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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Andrew Parker

An analysis of the relationship between post-earthquake relief and development in central Asia, focusing on water and sanitation

Andrew Parker

An analysis of the relationship between post-earthquake relief and development in central Asia, focusing on water and sanitation

These two terms are often used in such a way that they seem to be two clearly separate and distinct concepts.  We have development agencies, NGOs that focus on disaster relief, development workers, and humanitarian aid/relief workers…all of these different uses of the words.  We seem to know exactly what we mean by each of them.  But is it really so easy to separate these concepts on a practical level?

 The first of the seven fundamental principles of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is Humanity.  They declare that this principle “expresses what the Movement places beyond anything else: the need to act in order to prevent and alleviate human suffering.”  This is how the RCRC Movement, the largest disaster relief organization in the world, defines its mission.  This mission encompasses more than immediate relief.  It is a broader goal, one that necessitates activities associated with both relief and development if it is to be pursued.

 This duality of purpose within the RCRC Movement highlights the reality of humanitarian responses to disasters; to a certain extent both relief and development-related activities are present during a response.  There is an opportunity within disaster responses to relieve the immediate needs of the population while at the same time creating improved infrastructure to enhance quality of live and increase resistance to future disasters.  The degree to which the international community has taken advantage of this opportunity is the primary focus of this dissertation.

This is true in the particular area of water and sanitation as well as in the total effort.  Water supply and sanitation infrastructure created in the first stages of the relief efforts can continue to serve the communities for decades after the disaster if properly maintained.  Community participation in the creation of the infrastructure can increase communal technical knowledge and spawn small businesses (borehole creation and latrine construction, for example).  The health education that is a vital part of sanitation projects can have a lasting impact on community health. 

 There are two key points that many people involved with relief seem to realize.  The first is that disasters such as earthquakes provide an opportunity for development that betters the lives of those affected.  The second is related; such development, if appropriately directed, increases the communities’ capacity to withstand future disasters.  Other factors are relevant, of course, but development within the context of disaster relief is crucial to the “prevention” part of the RCRC mission.

 At the same time there are unknowns that surround the issues.  Within the context of water and sanitation, what is the best way to measure the development?  How do different funding mechanisms and geopolitical events affect the development process after disasters?  Are there specific organizational, funding-related or technical ideas and processes that we can take as “best practice” from previous earthquake relief situations?  The goal of this research is to clarify some of these unknowns and create specific recommendations to guide relief and development professionals as they participate in humanitarian responses to future earthquakes.