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I am writing to respond to Krishna Vatsa's criticism
posted on the RADIX website about my 1999 article "Disasters, the World Bank and
Participation, Relocation Housing after the 1993 Earthquake in Maharashtra, India".
Below is my response to Mr. Vatsa, which includes photographs that I would like to have
posted on the RADIX website.
Normal Life after Disasters? 8 years of
housing lessons, from Marathwada to Gujarat: A response to K.S. Vatsa
by Alex Salazar
Apprentice Architect, Associate AIA, USA
I was greatly flattered upon learning that Krishna S. Vatsa--the Deputy Secretary in the
Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Program (MEERP), Government of
Maharashtra--went out of his way to write a rebuttal to my 1998 research work on the MEERP
project. His critique of my work can be found on the RADIX website (http://www.apu.ac.uk/geography/radix/gujarat5.htm)
which also criticizes the work of another author, Rohit Jigyasu. While I do not know
Krishna Vatsa, I appreciate his point of view. Like my perspective, it is but one view of
the disaster. Many of the points he raises are relevant, and important to understand, even
though I disagree with his analysis.
Rather than write a point by point rebuttal, I have decided to post a recent article (see
text below and figures attached) which I wrote after a field visit to India in August and
September 2001. As an introduction to this article, originally published in Architecture +
Design, Jan/Feb 2002, I want to point out three added pieces of information.
(1) While Mr. Vasta and some research organizations continue to describe the MEERP as a
success, the reality in the field is quite different. For example, nearly 1/2 of the
housing units at relocated villages remain unoccupied, or only used as storage (see the
article below and attached photographs). Hardly a success by any measure of
(2) During my 2001 field visit, I recorded interviews with local villagers, architects,
civil engineers, reporters, social workers, participatory housing advocates and former
Government of Maharashtra engineers who worked on the project. No one described the MEERP
as a success. As a researcher, I have always collected information from a variety of
sources and cross checked information with physical evidence from the field. From this
point of view, the research cited by Mr. Vatsa--which mainly relies on information gather
by GoM and World Bank consultants--is questionable to say the least, and does not reflect
the reality of field conditions 8 years after the quake.
(3) Since Mr. Vatsa questioned my credentials, let me clarify my background and knowledge.
I am not an academic, but a practitioner with almost a decade of experience doing research
on and working with non-government and non-profit organizations in both the USA and India.
I completed my undergraduate architecture degree at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (USA) in
1993, where I focused on squatter settlement housing Mumbai, India. This research helped
me win a grant from the Graham Foundation (Chicago, USA) to visit India. After the quake,
I moved to Latur and lived there for about 7 months (December 1993 to June 1994) during
the most formative period of policy development after the quake. For the first 3 months I
lived, worked and did research with Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers
(SPARC); and for the last 4 months I lived, worked and did research with Ahmedabad Study
Action Group (ASAG). These two organizations were the main NGOs that influenced the
Government of Maharashtra post-disaster participatory housing efforts in the region. That
experience lead me to do a Masters of Science in Architecture degree at UC Berkeley
(1996-1998) in the Design in Developing Countries area. And since then, I have been
working in Oakland, California at Pyatok Architects, one of the most respected
architecture firms in the USA that designs affordable housing. My credentials speak for
This said, I think academics, architecture and planning practitioners, and NGO advocates
can draw their own conclusions and observations from this debate. I welcome any additional
critiques of my writings. I certainly have learned a lot from this debate already. A
special "thanks" to the editors at RADIX for this opportunity to respond to
criticism of my work.
P.O. Box 71072
Normal Life after Disasters? 8 years of
housing lessons, from Marathwada to Gujarat
By Alex Salazar, Apprenticed Architect, USA,
(This article was first published in Architecture +
Design (New Delhi) Jan/Feb 2002 issue. The author is an apprenticed architect specialized
in low-cost housing in Oakland, California, USA, who recently visited Marathwada and
Gujarat from August to September, 2001. He previously lived in Marathwada in 1993-94 while
doing research for non-government organizations.)
The horrific, dramatic collapse of the World Trade Center has forever changed the
landscape of great American cities. While this terrorist act seems a far cry from the
recent earthquake disasters in Marathwada and Gujarat, American designers are, in essence,
asking themselves the same two questions that Indian designers have asked. Should we carry
on in as normal a way as possible and rebuild in-situ, demonstrating our perseverance and
resolve? Or, has death and destruction been so great, so damaging to our psyche, should we
preserve the site in memorial to loved-ones lost? There is, of course, no one right answer
to these questions. Only patient understanding and careful public processes will
help the public, and designers, understand and resolve what should be done.
In housing disasters, unfortunately, what often does get done is created out of heated
political passions, designers' egos, and the financial needs of developers and banking
institutions-with only lip service being given to peoples' participation. Too often,
unfortunately, this has lead to the mass relocation of communities. Over the last 30 years
probably thousands of villages and towns have been relocated for development work (dams,
aqueducts, frontier development, post-disaster rehabilitation, etc.), with many of these
projects becoming well known failures: abandoned or never occupied as people return to,
and rebuild at, their old settlement sites.
After the 1993 earthquake, in the core disaster affected area of Marathwada, projects
followed much the same pattern--although most villagers have resolved to stay on at
relocated sites despite all odds.
1. Holi village in Marathwada, 1994. [Click to enlarge]
Take, for instance, the story of Sugreev-a resident of
new Gubal village where about 225 families were relocated into geodesic domes. Unlike
upper-income families who were able to demand rectangular homes from the government, her
family had no choice but to accept the donor organization's social experiment of geodesic
living. While light weight and seismically sound, the dome form has proven to be
completely inadequate for anything other than storage, and even for this it seems awkward
Fig. 2. Sugreev inside her
dome. New Gubal, Marathwada 2001.[Click to enlarge]
Nonetheless, like other marginal farmers in the village (who own, perhaps, a few acres of
land and a cow) Sugreev's family has accepted the dome and coped with this purely
technical solution to earthquake hazards by spending tens of thousands of additional
rupees (not counting their labor) to build two additional rectangular rooms: one for
sleeping and another for cooking. These are much more to her liking and have helped create
a more traditional, rectangular "wada" style courtyard house form so typical to
this region. To
pay back the construction loan, both her son and husband are now indentured to a local
landlord for 2 to 4 years at one half their normal income.
3. Sugreev's home. Permanent construction on the left built as a small shop and for
sleeping; temporary construction on the right for the kitchen. New Gubal, Marathwada
2001.[Click to enlarge]
While this example may seem extreme, it is not an uncommon tale. Indeed, in the wake of
the Marathwada earthquake, Sugreev's story typifies just one of many problems villagers
face, as well as the overwhelming will of residents to make do with what they have, to
live life in as normal a way as possible. Given the recent Gujarat earthquake disaster, it
seems important to review some of the lessons learned over the last 8 years in Marathwada;
and, by comparison, to asses current housing issues faced by government and non-government
organizations in Gujarat. With this in mind, let us first turn to examine housing
conditions in Marathwada-both facts and anecdotes from a recent field visit to several
I. Home Sweet Homelessness
While Gubal's domes may be at one extreme of inappropriate house design, the rectangular
bungalows created by government and non-government donors in Marathwada are only
marginally better. In fact, in the 52 core disaster affected villages it appears, 8 years
after the quake, that only about half the relocated families are sleeping indoors! One
major reason for this is that residents still distrust the quality of construction and are
scared of repeat disasters. This is a legitimate concern according to local engineers
who observed minimal curing of concrete at many construction sites owing to drought, and
the lack of oversight and enforcement of building codes. At one village it was widely
reported that a villager demonstrated how shoddy the construction was by breaking a
concrete block over his head!
On the other hand, some projects are supposedly fine in terms of technical construction
issues. Yet, villagers have still found enclosed, interior rooms to be uncomfortable. Like
residents at Gubal, most use enclosed spaces only for storage and puja, while preferring
to build their own temporary (kutcha) and permanent (pucca) extensions for day to day
living. For the few middle- and upper-income families who received Government of
Maharashtra supplied housing, this incremental, self-help process was thankfully allowed
for. Thus, at places like Utka village, one can find new houses in various stages of
expansion, some with house plots already completely built-out, closely following the
traditional wada style courtyard
Completely built-out upper-income courtyard house. Notice government built construction at
front, owner built house extension at back. New Utka, Marathwada 2001.
[Click to enlarge]
View from the roof. New Utka, 2001.
[Click to enlarge]
Yet, even at government designed
villages, many problems remain:
* No effective earthquake education/construction
training has occurred in the core, relocated villages. While house extensions are being
built, there is little connection between old and new walls, and new masonry work repeats
many of the same basic masonry mistakes as in the past. Villagers, in short, continue to
live in extremely dangerous housing conditions despite all the time and capital spent to
6. Poor bonding between government and owner built house extension. New
Utka, Marathwada 2001.[Click to enlarge]
* Bathrooms, which have been provided at each housing
unit, are not used. Villagers have preferred to relieve themselves in the fields, in the
streets or in the corner of their compound, as they normally did in the past. Thus, nearly
all bathrooms are only used for storage purposes.
* Showers, which were also provided at each housing
unit, are being used. However, nearly all families have redesigned them in the traditional
"vattal" style, with built-in water storage and heating (by burning scrape wood
or cow dung). This indicates that villagers would have built their own shower facilities
had it been left to a self-help construction process.
* Roof leaks, and excessive light and air infiltration
through large windows, are occasional complaints by villagers who find their new homes
uncomfortable. Generally, however, they have simply learned to cope with these
conditions--any shelter being better than none. At some places where leaky roofs have been
a major problem, donors or the government have returned to do patch up work.
* Compound walls, for most families, are still
unaffordable and only partially complete. This has left residents with no privacy, and
exposed them to theft and the harsh local climate, which are common complaints. The
lack of compound walls has had a similar negative impact on public open spaces and
II. Planning for Relocation and Abandonment
At a village planning level relocated families are also living under unnecessarily
difficult housing conditions. While trees are just beginning to take root and provide
shade to the sprawling streetscapes, the reorganization of village life into industrial
townships, rigidity of planning methods, immense scale of new villages, and lack of
sustained maintenance of public infrastructure and buildings, have undermined the quality
of the built environment.
7. Typical neighborhood lane at a new village. New Sirsal, Marathwada. [Click to enlarge]
Some obvious problems are:
*Local village councils (panchayats) have not had the
financial and/or technical capacity to maintain excessively sprawling public
*Practically all storm water drainage systems are in
complete disrepair, silted up and unmaintained.
*One-half to two-thirds of road widths are not used.
They were designed excessively wide.
*New centralized shopping complexes that open onto
common public spaces are mostly disserted. Shop owners have preferred, understandably, to
build shops along the road in front of their new homes, just as many did at old villages.
8. Abandoned shopping center. New Killari, Marathwada 2001.[Click to enlarge]
Perhaps most problematic for villagers has been the
uneven, often random reorganization of social relations owing to hasty planning decisions.
In some places, where villagers have remained in their communal groups (but are now
located far from each other due to the immense scale of the new village), caste related
problems have reportedly become exacerbated. In other places, where the mixing of
community and income groups occurred, there are reportedly improved social relations, but
some complain that they now live far from friends and relatives.
Complicating this is the wide spread problem of living too far from one's farmland. The
scale of new villages (up to 5 to 10 times as large in area as old villages) has
translated into less free-time and an increase in household transportation costs, mostly
through motorcycle and jeep fares, which are particularly taxing on the poor. This has
lead a number of families to shift into self-built homes on their farmlands. Not
surprisingly, some wealthy families (who own but do not farm the land) have even shifted
into second homes in small towns, preferring to rent out or abandon their relocated homes
all together. Not even new Killari village, where extensive institutional and professional
design work was done, has this problem been resolved: entire rows of houses can be found
vacant 8 years after the quake!
9. Abandoned row of housing. New Killari, Marathwada 2001.[Click to enlarge]
III. From Marathwada to Gujarat: reconstruction in-situ and retrofitting
Thus, in general, one can say that relocation projects in Marathwada-both in terms of
house design and settlement planning-were very poorly done, with few exceptions.
Nonetheless, many of the same agencies and individuals involved in Marathwada are also
involved in Gujarat, and their experience is invaluable. While some relocation work is
going on, in the same old, wrong-headed way, there also is a lot of momentum to repair and
rebuild settlements in-situ. This general shift in policy and practice is the outcome of
First, the social and physical geography of Gujarat is extremely diverse and difficult for
organizations to handle with any one general approach. The size of Kutch alone, the main
district affected by the quake, is around 4 times as large as Latur and Osmanabad
districts, the core area affected in the 1993 Marathwada quake. The settlements in Kutch
are also generally much farther apart, making transportation costs, staffing, and material
production much more costly. And the number and diversity of populations affected-which
ranges from desert goat herding families in small hamlets of 3 or 4 homes, to shop keepers
in large urban settlements-has necessitated a decentralized approach.
in a small hamlet in the Little Rann of Kutch desert. Hodhka, Kutch 2001.
[Click to enlarge]
| Fig. 11. The
main market street in central Bhuj, still functioning despite a dramatic drop in business.
Bhuj, Kutch 2001.
[Click to enlarge]
Second, it has been widely reported
that people in Kutch are familiar with disasters, especially repetitive cyclones. With the
lack of visibly of government aid in the past, people have become accustomed to rebuilding
in-situ on their own. Thus, after the quake the initial call for relocation did not go
over well, people did not trust that aid would ever come through, and most did not see the
need to relocate.
Over the last 8 months government policy makers have begun to recognize these
complexities, as well the problems with relocation work in Marathwada, and have
subsequently crafted polices that leaves the decision to relocate on local residents.
Government has also taken the position that it will generally only supply funding for
individual homeowners, and it will avoid being in the business of building new homes and
settlements. This has allowed new house construction in the region to be done in a more
decentralized manner, with most households rebuilding homes in ways they are accustomed
to, using skilled and unskilled labor hired independently or secured through NGO/donor
involvement. The majority of this work is in-situ
While this approach is an improvement over work done in Marathwada, it is not without
problems. There are now a variety of housing solutions being created with little
regulation and control on building standards. Much of what people have built with the
first of two government aid installments repeats many of the same basic masonry problems
as in the past. Moreover, the relatively few relocation projects being done are of varying
degrees of quality.
These problems overlap with what are now critical issues: technology transfer and
retrofitting. In Marathwada two basic efforts were used after the 1993 quake. The main
program was spearheaded by the Government of Maharashtra and a non-government
organization, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, who originally planned to propagate repair and
retrofitting methods through the creation of women's groups in thousands of villages.
While the creation of women's groups may have been beneficial in terms of equity issues,
the program ended up promoting the construction of new room additions using brick masonry.
Thus, while each family may indeed have one new earthquake safe room, villagers throughout
the periphery are still living in damaged stone masonry buildings, and have little
understanding of proper stone masonry construction. Another effort was spearheaded by
Ahmedabad Study Action Group, which worked directly with artisans and homeowners to
retrofit houses in a handful of villages. While successful at an individual level, with
homeowners and artisans learning improved building methods on-site on real projects, the
methods have not transferred to the public at large.
12. Residents at Almala village living in their home that was retrofitted by Ahmedabad
Study Action Group. Notice steel knee bracing that was added to wood posts at the left.
Almala, Marathwada, 2001. [Click to enlarge]
Thus, as any casual visit to Marathwada will reveal, villagers and artisans continue to
build in both brick and stone and they are repeating, 8 years after the quake, the same
basic masonry mistakes as in the past. And so we arrive at a major dilemma for the
rebuilding effort in Gujarat: how to learn from the technology transfer and retrofitting
experiments in Marathwada while insuring that homeowners and artisans actually end up
using these techniques in the future?
Fortunately, there is an ongoing project through the Gujarat State Disaster Management
Authority (GSDMA) to train government engineers in earthquake safe building and
retrofitting methods. The government is also moving toward allowing the second installment
of financial aid to be used by homeowners to retrofit work completed with first
installment funds. Only time will tell if this new effort will work in the field, and if
disaster safe building techniques are absorbed into the local building culture.
IV. Housing Experiments: some final thoughts
Perhaps the most encouraging news from Gujarat is the innovative, collaborative effort
between NGOs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of
Gujarat. Under the Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan NGO umbrella, a group of about 14 NGOs are
receiving technical guidance in building technologies, planning and house designs for
their work at a grassroots level. While the UNDP is serving as an intermediate link
between NGOs and the government-for both issuing policy as well as integrating feedback
from the grassroots into policy decisions. At a local level, the results seem very
promising, with in-situ and relocation work being done in low-cost technologies, mostly
local materials, and an eye toward vernacular planning and house design patterns.
13. Stabilized compressed mud block construction in lieu of normal mud block/wattle and
daub/clay lump construction at a traditional "bhunga" house in a new handicraft
village, by Abhiyan. Kutch, 2001. [Click to enlarge]
While there are bound to be difficulties with this
effort, this is a new, innovative, experiment in social-political organization after
disasters, and it is a major step forward out of the political morass and NGO infighting
that characterized the work in Marathwada. This shift in policy and practice speaks
volumes about the will of various organizations to embrace a self-help ethic, one that
respects the need of disaster affected communities to return to living
as normal a life as possible.
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