Disaster Rehabilitation, giving direction to Sustainable Development

Disaster Rehabilitation, giving direction to Sustainable Development
A Talk by Sandeep Virmani
Recorded in April 2006/ Paris
Sandeep Virmani, Director, Hunnarshala Foundation for Building Technologies and Innovations, Bhuj

Sandeep Virmani shares his experiences on the rehabilitation and reconstruction work done after the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and after Tsunami in 2004 (in Aceh). Involving people in decision- making and the entire process of rehabilitation was a milestone in all three cases. Virmani believes that disaster can be used as an opportunity to re-fabricate cities and their structures with sustainable practices.


What is alternate and what is mainstream? In India, every year the largest construction that happens is still in mud and earth. And it is the artisan’s structures that are being done in the villages. So it is still mainstream as far as I am concerned. However, we in the cities are still working with concrete. But if you look at the total value of construction that happens in the country, this is still a relatively smaller amount compared to the entire construction that is happening in the country. It is true that the concrete boxes are increasingly being used and so-to-speak the artisanal structures are reducing. And that is the entire debate on sustainability that we would like to see change. The second question is in terms of people wanting concrete boxes as opposed to more sustainable materials.

After the Gujarat earthquake in 2001 we had two policies. One was a policy, which said that you could take the money and build your own house. The second policy was that you can partner an NGO and the NGO will build a house for you. We had about 65% people who chose to build their own house and the other, about 35%, who chose to partner an NGO to build. Almost every NGO said that when they asked the people they wanted concrete boxes. So we gave them concrete boxes and that is how these villages came up. We did a satisfaction survey about 3 years after the disaster, in which we studied what people did with the money they had received for compensation for building their houses. We found that almost 95% of them used artisanal methods. They used tiled roofs and not flat roofs. So the entire equation changes in terms of what is satisfaction. ‘If you are going to give me money or spend it on me, yes, I would like to have a concrete box. But if I have the money in my own hands, I have other priorities which are much higher than a fancy idea of a concrete roof.’ So those priorities could be a much larger house, it could be thermal comfort; it could be getting good labour and the opportunity to earn etc.

So coming to some of these experiences that we have been going through…

We will again use disaster as an opportunity to enable people to express and envisage their own re-development, as they would like to do it. We will use these examples at the scale of a village, a city and at a regional level. We will use three experiences- the Kashmir earthquake which is the most recent in India. We have worked only in the Indian part, the Tsunami where we worked in Ache and the Gujarat earthquake, which is about five years old. I come from the city of Bhuj. My house was also destroyed (during the earthquake).

(SLIDE). We’ll start with Kashmir. We have had a huge problem of terrorism in this entire region and this area has been completely cut off for many years. The earthquake actually created the opportunity for the civil society to get back into action, in this region. This is the valley in which we worked. It is the Tangdhar Valley. It is at 10,000 feet. At the other side is Pakistan. It was from here till Pakistan where thousands and thousands of houses would later come.

(SLIDE)  This is the Krishan Ganga river which runs into Neelam river, which marks the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. When the earthquake occurred the energy got concentrated in these mountains here and the peaks of these mountains actually burst open and a lot of landslides occurred. That was one of the major reasons why a lot of the areas in Pakistan became inaccessible to a lot of relief that had to reach there before the winter could set in.

(SLIDE)  They are largely an Islamic society, extremely resilient. They live in large structures like these. They basically have a joint family system with four or five brothers, their families and their extended families, about 20 -25 people live in one structure like this. A lot of these structures collapsed.

SLIDE- This is the traditional structure of nomads where they keep the animals in the ground storey and sleep on top, so there is a thermal heating system which is very sustainable and very low energy consuming.

The major problem that was being faced after the earthquake was the coming winters. The earthquake happened in October and the first snowfall happens in the first week of December. So we basically had two months to actually get people into some kind of shelters so they could pass the winters.

The typical response of most engineers, architects and people who believe that things must happen fast as engineered structures are pre-fabricated structures. It is considered to be very fast. So the government as well as the NGO sector started pouring material into the valley. However as the material was still coming in, the state government was not very sure if this method was really going to finish in two month. So they invited us and they wanted us to suggest a method of doing very fast construction and experiment.

We had lot of discussions with the Tangdhar people. There are a lot of artisans particularly in that region. We asked them which were the structures that did not break. After all so many broke down, but what did not break. So they explained to us that most of their traditional structures were made in wood and some of their old structures are made so beautifully they don’t use a single nail in the entire wooden construction. I am sure you might have such old structures here as well. But slowly that practice of building is going out. But one other thing that they showed us was this structure (SLIDE) where you have a cross tracing like this which is connected to the whole thing. This helps the entire structure from collapsing and this is the practice that is slowly becoming obsolete. And many of the new buildings got destroyed due to this reason. So we said, then why don’t we continue doing this, so they said, “Yes absolutely that’s exactly what we want to do and that’s what we are going to do.” So we said ok. Then how do we start? So this was one method of avoiding damage during earthquake.

They showed another structure to us (SLIDE), a building about 250 years old.  This is the Himalayan area - it is a highly tectonic. It is the Euro-Asia plate and the Indian plate that collide here. So this area is highly active and there is a history of earthquakes in this region. So this was a technique that they had developed for avoiding damage to their buildings during earthquakes. What they used to do was they never anchored the building into the ground. It only floors on top of a plinth that was made in stone. So what happens is that when the earth moves the house on top does not take the entire impact and this is something that engineers find very difficult to understand. They say you have to anchor the building into the ground. How can you allow a building not to be anchored? So there was a major debate with the state government engineers and they were very unhappy but then they allowed us to try and experiment.

They said but this is an affected community. How are you going to ask them? What we were suggesting was that why don’t we allow people to make their own temporary shelters. They know how to do it - there are a lot of artisans over here. As long as we ensure that these two systems are in place, which is what they have traditionally been doing, we can expect them to build their own temporary shelters, which will not get destroyed. And they should be able to pass the winters in these shelters. So they said, “NO - but this is an affected community. How are you going to ask them to start working for themselves? They are not going to work”. So we said let’s try it out. Maybe that’s exactly what they want to do.  Because that’s been our experience over a lot of years with disasters. After a disaster the only thing that people are left with is their piece of land, their rubble and their surviving community. The best therapy is to actually go and start constructing something again because when you have broken everything around you, you are pessimistic about how things will actually be rebuilt. And the first step of the community actually getting together and doing some kind of building activity together - that immediately opens up hopes of a much better future. So they said ok we will give you one village. You go and try. See if people will actually make their own temporary shelters and if this works then we will create a policy on this. SLIDE

So this was the village they asked us to go and work in and the government was to provide the money after the shelter was completed by the individual family. So we spoke to them and this entire structure-SLIDE- was built by them in a period of two nights...two days, along the same basic guiding principles. And the entire village went on to make these structures in five days. Also, because they knew they were going to get a fixed sum of money for rebuilding their shelters, they were very keen on recycling as much material as possible, so they could get some cash in their hands at the end of the process. Almost all the material was recycled, however some people who did not have tin sheets and other material they had to buy these.

So the policy was created by the Jammu & Kashmir Government .The then Chief Minister was very keen on creating an incentive that if they complete their house before the first snowfall, they will get Rs.5, 000 extra. And it worked!! There were also material banks created because of the demand and supply changes. It was also important to make sure that people didn’t have to go to the forests to cut wood.

(SLIDE)That was basically their traditional technique, which was put into the guideline.

(SLIDE) And a lot of these structures started coming up. What they would do for insulation is put a sheet like this - put ply sheets inside and fill it up with hay and inside they have heating device called bukhari, which makes it very comfortable.

(SLIDE) In a period of just 25 days about 7, 000 interim shelters came up. And by the time the first snowfalls actually happened in the rest of the valley about 20,000 shelters were completed. The reason why I am giving this example is that there is a lot of traditional knowledge or traditional systems available. However these have not been given recognition by our formal systems and that is why we are not tamping into a huge knowledge base, which allows us to be safe and yet be inclusive.

(SLIDE) We actually learnt this entire process in the 2001 earthquake in Kutch. This was a very large area that was affected… about 600 villages and 6 towns.

(SLIDE) Here what we basically did was provide $178 worth of material. These were made available to the people to build. This was made available in 3 stages. However, they had to make their own arrangements as far as the labour is concerned and make their own temporary shelters.

(SLIDE) Basically our work was only to organise. We were completely bereft of any engineers coming in or people coming in to build. So our job was only making sure that material supply was happening in time and organising people and to make sure that nobody was being left out.
(SLIDE) These are the kinds of structures that came up after the earthquake.

(SLIDE) About 22,000 structures came up in 6 months. Our contribution was about USD 1.5 million, whereas the people’s own contribution was almost double that because they employed masons, carpenters etc.

(SLIDE) However that’s as far as temporary shelters is concerned. And if you want to be inclusive and involve the people then how do we actually do this entire process for permanent shelters?

We had bad experience in Latur in Maharashtra and earlier in Uttarkashi. We told the Indian Government that we have to change our methods of working and that doesn’t mean that everybody changes. After Tsunami Tamilnadu is doing a horrible job but Gujarat government was more progressive. We had two options. Mostly after rehabilitations contracts are given out to companies and they go and build a village and people are allotted those houses. Whereas this was a new approach that was tried where communities would build and NGOs and professionals would only support.

(SLIDE) However the main concerns were-it has to be fast construction and it has to be safe and those were the major debates that we were having with the state government at that time. There was a lot of skepticism whether this would really happen if you allowed people to build.

Two policies came out. One was the owner driven policy where people build their own houses and they are given money in installments through bank accounts.  Second policy was where you could partner an NGO. However the main issue is that the decision making of how I want to get my own house built remains with the village community. They have to pass a resolution whether they want to make their own house and take their compensation or partner an NGO. It is not forced upon them.

It is good to have a nice policy but the entire implementation methodology has to be extremely tight. It has to be very supportive. Only then can you achieve results in a process like this. Infact one very big task was actually opening 200,000 bank accounts in a period of three months so people could start constructing. So this was a major exercise. However, at that time when people were asking for compensation, getting into a bureaucratic process of setting up bank accounts was criticised heavily by a lot of people. Also in society like ours where it can be fairly corrupt at times, we wanted to try and set up a cashless process which would reduce corruption and it worked! Material banks were set up so that demand and supply didn’t create black markets for material. Because once you are giving money to the people they should be able to complete their house within that amount. If they are not able to do so, the entire program fails and if the prices of material or labour start shooting up then they won’t be able to complete the house.

So this kind of a method was very important as an enabling process to make sure that one gets a certain amount of material through a rationed process .One can take it from these co-operatives or one doesn’t have to… that’s up to the people.

However our experience after 3 months of starting the process was dismal. The seismic safety levels were just about 30%. And the Government was actually planning to revoke this entire policy. At that time we had a lot of discussions. They knew it was very difficult to actually revoke the policy, so they wanted to find answers. We said let’s try out one method. What we did was, we asked about 10-15 villages to send all their masons to us.

So a group of 10-15 villages sent 4 or 5 masons each and we had 60-70 masons. We had 3 days of discussions on basically where these guys went wrong or why so many houses got destroyed. After all they were the ones who had built all these houses that collapsed.  And they had a lot to say about it and that created a whole knowledge base on how they felt safe construction should happen. Of course it was supported with a lot of scientific information also. But at the end of that process we said, ok, if you believe that you can actually build seismic safe houses why don’t you go back and tell this to your younger generation. So they said we are very keen on doing that provided you facilitate such a programme. So the plan was, a mason chose 5 or 6 villages where he would go and hold meetings with young masons and carpenters and explain it to them. Since he had credibility in that area he was able to encourage people to do safe construction. This was to ensure that certain methods were being put into practice while doing the construction. We had about 80 masons who went to about 450 villages. In a short period of just 4 months, the seismic standards shot up to 86%. And this allowed us to continue with this programme.

I would quickly take one example. Once people knew that they could build their own structures they started making their own kinds of buildings. There is a traditional structure called the bhunga. This is a circular structure that did not collapse in the earthquake. Every square structure collapsed, however circular structures did not. This came up constantly in the mason meetings we used to have. They explained that this structure actually came into the landscape after the 1819 earthquake. It was a huge earthquake, much higher on the Richter scale than the one we had this time. The reason for this was that a square structure in an earthquake splits at the ends. During the earthquake when the movement is up and down the structure stands very well. But when the sideway movement starts the walls become weak and they fall. And then crack develops at the top and it comes down. On the other hand in a circular structure, when the sideway movement starts, it actually works like an arch and it becomes stronger.  And since there are no corners to break, it has a much better capacity to be able to transfer energy back into the ground. And this is something, which was explained to us by the artisans in these villages.

SLIDE - This is the traditional living pattern of most of these communities over here where you have a large plinth on which lie the structures and you live in the centre.

SLIDE- However there were two constraints. Just like he was talking about how every body wanted a concrete structure and concrete box is what the common people were asking for. However their artisans didn’t quite agree with this and one thing that they all agreed upon was that mud is a material that they understand well because they had farms. It’s also something available in the rural areas. They also wanted a light structure. They had also seen that in the cities, because of concrete, many more people had died than in the villages. So they had agreed on a light roofed structure. They did not want thatch and anyway it was not easily available because it was a drought year when we were going through this whole process. They wanted a more durable material like tiles, which requires less maintenance. The women were very clear; they did not want their walls to be maintained all the time. So we introduced what is called ‘soil-cement earth blocks’. It is a technology which uses about 5-7 % cement with soil and is pressed in a machine like this. (SLIDE) So this is much more energy efficient. It has a very good structural strength. However this was a material that was not allowed in our building bylaws, the ISI codes. So the Government was not happy that this was going to be used.

Fortunately we had a very good person at the head of the technical advisory committee who was not just an engineer but I would call him a scientist- Dr. Arya. He wasn’t particular about going according to the rulebooks. He came in and analyzed the structural strength of these blocks. And finally this was the first Government in India, which came out with a guideline on stabilised earth technologies. So it’s a technology that can now be used by everybody. Another thing that Dr.Arya agreed with was the foundations. Because traditional structures do not use any cement in the foundations. It is a sand filled foundation. They use rubble stone filled with sand. But the sand is filled in a particular way so it becomes extremely strong and in earthquakes the foundations are not affected. It is the walling systems that need to be designed, not foundations. So he agreed to that.

So guidelines were issued on  - One, traditional system that people did the foundations in, allowing earth constructions and thirdly allowing tiles to be used in cyclone prone areas. Infact, the initial guidelines discouraged the use of light roof structures and encouraged only concrete roofs. However, when we suggested that we can develop a small hook that can be tie the tile to the rafters, Dr. Arya was allowed light roof structures. So these three important systems allowed huge cost savings and allowed artisans in the villages to be able to do their own construction. On the other hand, if they were to try and do concrete structures, they would have made a mess of the entire construction.
(SLIDE) This is the technique.

The villagers were also keen on employment, which is an important criterion. They wanted to keep a part of the rehabilitation money rather than spending it on buying all the material from outside. So they were very happy to make their own earth blocks.

Another problem was of course that masons were becoming scarce. The cost of masons shot up to double because of the demand and supply change. So we started working with the rammed earth technique which is basically the same mix of mud and cement. But unlike the earth block, these are not made into blocks, which have to be put by masons in the wall. Instead, here you can put it straight into formed-work and ram it, so it’s called the rammed earth wall. Because so much of construction was going to be done, these formed works were given to the villagers and the families got together and rammed their own walls. So this technique allowed very fast and safe construction, without masons.

SLIDE- Here you can see both block construction and formed works which were given to villagers and they made their own walls.

SLIDE - So this is the new type of bhunga that came up. This was with the rammed earth walls. Meanwhile, we were discouraging the use of wood because two of our very important trees- Babul and Neem…a lot these forests got destroyed during the earthquake. So we used fabricated steel...not probably the best solution at that time, but it was definitely better than using wood.

SLIDE - That’s how the villages started coming up.  Here you can see about 20 such villages came up-bhungas, which were completely built by the artisans within the communities.

SLIDE -Here you can see that when the artisans built their own villages, the cost of construction came down heavily. Because most of the costs are not so much in materials but in management. And when they are building for themselves, they have very simple, intricate methods of ensuring that the costs don’t go up. This is about Euros 2.00 per square foot.

SLIDE- We had put together a team of artisans whose job was to actually design the entire process and make it happen. He is the person who went to Pondicherry and learnt the rammed earth technique. He is the person who set up all these fabrication systems for mass production. SLIDE- He is the person who put all the steel fabrication for under structures.

We later on went on to use ‘wattle and daub’ because it has much better thermal properties and its something the villagers knew very well. But it requires maintenance. You need to lime plaster it. Lime and mud is a very good combination that does not allow for erodability and you don’t have to maintain the walls.

SLIDE- These were the little hooks that were designed to be able to put on each tile. It is just a small wire that is bent around. So during a cyclone, when the air fills into the room, it works like a spring. It opens up, releases the pressure and comes down again. So it’s a very simple innovation. It was in  collaboration with BGS Germany.

SLIDE- The villagers then went on to use what they are traditionally very good at. Basically using mud, hay and cow dung…all mixed together, fermented a little and then put onto the walls.

So they celebrated the bhunga in a more elaborate way. And because there were so many people from outside coming to these villages, they thought of putting up a small tourism programme. So they put up their traditional structures for a lot of these people to come and even stay with them. Of course they used thatch because people like us enjoy it more than tiles.

SLIDE- These were some of the rooms that they built. SLIDE- These are the women who love to decorate. They do embroidery work. And once they got an idea of how to use lime they freaked out and did all kinds of things with it. We are now using a lot of these artisans from this area. Wood carvers, lycro workers, metal workers who are working on these traditional systems.

SLIDE- Now these artisan groups have started taking walling contracts. They are trying to see how they can bring these technologies into urban areas. So about 12 or 15 buildings have already come up where these artisan groups went and made these walls in different earth technologies.
 SLIDE- This is in contrast to the NGO work that was happening over there – concrete blocks. This is an idea of how NGOs love to help people relocate because then it becomes an analogous number of what they are building.

   SLIDE- Finally these are some of the indicators that we look upon while evaluating artisans on any work that is done. 1. Whether it is upgrading local skills. 2. Use of local materials, 3. Whether there’s affinity culturally/environmentally are the parameters being taken into consideration.

4. People’s contribution, 5. Is it cost effective? Lot of our construction is done with artificial money. There’s a lot of artificial money that comes in after disasters and if you leave behind things which people cannot actually build later on, on their own, it doesn’t have any value. 6. Whether you are solving problems. It is not necessary that anything traditional is fine. There are problems that need to be solved, because the communities are changing and there are new aspirations. So you have to be able to constantly address these issues. 7. And whether they are in control and not just participants as labour.
SLIDE- This is another example of another NGO that was very keen on doing things the traditional way, lot of greens but some reds as well.

SLIDE- This is the city of Bhuj. And this is the Environment Planning Collaborative. It is a very good planners group in Ahmedabad. They worked on the inner city after the earthquake in which the entire inner city of Bhuj was completely destroyed. It’s a small city. Traditional towns in India have very narrow lanes. They normally have the cul-de-sac systems. They were not expecting a lot of vehicles to be invented. So now they have this problem of two speeds clashing all the time. Many big buildings have also come up since then.
SLIDE- Here is the city of Bhuj. This is about 25% damage and this is about 50% damage. A lot of open spaces were created in between because of the damage.

SLIDE- This is a damage study of each building. So the red you see is completely destroyed buildings, this is the semi destroyed and this is standing.

SLIDE- These were the unfortunate maps that we had with us after the earthquake. Small cities like ours won’t maintain our records very well. So here you can see - this is the same one after the total station survey was done. After the earthquake we quickly got a survey done to actually mark each building. So this area is actually here which has completely transformed over the years. So these maps were practically useless.

SLIDE- These were the kind of maps that we had with us. There were 22 maps like this which are hand drawn on canvas and they were fraying at the edges. They were digitised and the corner problems were handled on-site. SLIDE- These are the 22 maps. SLIDE- This is the digitised base map that was first created. So this is the final map along with the damage overlaid on the digitised map

SLIDE- This is just to give an idea of the density of the inner city. Both these maps are to the same scale. This is a well laid area in Ahmedabad, which follows planning norms and this is the way Bhuj city was. So our main problem was how you decongest? How do you reduce the density in the inner city?

The reason for wanting to reduce density in the inner city was that after the earthquake it was impossible to get into the city. Because of the narrowness of these lanes, it was difficult to have rescue systems in place. Fire engines could not go in. People who ran from their houses in one area were found dead somewhere else. Also people were not safe even after getting out of their houses. The area where my house was, was a little more laid out colony.  So the moment we were out on the roads we felt absolutely safe. But for people in the inner city, they were running across the streets looking at things that could fall on them and kill them. So you have to have a certain road system, which would allow fire safety and rescue systems to go through the city.

SLIDE- This is one old part of the town. There were about 588 plots here, but if you follow planning norms with proper layout system, there is place only for 390 plots. This is only a mathematical exercise. This is not the way it was really laid out. This is just to understand. So you need to reduce the density by 30% if you want a well laid out inner town again. Now the question was, who are these 30% that would have to move out and how do you come to that decision?

So we did not have an answer to this. We said let’s open it up to the public. These are the people who have been living in this area for many-many years. Their properties are so complicated that it’s impossible for anybody from outside to actually decode them. People have been living here for more than 300 years. So you can imagine the kind of property transfers, subdividing, selling, disputes and how the entire property framework within the inner city would have been. So we said if we are going to try and solve this problem, we will never finish this rehabilitation. So we put this entire problem to everybody. We had a lot of public meetings on this.

SLIDE- This is the short cut of the 3 months which were chaotic to say the least. But there was a lot of creative energy that had sparked and allowed people to say that yes, we have solutions to this process. So finally a chart came out which looks very simple today. What people decided is that anybody within 0-30 meters plots - they would have no deductions. Basically, the decision was that if you choose to move out of the inner city you get extra land. But if you want to stay within the old city, deductions would be made on your original land. So as you had your property size increasing, the deduction increased. There were a lot of government plots as well. A lot of government departments had their plots. According to the chart, they would also lose 50% of their plots if they chose to stay there. So it was democratic even within the government. And then this whole chart was put open. It was like a lottery…like a test whether this would work or not. Everybody was asked to apply stating clearly whether they wanted to move out to a new laid out larger plot or continue staying within the old city with deduction on their original plot size. We had more than 30% people, about 38% who opted to move out. The people who had commercial interests within the city, they did not mind having some deductions, but they wanted to stay within the city. But those who did not have any commercial interests within the city, they were happy to have plots in a proper layout.  

This is a legal instrument that is normally used by us to acquire more land from agriculturists as a city expands. This was the first time that this legal instrument was used in areas within the inner city. So the entire inner city was actually taken away from the owners for a period of three months and replanning was done.

SLIDE- All the buildings which stood there were left as they were. The area was subdivided into 38 smaller communities within the walled city area. However all the area in between all those applications. In this computer layout areas marked in green represent the original layouts and the ones in red show the new layouts based on the lower densities. So even if I had a property in one part I might have been given land in a different area altogether, however within the same community limits.

SLIDE- This is how the final thing turned out. There were a lot of problems at individual level, which the committees of each level had to solve on one-on-one basis. SLIDE- This is the final walled city map that emerged after six months of very intensive work. This is complete now and all the houses are up. There are 2 or 3 disputed sections but by and large the city is rebuilt.
SLIDE_BEFORE and AFTER (new layout)
(This is an example of the way it was before the earthquake and this is the new layout)

Another initiative in the city of Bhuj that we were worked on is the Urban Watershed Management. The city of Bhuj is about 450 years old. It was at that time a capital of the kingdom. The kings at that time had developed a very interesting water management system. This is basically an in arid area with about 250-300 mm of rain. In a period of five years there are about 2-3 years of drought. So water was very critical to any process of inhabitation over here. The problem then was that every in the second year of drought, the king’s entire population would leave and go across the border to Pakistan. So to prevent this from happening very interesting water management system was developed.

There are nine lakes- four within the city and five in the hills. An interconnected system of nine lakes was developed by the kings then.

SLIDE_ Blue markings are the dams in the hills and this in the city there are four lakes. Also there is an aquifer which is sandstone. However this is a limestone and not aquifer. So water was brought into these lakes, the water percolated into the ground and was taken out through what they called ‘thousand wells’. These wells  were managed by the communities. Once these lakes dried up, the gates were opened to put water into these lakes, which would again percolate into the ground. These were interconnected through canals, tunnels, gateways, barrages; thorough really intricate systems of channeling water into these lakes

So the earthquake in 2001 actually gave us the opportunity to revive this entire process, which was otherwise only a piece of history that we used to study. The Prime Minister’s office was involved with this entire programme and this redevelopment project was financed by the Government.

In the blue is the main lake- Hamisar. In the blue is the confined aquifer, which is limestone around the lake. While doing the study we rediscovered the entire intricacy with which the geology was studied and how the entire system must have been designed by the kings more than 400 years ago.

We also did a water balance study to see whether the amount of water available in the system was enough for today’s population. Requirement of water is still a huge amount even after a run-off of 65%. However our aquifer had depleted and it had turned saline. So if we could redo these systems in a period of 6 years, we could make our aquifer sweet again and the water table would also rise. This would be enough for the entire city of Bhuj.

SLIDE_ This is the present catchment. One long canal had got delinked. The tunnels had also broken down. So we connected these. However as part of the redevelopment of the water system, we are also trying to revive the wells. About 30 of these wells have been revived so far. These wells are around the lakes and they have sweet water again. It will take some time before the other wells are also finally revived. We are also planning to recycle the water. We have a huge sewerage system that has been put into place, but we are keen on trying to see how this sewerage sewage can be recycled and re-used in the city. So this is the first experiment that is being tried out in our city.  

We have about 12½ kms of these canals in the city. All the rivers flow through these. So we have found 12 places where the rivulet crosses the main road, that is, the sewer line. So you can actually take out the sewage from the sewer line, treat it and then allow it to flow into the canals and finally into the lakes. All along the canals, this 12½ kms stretch of rivulets is a prime property and often gets encroached upon by slums and developers. Infact Himanshu Parekh has done a fantastic job of understanding slums and he also got an award for this. So based on his study, we thought that if we don’t rejuvenate these canals we won’t be able to save the land from encroachments.

SLIDE_ This is the first site where Dewats system is being applied. It is a very simple technology that has been developed actually in collaboration with Germany and Pondicherry. It consists of settlers, baffle reactors and a planted filter. It has a chamber where you allow bacteria to grow. It’s like a breeding ground for the bacteria. Underneath the baffle reactors there is the treatment system where bacteria are operating. The panted filter filters the water and then the water thus treated it put back into the pond. India being a tropical country, such high temperatures are very conducive for the bacteria growth. This technology is especially for tropical countries. The growth of these bacteria within these tanks then consumes the sewage and you get water fit for irrigation purpose but not for drinking.

SLIDE_ So for the first one, the canals were cleaned to connect them to lakes and then the system was re- development. SLIDE- This is the hardscaping that has just been completed. The system is under construction at the moment.  
There are 12 points here and once we complete this system, about 40% of our sewage would be recycled and put back into this lake system.

SLIDE_ This is a small social housing project we took up after the earthquake for people who were earlier living in the inner walled city and were not given land in the city. So a policy was designed for these people. So they could now live in a small and separate township. These were basically those people, who were living as tenants and in slums. The government also provided services for these people. We helped them with part finance and part bank loans, for them to be able to build their own houses. The artisans who built the rural areas also built this township. So the entire township is done in earth construction.

SLIDE- These are the first 600 houses that came up. However these are both in earth constructions as well as china clay, as we have a lot of china clay factories around the city. The china clay material _____is put into the same machine which is used to make cement blocks and then these are made into blocks or put as rammed earth walls for construction.

Le Corbusier built Chandigarh. A team of 9 Indian architects living in England, was invited by the then Prime Minister to come and help Le Corbusier to build the city. One of those architects- Prof. Aditya Prakash, was later asked to build the new capital for the Haryana state when Punjab got divided. So he developed some very interesting concepts and now we have the opportunity of trying them out.

    He believed that that the Indian city is not bereft of villages. So you need to have concepts which are sustainable, where villages are incorporated within the city. He suggested that along any highway between cities, a town or towns develop. For example, between Delhi and Chandigarh- a distance of about 300 kms- over the last 30 years a lot of villages have come up all along and the cities expand. So you need to plan your cities to be able to handle this. The second thing that he suggested is that, it is the rural areas around the city that actually cater to all the basic needs of the town. Because they cannot afford to live in the city, they stay in villages and provide milk, wheat and other basic services to the city. So we need to give them space within the city. He proposed that every sector should have a small village in the centre, which becomes the recycling zone, educational ground- so all your schools are in that area, which is traffic free.

SLIDE- This is about 70 acres of land of which about 8 acres of land has been reserved for recycling. SLIDES He applied some basic planning systems in the old city area as well, where the courtyard based planning was reintroduced.

SLIDE_ These are all pedestrianised in the inside; in yellow is the outside road system, where regular traffic can be allowed.

We also introduced a mixed housing system where there are small workspaces within the house. Because a lot of people in these communities are and they have their income generating system within their house.

SLIDE- All the commercial areas are being used as an opportunity to develop corpus for this township. There is a sharing mechanism with the government and these shop spaces are sold and the community has set up their own society here. The community can lease out these for public functions etc. So they can keep some of that money and the rest is given to the government. This becomes a corpus for them to maintain this entire township.

SLIDE- Aditya Prakash’s concept, where you have a village in the central zone.

 SLIDE_ This is the recycling area where we have put up our first Dewats system which recycles about 250 houses’ sewerage. This is an old tank, which has been left as it is and is now actually becoming the polishing pond for this recycling system. There is also a small organic farm, which is being irrigated by the recycled water. The vegetables grown here are being sold to the people here.

This entire system has actually been put in the median of the roads, which are under construction. There are solar panels, which pump the last stage, so there is no maintenance involved and no recurring costs. Infact this farm has become a recreational area.
This is the recycling area, this is one sector and this is the part that is has been built and these are the areas that are going to be built.

SLIDES- This is how the sector will expand. These strips would then move once the city has its town-planning scheme ready. We are working towards the development of this sector and we propose to continue this practice around the city. This is an experiment to see how sustainable growth of social housing can be managed.

SLIDES_ Rehabilitation work in Ache
Basically in Ache, what we have tried to do is to get people to make their own regional plan of 25 villages. There are about 12 NGOs helping them to build. It is people’s plan that the NGOs are implementing.

Sustainability to us means something that’s replicable by society, that reduces needs at some point. There is a difference between a conservationist and an environmentalist. An environmentalist wants to maintain the existing standards of comfort and energy use, but wants a technical solution. But what we have to do is to try using technology in ways that reduces needs.

Decentralization has to be a very key component of anything that has to be sustainable right down to communities managing and having a link with the municipal corporations .You cannot achieve sustainability if you have inequitable growth. Infact this is the biggest challenge that India faces today. Is our 8% growth rate going to only increase disparities? If yes, then you cannot have a sustainable growth. You have to find solutions and you have to organise them. INTRO TO SANDEEP

QUESTION: NAME??? You spoke about pre- fabricated concrete and such material being brought in very quickly after the earthquake. How did that happen …almost automatically?
Sandeep Virmani: unfortunately in India, over the last 50-60 years, the diversity of building methodologies has narrowed so much to mainly concrete and steel and glass. So most of our engineers are trained only to do this. India has one of the biggest number of professional colleges and professionals in the whole world. The civil engineers are taught this technology. So when a disaster like this happens, they do not understand any other material or any other ways of working. And they won’t get a sanction untill they prove they can calculate and work with the material. Now if he agrees to a foundation, which is done only with sand filling, he won’t have the calculations to prove it and will get reject. There has not been enough research done on a lot of these traditional systems of building-the artisanal structures, and therefore we are blocking ourselves. So this whole approach is to try and legitimise and basically to try and give a scientific approach to other ways of building or other aspirations. Unfortunately even as a client the only options I am given is concrete or steel and glass. I don’t have a choice.

Prof. Mark Gosse: In the re-development of the villages are you looking at individual plots of the houses or habitat…the typology is the same if possible or are you trying to change the typologies? (UNLEAR though) Doesn’t make sense...maybe an architect’s could guess…

Sandeep Virmani: It’s a very difficult question. But yes in the new layouts that have come up, for the families in Bhuj that opted to stay out of the inner city, the primary mistake that was made at that stage was to have layouts where the plot size of 100 square meters was not according to the traditional layout. So even if I want to make a house with courtyard, even 12 by 8 plot doesn’t allow me to do that. So just that one simple mistake has affected thousands and thousands of houses.

Zeenat: We have seen that after the earthquake a new technology of ‘compressed earth blocks’ was introduced. And the mainstream methodology was really the artisanal way. And the fact that the artisans were able to earn livelihood, making use of that technology and in the process actually continuing it. So we do have an answer in a way, as to how the alternative technology can be brought to the forefront as a mainstream one technology.

Soha: Your presentation shows how some of the tools we usually use as town planners can be applied after major disasters. It’s also about property development and not just top-down approach. But how does the process fit with the time frame we usually have as architects and development workers. There surely has been a lot of pressure and demand both from the people as well as the authorities…and you said that you did six months of intensive work…it’s a privilege and such a pressure it must have been very difficult.

 I would also like you to talk about how do you try to promote such practices outside the Indian complex and the difference. And also how do you keep an institutional memory of the things you do?

Sandeep Virmani: Disaster is such a disaster. You have to try and get the people back to where they were before the disaster. A disaster is a situation where thousands of people are willing to change their mindsets. Thousands of people are just thinking about housing. And there a lot of other issues as well. It’s for the architects and builders…it’s their prime occupation, but for the people who are affected, it’s way down in their priority list.  In a disaster you actually have the opportunity to get thousands of people to address an issue and come out with solutions and answers. And creativity flows tremendously during disasters. Finances are available and a lot of international experience is put into a small area.
It’s important to have a good coordination mechanism to address an issue when it needs to be addressed. Because is a disaster you need to respond quickly. So if you don’t address rescue in the first six days, then you might as well forget about it. If you don’t address the issue of temporary shelters in the first two months, you can forget about it. So if you have a mechanism through which you can start a debate at an appropriate time, you’ll get solutions from all around. And then you have to be able to target that into policy frameworks and channelise it. So we realised we managed to achieve this in three or four years because there was so much energy around us; otherwise it would have taken a decade to do the rehabilitation work.

As far as keeping an institutional memory of the work we do, we have done a bad job of it. This organisation is 5 years old. It came into existence after the Gujarat earthquake happened. However we are planning to set up national team- a disaster response team. For example in Kashmir it wasn’t only us who went and operated there; it was a group of 10 NGOs. We basically did a coordination role, to get the best people together and operate in that area. So we are setting up a roster of about 150 people and NGOs who can be instrumental in disaster response.
Ends here

Disaster Rehabilitation, giving direction to Sustainable Development
A talk by Sandeep Virmani
Managing Director, Hunnarshala Foundation
Bhuj, Gujarat
Produced by CED
Under the project Be Sharp