On December 26th 2004, a series of earthquakes caused a tsunami that impacted 12 countries leaving more than 200,000+ dead and a further 4M were forced from their homes. Within hours of this disaster Worldchanging and Architecture for Humanity, the non profit I run, teamed up to start a reconstruction appeal with a simple taget of $10,000 - enough to build a sustainable off the grid community center or school in partnership with a local group in a coastal village. As Alex Steffen put it, we were looking to create a small good thing in a very large tragedy."
Within a week, we had been supported by a myriad of blogs, and raised close to $55,000 and still donations kept coming. It was then we decided to do more and increase the scope of work we would undertake. Since then we have raised more than $400,000 from over 3500 individuals, small businesses and a number of larger organizations. Fundraisers were held across the world from bake sales, lemonade stands, DJ sets and photography auctions all aimed at making a difference with not one dollar of the reconstruction fund is being spent on organizational overhead, salaries (we are all volunteers) or fundraising.
Since January we have been developing partnerships and supporting a number of groups in Tamil Nadu, India and Pottuvil and Kirinda, Sri Lanka on the rebuilding of civic and community buildings using appropriate technology and construction techniques. In the full post is an update on the ups and downs of the rebuilding effort and where we stand. I should note that as the real reconstruction has only just begun very little of the funds raised has been spent. We will continue update you as buildings are implemented.
In April I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka. While traveling back and forth between Colombo and Kirinda I saw miles upon miles of tents and poorly constructed sheds housing many people. Since then there has been very little change - much of the delay is due to red tape and internal politics between government ministries. One day we visited 15 ministries to look at a simple survey plan, none of whom knew where it was. It wasn't until we went to the Prime Ministers' office did it suddenly appear. This is just one of many stories I can tell. Many NGO's, tired of waiting, have built transitional structures and left but life is still very temporary and families are still waiting. We are in for the long haul and I am hopeful that in the next six months reconstruction will begin in ernest and that issues such as land rights and shared infrastructure are resolved. By my next visit, scheduled for late summer, I am hoping that a majority of our projects will be fully underway, if not completed.
From the start we have made a strong commitment to create community based sustainable reconstruction and we will continue to push forward. We focused on community and civic building mainly because most NGOs' are just building homes. Without the development of a real integrated urban fabric you are essentially building permanent refugee camps. In Pottuvil we are working with Relief International to build three schools and to upgrade two others (existing photos) with construction is slated for early August. We have also developed a $5000 permanent house that is adaptable and scalable to suit the needs of the families. This home incorporates natural ventilation and can be built by the local community using a variety of materials.
In Kirinda, like many other coastal villages in Sri Lanka, we are waiting on the Urban Development Authority (UDA) to decide on the infamous 'no-build zone', sometimes called the 100m rule. A couple of weeks ago a consensus was reached between all the stakeholders including community leaders, government officials and all the donor organizations. Then, at the 11th hour, the Ms. Indu Weerasooriya of the UDA decided to change her mind and rewrite the rules as to where people can build - way beyond the 100 meter line (in some cases it is closer to 400 meters from the shoreline). This threw the carefully developed plan on its head and the local understandably upset. As soon as the UDA come up with a solution we can begin the process of building the community and civic buildings - until then our hands are tied. Currently we are planning to build a medical clinic, library and information center and a civic building that will house the local police station and post office. My greatest concerned about for the residents of Kirinda. The voice of the Muslim minority, who are the majority in Kirinda, is not being heard and they are still waiting for their town to be rebuilt. (existing photos)
Line 1 - 100 m from coastline. Housing plan agreed upon by the UDA and the Prime Ministers office in March
Line 2 - Ruling made by Coastal Conservation Development, established in early April. This was then moved to allow for housing layout.
Line 3 - New line as decided upon by the UDA in early June. This new ruling leaves 70+ families homeless
In India we are collaborating with the League of Education and Development (LEAD) in three villages in Cuddalore. We are funding and developing designs for three off-the-grid community centers that will utilize rainwater and solar collection. These community centers will also act as technology and education centers for children.
We connected engineers and architects from Arup Associates in Sydney with Habitat for Humanity in Indonesia. Habitat had asked for help on their housing designs and we were more than happy to connect them. Also in early July AFH Minneapolis, one of our local chapters, is hosting a design charrette with the Minnesota Sri Lanka Friendship Foundation to design and develop a community complex in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.
We are also exploring funding a couple of housing and micro-economic projects including a bakery facility in the Ampara district. We would like to thank everyone who has donated and especially for their patience while we work with local community groups to develop buildings that will not only last but will help stimulate the economy of the area. We especially want to thank Samir Shah who has been our Sri Lanka representative since January 2nd. Almost weekly he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep these projects going. Next month he returns to the states and is getting married. Alas cloning is not an option and he will be sorely missed. We wish him the best.
Finally we are happy to announce Purnima McClutcheon as our new India representative. She will be based in Chennai and working with LEAD on the community centers and a number of other projects. We look forward to posting photos of finished buildings in the near future. If your interesting in getting involved, email me.
I've been trying to help tracking this sort of recovery effort with http://asiaquake.org/
It's a simple open-source database written using Ruby + Rails that is meant to track important relief-oriented information. It's open source and the source code is kept on a repository on
under the project name "Aid Watch". This is about trying to ensure transparency of spending, and assist planning of development / relief.
We have been trying to work with Volunteer Sri Lanka and other aid orgs, but it's tricky. Cross-organizational and international coordination seem hard to achieve. If you see a use for this or similar open DB software do let us know.
We are trying to develop an open source database of humanitarian design so this will be interesting to check out.