For the 10th anniversary of our Master of International Cooperation and Emergency Sustainable Architecture, we had the honour to welcome Ian Davis as our guest speaker for the event. Drawing on more than forty years of professional experience in the disaster and development field, Ian Davis, visiting professor in Lund, Kyoto and at Oxford Brookes as well as honorary professor at RMIT University, spoke to us about “Ten Significant Developments in Shelter and Settlements from 2009-2019”.

Below is a summary of his talk, where he examined both positive lessons as well as negative trends over the past decade.



Over the past ten years, a significant growth in concerned agencies for disaster risk reduction could be observed, which includes organisations like Habitat for Humanity, CARE, IFRC, Build Change, UN-Habitat and the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction. At the same time an important progress in the architecture, planning and urban design fields was made, with important publications documenting experience and steps to consolidate higher education. While agency interest in Shelter and Settlements remains low, Shelter Workshops and the Global Shelter and Recovery Clusters have advanced these areas.

Growth is also affecting the global population, which went from 6.87 billion to 7.7 billion in the last decade.  Though growth rates have fallen from 1.23% in 2009 to 1.07% in 2019, urbanisation is still increasing rapidly.


In 2009, 335 natural disasters were reported worldwide. They killed 10 655 persons, affected more than 119 million others and caused over US$ 41.3 billion economic damages.

In 2018, there were 315 climate-related and geophysical disaster events recorded in the EM-DAT (International Disaster Database) with 11,804 deaths, and over 68 million people affected across the world. Globally, Indonesia recorded nearly half the total deaths from disasters, while India recorded the highest number of individuals affected.

Overall, there has been a reduction in deaths despite the growing global population due to improved warning systems and evacuation planning, while damage losses are rising due to urbanization, increased wealth and investment.


Image: Maggie Stephenson, from “Recovery from Disaster” (2015) by Ian Davis and David Alexander

In recent years, a shift from product to process has taken place in the Shelter and Settlement field. While a process-based approach encourages the reconstruction of Shelter and Settlements through the local communities with minimum technical and financial support, the traditional product-based strategy provides also material support and contracted works or products.

The case study of the Malcondji earthquake reconstruction in Maharashtra, India, between 1994-1999 reveals a number of “process factors” as substantial for the success in constructing this village. Firstly, the Christian NGO- EFICOR that were responsible for coordinating the construction of Malcondji made a crucial decision to live amongst the surviving community throughout the entire building process, rather than leave each evening to stay in hotels or rented accommodation in nearby towns. In that way they built strong relationships. This identification grew from the Christian faith of the NGO, however, no pressure was exerted on the Hindu Beliefs of the village community. Secondly, the emphasis was to train the survivors to build, thus creating, livelihoods, new skills and jobs in addition to the physical reality of the village. Furthermore, at the end of the project, the NGO invited the village to select a delegation to travel round India to see various sights such as the Taj Mahal, a selection of development projects in slum areas and the sights of Delhi including meeting their own Member of Parliament.

These examples build confidence and pride in the new settlement that survived fifteen years later when our evaluation team made a return visit. Thus the main factors that ensured the successful outcome of the project were a sensitive architect with a deep understanding of the local culture; an agency (EFICOR) with a fully developmental approach to the project; EFICOR’s residence ‘on-site’ during the construction and thus building relationships; a training programme for masons in earthquake resistant construction and re-use of stones from ruined houses; and a head mistress who demanded that the children use toilets in their schools and own houses.

Successful recovery of Malcondji village following the 1993 Latur earthquake, Image: courtesy of Ian Davis


It is estimated that in major disasters as many as 70% of the affected population do not receive any assistance of any kind but rely on self-recovery, relying on their own and local resources.  The process of self-recovery has changed in a radical manner following the widespread use of cell-phones even amongst the poorest communities in exceeding impoverished countries.  With their phones they seek help from family in friends in the diaspora of those living in wealthier countries. Money is then rapidly transferred using Western Union and other money transfer services and then survivors purchase building materials and tools for the reconstruction of their homes. However, the missing element is often specific guidance in safe building practice.  Without this injection of new knowledge the process of self-reconstruction is likely to be a case of ‘rebuilding vulnerability’ to await the next disaster.

Safety for all

A higher emphasis has been put on building regulations and safety measures during the past decade. To ensure higher building standards, the World Bank Group and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction (GFDRR) have developed the handbook “Building Regulation for Resilience – Managing Risks for Safer Cities”.

Coordination of response

Another major development in the Shelter and Settlements field is the increasing number of clusters to facilitate a coordinated response. Clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations, both UN and non-UN, in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action, e.g. water, health and logistics. They are designated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and have clear responsibilities for coordination. The main clusters in the Shelter, Settlements and Recovery area are the UNDP (Early Recovery Cluster), IFRC (Shelter/Natural Disasters) and the HCR (Shelter/Conflict and Refugee Movement).


Image: Ian Davis, from “Recovery from Disaster” (2015) by Ian Davis and David Alexander

Resilience has become a useful concept in the disaster field since the mid 1990’s for two important reasons: Firstly, it brings together the short-term humanitarian relief community with long-development agencies. Secondly, it places reliance on communities that have been devastated by disasters getting back on their feet again in an active rather than passive manner.

Resilient communities and settlements need the ability to bounce back from hazard pressures such as earthquakes, folds, cyclones or drought as well as be resilient to organizational pressures (neglect by authorities, organizational change, political instability etc.). To create resilient communities, four foundation blocks are required: resourcefulness, rapid actions, redundancy and robustness. With the help of these foundation blocks communities are able to resist the pressures through measures like safe buildings, education and insurance. They can also bounce back rapidly following disaster through effective disaster plans, preparedness and business continuity. But mostly, they will be able to adapt, change and “build back better” and improve governance. The aim of disaster recovery and resilient communities should always be to achieve a better status and higher quality than pre-disaster.

Image: Ian Davis, from “Recovery from Disaster” (2015) by Ian Davis and David Alexander


Neglect of root causes

Disaster risk is rising both due to a progression of vulnerability and exposure as well as human and natural hazards.

Image: Ian Davis, from “Recovery from Disaster” (2015) by Ian Davis and David Alexander

One of the most damning root cause of vulnerability is the runaway population growth in certain hazard-prone countries such as Mozambique, Pakistan, Nigeria and Niger. Further important factors are the denial of access to risk information in certain countries like China and North Korea. Gender discrimination, corruption and fatalism based on certain religious beliefs also contribute to the progression of vulnerability.

Clear evidence of the scale of corruption as a risk driver came when two of the world’s leading experts in earthquake engineering, Nicholas Ambraseys and Roger Bilham calculated that 83% of all deaths from building collapse in earthquakes over the past 30 years occurred in countries that are assessed as ‘corrupt’.

Education gap

Education has to be treated as a priority investment. Educators need to remember that their work is of strategic importance, and is fundamentally different in its potential impact than other inputs. All technical developments and all building or infrastructure projects reflect the level of technology and the level of understanding at the date when the work was undertaken. In contrast, a student who is well educated or trained in 2018 will be making decisions in perhaps 30 years time and his or her present education or training will influence the quality of those future decisions. Thus education is a strategic investment in people and in the future

Impact of climate change on us

To stop the acceleration and mitigate climate change impact, we will have to make a serious effort to cut carbon emissions. This includes a stop to large international conferences to cut flight emissions and replacement through online communication, holidays in home countries and attending regional rather than international university courses. Local food should be purchased in lieu of massive international imports. Technological progress to achieve zero emissions from vehicles and to expand renewable energy sources is vital. As architects, we have to focus on building houses with zero heating and air conditioning, while people will also have to simply get used to wear more clothes in cold climates. Furthermore, our societies will have to deal with an intensive pressure from economic migration.

There has been undoubted progress during the past ten years, but often the massive efforts of governments, international agencies etc have been challenged by the ‘moving target’ of the continual increases in vulnerability.  This is caused by climate change, population growth, war and conflict and widespread corruption amongst others. Too often development assistance has been cosmetic in its nature, dealing with symptoms rather than such deep entrenched underlying root causes.


Featured Image: courtesy of Ian Davis

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar
Verified by MonsterInsights