Both of the case studies below, though different, offer valuable insights into the realities of using engineering knowledge and skills to help people struck by disaster. Institution members interested in using their skills in post-disaster situations should read them with care, and reflect on how they relate to the Institution’s guidance on working in the humanitarian or development sectors.
Case study one
The first case study summarises the role that a specialist engineering organisation employing professional engineers can play in post-earthquake reconstruction. It highlights the importance of strong community participation in the design and construction of new houses. It is based on experience and learning from the work of Build Change. It focusses on the selection of materials and structural form, and the implementation and communication of good construction practices. It demonstrates that:
Development efforts need to be based on what communities identify as being of most help to them. This can be achieved through good research and integration with existing efforts
Understanding the context within the country and communities is incredibly important. Projects need to always consider the long-term impacts on the community and how they will be able to use/benefit from new technologies going forward
Being willing to adapt your designs in response to community preferences and feedback is vital. Homeowners should be heavily involved in the design process with the end building incorporating their preferences
We are grateful to Alastair Norris and Build Change for contributing this case study to the Humanitarian and International Development Panel’s guidance.
Case study two
The second case study summarises the experience of an individual engineer working as a volunteer on an impromptu post-earthquake response project. It sets out the significant obstacles that arise when undertaking construction and engineering projects.This applies in both times of crisis and in countries and contexts which are very different to those known by the engineers.
This case study demonstrates clearly how despite the technical aspects of a project being conceptually simple, the realities of the project’s execution never are. It demonstrates the importance of local knowledge and capacities and that good intentions, though important, are not enough by themselves. The situations set out in the case study are typical of those encountered by voluntary projects around the world.
We are grateful to Franky Ken for contributing this insightful case study to the Humanitarian and International Development Panel’s guidance.
By Alastair Norris, Build Change Risk and Resilience Program Manager in Nepal
How engineering needs to adapt to the development context
Engineering in a development context can often be extremely challenging. This is due to the lack of materials, limited skills in engineering and construction, available budgets and perceptions of communities. The latter of these can pose a hidden risk to any project. It is often overlooked by engineers wanting to make a difference in the world, especially following a disaster.
Using Nepal as an example, this case study explores how communities must be included in all engineering projects, especially those that are focussed on the reconstruction of houses and other community infrastructure. Externally designed (engineering) solutions, with no control given to people who use them, have no place in good development practice. This case study highlights some key aspects that need to be considered and should enable sustainable engineering, whilst promoting an environment of innovation.
The case study will discuss different ways to ensure the inclusion of communities; however, it should be remembered that there is no such thing as a single community. In reality a community is actually made up of multiple smaller communities with limited, clearly delineating features and often hidden lines of inclusion and exclusion. Therefore, in practice identifying and working with the community is often much more complex than it appears on paper.
Nepal was struck by a Mw7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April 2015. The earthquake caused widespread damage to structures across a large part of the country. Post-earthquake damage surveys showed that over one million private houses were damaged, along with a huge number of schools, community buildings and other infrastructure.
Figure 1 - Earthquake damaged stone masonry in mud mortar (SMM) houses