer built Vanuatu, without drastically changing the way people live. “These solutions include improved building regulations, grassroots education programs aimed at strengthening existing dwellings, the continuation of constructing buildings from local materials, and the establishment of disaster evacuation centres in all communities”. It should be assessed, which construction features houses have that survived the disaster. Based on these structures, prototypes for resilient houses built out of local materials could be created and serve as a basis for a new building code. “A new building code will be an important instrument to ensure that housing and public and commercial buildings are constructed to an appropriate standard. (…) The new building code will need to ensure that it considers a diverse range of construction types, including traditional construction methods, and that it is accessible to the majority of people in Vanuatu”. Christie and Laboukly believe that educational workshops focusing on repairing and safer building strategies could strengthen existing dwellings. The authors stress the importance of building with local materials using traditional techniques. They argue that local materials are more accessible and affordable than imported materials, and that building skills represent an important part of kastom and are therefore a significant part of cultural identity. Following this approach, the new houses will serve the purpose of decreasing the vulnerability of the community while blending in nicely with the local environment. Adventure tourists, ideally with an architecture background, could assist in assessing the construction features and in rebuilding the homes of local communities as currently practiced in Nepal.