Post-flood design.

The people of Pakistan have responded with great generosity to those displaced by the floods last summer. Yet, in their haste to rebuild homes most have not paid attention to sustainability. Clearly, there is an urgency to reconstruct homes for the displaced. However, what is also needed urgently is a consideration of how some forms of reconstruction can actually leave people worse off if a natural disaster strikes again. The critical issue right now is not whether to reconstruct or not - the answer to that is obvious - but how to do so sustainably.

Recently, I watched a short video message by a well-meaning celebrity who spoke about their experience of contributing towards rebuilding homes for the flood affected. With touching humility, they spoke about the importance of putting their fame and resources to meaningful use as well as the importance of treating flood-affected people with respect. As a mark of that respect, they added, they constructed 'pukka' homes for the displaced.

Cement dwellings will certainly be appreciated more than the pre-fabricated cabins that the former army chief unveiled in November for the flood affected in Balochistan. Press release photographs showed a symmetrical grouping of cabins aligned at right angles in a desert setting. The arrangement as well as the materials used highlighted the lack of natural fit with the social and environmental context. However well-meaning, the examples discussed above have two things in common: they are built without an eye to sustainability or future floods and with little or no involvement by the local community.

Is this the best we can do? Might there be other ways of organising housing for the displaced beyond charitable handouts and climatically unsuitable imported goods? Are there other considerations we should keep in mind, such as the possibility of flood recurrence in the area? What design choices would we make then? Might it be important to involve the communities that are impacted in not just designing but also constructing their homes, so that we are keeping communities alive, generating work and means of earning so as to not create further dependency?

Sustainable reconstruction must be centre stage.

There are other options of course. For some time now I have been involved in evaluating and scaling up the sustainable and community centred design that Yasmeen Lari, the well-known architect and currently Sir Arthur Marshall Professor of Sustainable Design at Cambridge...

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