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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. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tsunami housing - 'small is beautiful'

Daily News: 27/07/2005" BY AFREEHA Jawad

BAD enough was the tsunami, still worse is the post-tsunami housing and infrastructure construction which if badly handled would culminate in greater havoc superseding even what the tsunami wrought.

Ashley De Vos one of Sri Lanka's top ranking architects citing the dangers of unplanned visionless post-tsunami construction referred to the Brazilian story where housing estates have now become ghettos and slums - its residents now into large-scale nefarious activities. He was addressing a seminar at Sausiripaya on post-tsunami reconstruction.

De Vos very emphatic on small units - the community based type said would help preserve all what was traditional for basically many tsunami-affected folk were dancers, artists and some other.

Sri Lanka with its traditional small communities lost it all when the tsunami came on. Far worse damage including permanent zonal destruction would come in if large-scale estate, housing was introduced.

Reiterating the sustenance of traditional importance De Vos said there was a future in tradition and tradition in the future for its ability to accumulate practical experience and knowledge over the years. It also absorbs the good while rejecting the bad.

Recalling the traditional architecture in Puranayamas he noted how these dwellings resisted rain, sun, heat and glare, keeping intact the social milieu and people's lifestyle. Its raw material came off the environment while the people themselves interacted with the environment as fishermen and farmers.

The war's impact together with the tsunami's arrival greatly destroyed the Waadiya lifestyle - the fisherfolk who once enjoyed free movement - the beach itself where boats lay anchored and nets laid to rest where fish was dried and children played - that had now disappeared.

In fact even the tourism industry was deprived 10.5 metres of Sri Lanka's coastal belt. The tsunami destroyed two kilometres inland.

He also reminded of whatever housing is provided, "it should be dwellings suited even for us to live in." De Vos illustrated his presentation with different types of houses and schools to be built for tsunami victims where they could live comfortably engaging in whatever occupation they were earlier into. For instance the ones into business wanted their shops on the ground floor.

Dr. Jagath Munasinghe of the Moratuwa University advocated guidelines in post-tsunami reconstruction.

The structure's physical fitness inclusive of internal structural stability functioning, evolution and the ability to absorb shocks, contextual integrity where the structure/environment relates harmoniously leaving room for space to grow which when ignored would lead to congestion, social equity where equal opportunities are for all residents including accessibility to housing, healthcare, education, markets, urban services, public spaces of parks and grounds, the projects economic viability - of people and goods transportation along with water and power supply, a fair zonal mix where occupants share amenities patronise and meet same civic facilities, simple streets bearing highlighted nodes and landmarks, hierarchically organised streets and open spaces, access to maintain and augment physical structure, spatial organisation that facilities orientation and way finding.

Munasinghe also cited the varied past settlements that fulfilled some of these requirements such as the dry zone colonies of the 30s bearing large square grid layout with scattered houses, the model villages of square lay out, Mahaweli settlements featuring an organic pattern, Gamudawa's circular lay out, the 1980s government housing scheme both grid and organic and the Diyawanna gammana on flat land.

Munasinghe being a chartered architect and town planner strongly recommended liveable human habitats.

He disowned whatever design that came off personal instincts and ad hoc knowledge. Our knowledge body is not organised which if coherent order would prove better in designing and better settlements.

As designers, architects and engineers handling space he reminded the importance of normative concepts concerning the cosmic order, functional order, organic order and the replication of heaven in all untended structures.

Shiromal Fernando also of Moratuwa University recalled the tsunami damaged ill-designed structures.

Recommending what he described as structures with strong foundation and columns he noted how free flow of water between columns were non-resistant to the waters force. Sea walls though an expensive exercise, he saw as a way out for vulnerable areas. Trees also was suggested including all other necessary precautions to minimise life loss.

Professor M. T. R. Jayasinghe also of Moratuwa campus was at hand to recommend cyclone, earthquake and flood resistant structures.

He saw sufficient ductility as a way out for structures to reduce chances of a building collapsing in toto during some severe earthquake.

During cyclones the first to go off being the roof can be prevented with concrete slabs. Floods can be well handled with concrete stilts enabling free water flow.

Professor Priyan Dias suggested horizontal bands that tie the walls laying emphasis on overturnings, coverings and slidings avoiding long walls and structural robustness.

The seminar though with knowledge expertise at times failed to reach out to ordinary people and often ran into lengthy delivery per speaker. However, if policy makers would interact with such expertise it would help equip Sri Lankans into much of disaster control.

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