Housing is essential to the well-being and development of most societies. It is a complex asset, with links to livelihoods, health, education, security and social and family stability. Housing is also an extremely vulnerable asset, and the destruction of homes or their loss through displacement or dispossession is one of the most visible effects of conflict and natural disaster.
This paper argues that housing reconstruction should be a more prominent part of programming after conflict and disaster. There is no agency is devoted to housing reconstruction, and few of the major NGOs working in relief would claim to be specialists in this area. Where reconstruction is attempted, its challenges are underestimated; planning can be poor and coordination between agencies difficult. Opportunities to enhance post-disaster recovery efforts or introduce mitigation measures are typically overlooked, and little distinction is made between providing physical shelters and providing homes. A lack of experience leads to assessments that do not provide the relevant information, and projects that are impractical and inappropriate. As a result, reconstruction projects are often unsustainable: at best, houses are altered by their occupants; at worst, they are abandoned. Housing interventions face significant challenges that cannot simply be wished away. But if agencies are going to continue to do housing reconstruction in the aftermath of conflict and disaster, then there is a clear need to find ways of doing it better.
This paper reviews experiences in housing reconstruction in the aftermath of natural disaster and conflict. It offers guidance on how to plan and prepare for a housing reconstruction intervention; describes the various housing reconstruction approaches available; and sets out the various models of implementation that tend to be used. It draws on a wide range of examples from the last two decades to highlight the main issues and to provide examples of both good and bad practice.
The paper argues that housing reconstruction should take into account local resources, needs, perceptions, expectations, potentials and constraints. In so doing, it broadens the discussion from responses that take into consideration the needs of individuals and families, to responses that consider the wider benefits to communities. It refocuses the discussion from a single house or shelter reconstruction to a process, thereby reintegrating housing reconstruction into the wider recovery context.