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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Faith, fear and prudence

Faith, fear and prudence - Arts - www.theage.com.au: "30th March 2005

There are lessons for architects in the aftermath of the tsunami, writes Norman Day.

Millions of dollars have poured into the tsunami-devastated parts of Asia for reconstruction. This reconstruction has the capacity to not only remedy a ruined economy, but improve an environment.

Before anything else, warning devices must be built and devices for escape put into place.

Further, the spiritual life of the region must also be considered during rebuilding. Many of the dead remain lost, the sea their tomb, decided by nature and fate.

Much early knee-jerk reaction has reflected on the stories of heroism and luck, of desperation and powerlessness, when the waves hit.

Some trees stood tall, others fell, some timber buildings stayed, other concrete structures were quickly washed away. Some things appeared irrational: the absurdity of floating to safety on an old car door, while others lost their footing on a bitumen road before being sucked into the whirlpool.

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AdvertisementThe positioning of buildings is important. Traditional villages were located some distance away from the beach, under leafy canopies of palms and near to fresh-water creeks.

But tourist resorts were located on the beach, with direct connection to a beachfront bar and restaurant, with surf boards, skis and catamarans for hire nearby. These prime pieces of real estate were the first and most viciously damaged by the big waves.

Resorts located even 50 metres back from the tidal line evaded the main destruction, due mainly to the waves losing their strength - rising land levels acting as natural dampeners to the surging waters.

Many tourist sites have lower level shopping malls and cafes, some with car parking and service areas at lower levels. These must be reconsidered in the wake of the December 26 tragedy.

Basements were fatal. Their underground level was one thing; another was the sheer force of the water that caused eddies of such ferocity that they pulled the upper parts of the building into their vortex.

Other structures were made of timber. In Aceh, for example, much of the beachfront area was shanty town settler housing that stood no chance against the tsunami.

Those densely populated villages were thoroughly destroyed, leaving another problem common in ruined environments. There is now no record of land ownership, no title, no measurements on a map to show where a dwelling once stood. Reconstruction cannot occur until it is decided who has the right to the land.

In East Timor, for example, where there was man-made destruction, land courts were created to deal with the problem of land ownership, but it is taking years to resolve.

Factor in the massive loss of life - whole families who previously lived there have been wiped out - and the problem becomes even more difficult.

In such circumstances, claims for land ownership are abundant. In addition, the charitable and not-so have moved in to help. Most are well-meaning, but others have grasped an opportunity.

One large contingent that arrived from Russia offered to rebuild resorts, quickly. They landed with builders, equipment, materials and plans, ready to operate as a self-contained building company. Some started building on the site of hotels that were destroyed without the normal formalities of planning and building permits and licences.

When it was discovered that some of these groups were associated with organised crime, their reconstruction efforts were halted. Such is the risk in devastated regions.

Then there is an issue of available resources to rebuild. Much of southern Thailand is undergoing a development boom. The existing pressure on available building materials and labour has been exacerbated by the needs post-tsunami. The Thai Government will have to legislate to direct building activity to reconstruction, but, in the process, they must be careful not to damage other fragile economies at places such as Pattaya and Koa Samui, which would delay tourists returning to the region.

As things develop, issues of faith, fear and prudence will guide reconstruction, just as much as the pragmatic issues of who owns the land and what is best to build.

Norman Day is a practising architect, adjunct professor of architecture (RMIT) and architect writer for The Age."


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