The Human Impact

The future of “building back better”: houses, schools, and political transformation too?

Disaster recovery experts and scholars alike seem to agree on at least one thing: disaster-recovery efforts should concentrate not only on restoring affected communities to pre-disaster levels, but should focus on “building back better” by linking immediate relief with long-term recovery and development.

Some go even further by suggesting that disasters can become an opportunity not  just to “build back better”, but to bring about political transformation by ending conflicts and improving governance in post-disaster settings.

“The aspiration to build back better – to use the opportunity of a disaster response to leave societies improved, not just restored – is self-evidently common sense: after all, who would want to build back worse, or simply reinstate conditions of inequality, poverty and vulnerability if the chance for something better was at hand?”, said Lilianne Fan in her paper “Disasters as opportunity? Building back better in Aceh, Myanmar and Haiti.

The first step is to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals to withstand nature and protect their occupants better when the next disaster strikes. But aside from reconstructing buildings, a disaster response could also present an opportunity to improve people’s lives in other ways.

At a time when money is flowing into a region, and international organisations are at hand, this could be the moment to reshape the political environment too.

Why India’s Mars mission matters, despite poverty

There has been much fanfare over the launch of India’s first rocket to Mars – a mission which, if successful, will position the Asian nation as a major player in the global space race.

For days last week, local television news channels broadcast constant updates as the Indian Space Research Organisation readied to send “Mangalyaan” – the “Mars-craft” – to the red planet.

The orbiter’s mission is to reach Mars by September and map some of the planet’s surface and test for methane, a possible marker of life.

What good is ‘crowd-sourcing’ when everyone needs help?

In a recent blog post I referred in passing to some of the hype surrounding “crowd-sourcing” projects in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

That’s not to criticise the volunteers – mostly in the United States – who collectively devoted hundreds of hours to charting the needs of quake survivors on online maps, based on SMS texts sent from the disaster zone.

My point was that their gate-crashing of the relief response in Haiti posed a welcome challenge to the traditional humanitarian system – but also generated hyperbole about the effectiveness of crowd-sourcing in actually saving lives.

Will Twitter put the U.N. out of the disaster business?

How is communications technology transforming disaster response?

A business that doesn’t communicate with its customers won’t stay in business very long — it’ll soon lose track of what its clients want, and clients won’t know what products or services are on offer.

In the multi-billion dollar humanitarian aid industry, relief agencies are businesses and their beneficiaries are customers. Yet many agencies have muddled along for decades with scarcely a nod towards communicating with the folks they’re supposed to be serving.

That’s because relief agency “lines of accountability” – to use a much-loved piece of aid jargon – are to the donor governments who fund the bulk of their activities, rather than to the people on the ground who are caught up in the crisis.

Introducing ‘The Human Impact’

Two Congolese boys comfort each other in a hospital in Goma, Feb. 10, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Welcome to “The Human Impact”, a new blog by journalists of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.

Based in far-flung corners of the world, these reporters work for the Foundation’s free global news services: the AlertNet humanitarian website and TrustLaw, an online hub for news and information on good governance, women’s rights and pro bono legal assistance.

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