Monday, 9 March 2009

Shelter Training Course

Attended this 2-day course the previous weekend organised by Engineers Without Borders UK. Found it very beneficial. Left me with a greater appreciation of how complex disaster relief and development (and people!) can be. A good mix of theory and hands-on workshops.

Sessions included:

  • The right things to the right people: an insight into the difficulty of identifying aid recipients and distributing aid. The session included role play. Participants were split into two groups; the distributors and recipients of aid. Recipients were of varying need depending on who they were (head of household, elderly person etc), how many people depended on them (number of children etc) and the extent to which their house had been damaged (not at all, partially or completely). Distributors had to prioritize recipients and distribute aid without it all descending into chaos.
  • Transitional Shelter Construction: constructed shelter given a few planks of wood, a hammer, nails, a plastic sheet and some rope.
  • Tents: put up a few different kinds of tents commonly used in relief camps.
  • Camp Planning: planned a camp site given a map and a disaster scenario.
  • Reconstruction roleplay: participants were assigned the role of differing NGO consultants (construction management, infrastructure, environment & sustainability etc) in small groups and had to work together with local representatives and government to agree on a reconstruction solution following a natural disaster.

Some thoughts/quotes:

  • When sending clothes as aid or re-building houses, the intention may be good, but is it culturally/environmentally appropriate? Is it what the people want?
  • At what point is the disaster over? How/when to ask "squatters" to leave houses/properties that they do not own?
  • Individuals are affected. Important to bear this in mind when making grand decisions (as an an engineer) as to what to do.
  • Self-help: People don't sit around waiting for you (the aid agency) to arrive.
  • Whatever you do should be driven by the community, so you know it's what they want.
  • Don't underestimate the traditional modes of construction, refined over generations. Don't think you're the only expert going in.
  • Getting people (those affected) to understand (and agree) why a certain approach is best is always a challenge.
  • Most (alot of) people go and stay with a friend or relative or in any empty building they can find, not in a refugee camp necessarily. These people also need help, maybe more so, and should not be ignored. Got to work out the total number of people affected and in need of aid.
  • You can't throw something off the back of a truck and think you've done international aid.
  • People get cranky (dangerous even) if they think they are getting something sub-standard to what others are getting. Got to keep it fair/equitable.
  • You (the aid agency) are not a parallel government. You're not here to take over. You are supporting. Where you are working they will also have laws, building guidelines etc.
  • Self-settled camps: Cities evolve over time, hundreds of years, not over days/weeks. Rushing it and leaving it completely to people could leave the "town plan" in quite a mess.

No comments: