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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Post-disaster Rehabilitation in Tharangambadi: People-based Model

It has been widely acknowledged that in most post disaster reconstruction, the level of participation of the beneficiaries in the design and the actual construction processes determine the success of such projects. This paper discusses the conscious effort to involve the beneficiaries in a post tsunami reconstruction project, through a concerted attempt to customize the design of the individual houses by involving the beneficiaries in both the design and construction process.


List Of Contents



1.1 Government Policy


In the aftermath of the tsunami that struck on 26th December 2004, the housing reconstruction policy was framed by the Government of Tamil Nadu, South India in which the following guidelines were given for the implementation of a massive housing reconstruction programme for the tsunami-affected families.


1. Houses located within 200 meters of the High Tide Line

  • As per the Coastal Regulation Zone notifications, only repair of structures authorized prior to 1991 is permissible and no new construction is possible. All the house owners of the fully damaged and partly damaged houses will be given the choice of going beyond 200 meters and would be eligible for a constructed house worth Rs. 150,000 free of cost.

  • Those who do not choose to do so will be permitted to undertake the repairs on their own in the existing locations, but they will not be provided with any assistance from the Government.

  • Even for houses, which are not damaged, the owners would be given the option of getting a new house beyond 200 meters.


2. Houses located between 200 meters and 500 meters of the High Tide Line

  • For the fully/partly damaged kutcha and fully damaged pucca houses in the area between 200 to 500 meters of the High Tide Line, new houses would be constructed beyond 500 meters of the High Tide Line.

  • If they are not willing to move beyond 500 meters of the High Tide Line, the houses for them will be constructed in the existing locations.

  • For the repair of the partly damaged pucca houses, financial assistance will be provided by the Government based on the assessment of the damage by a technical team.


The Government sought the assistance of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for the reconstruction of houses in all the affected villages. South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS), one of the local NGOs had undertaken the reconstruction efforts in Tarangambadi with the assistance of international NGOs. SIFFS has been working in the marine fisheries sector for the last 25 years and is the apex body of organizations of small-scale artisan fish workers. A total of 1200 houses in Tarangambadi were to be rebuilt by SIFFS of which 451 houses were handed over in 2007 and the rest were under different stages of construction. This paper is based on the study of these 451 houses.


1.2 Tarangambadi: Demography


Tarangambadi is a village in Nagapattinam district of the East Coast of Tamil Nadu in South India. Tarangambadi is predominantly a fishing community of more than 1000 families with some non-fishing hamlets such as Vellipalayam, Pudu Palayam, Kesavan Palayam and Karan Street etc.


The demographic details and the damages caused by the tsunami are given in Table 1 below.


Prior to 26th December 2004, the risk caused by a tsunami or other natural hazards such as cyclones, floods, earthquakes etc., were not considered significant by the community. The tsunami raised the concern of the community, NGO’s, government and professionals about the possible impact of a larger tsunami in future. Although floods were common in the low lying areas of the village, tsunami waves with their high energy forced many people to think about relocating to a new site.


2.0 Housing Reconstruction- An Alternate Approach


2.1 Approaches to Reconstruction


Several approaches have been used for post disaster reconstruction of houses in various countries. Jennifer Duyne Barenstein (2006), based on her research in the post disaster reconstruction after the Gujarat earthquake, states that approaches can be broadly classified into five namely, owner driven approach, subsidiary housing approach, participatory housing approach, contractor driven construction in situ and contractor driven construction ex nihilo which are described in Table 2.


These approaches can be broadly classified as either owner driven approaches or contractor driven approaches. The participation of the community and the beneficiaries in these approaches could be at various levels. But generally, participation is least in the case of the contractor driven approach. Here we discuss a different approach followed by SIFFS in the post tsunami reconstruction project.


2.2 SIFFS’ Approach to Housing


SIFFS in its attempt to build houses paid attention not merely to housing, but also in addressing the livelihood requirements of the community. Issues like reducing the vulnerability against future tsunamis and recurring cyclones and also customizing the house taking into account the needs and aspirations of each house owner were systematically addressed. SIFFS then worked out a strategy based on the following principles;

  • The participation of the people in the layout of the village, design of the house and construction was essential.

  • The social and cultural aspects of the people concerned in the context of occupational and familial needs were taken into account.

  • An ownership feeling should be created among the house owners in the overall housing process.


In the case of many mass housing projects, the house owners modify their new homes immediately after occupancy. This need to personalize their new house is explained in part by the lack of customizability in housing design at the planning stage (Noguchi et al, 2005). In the SIFFS project, the house owners had the option to choose from one of the seven models designed and customize some aspects without modifying the structural system of the unit. The reason for the limited extent of customization was to minimize the changes to the house once handed over to them.


A strategy was formulated that involved extensive community participation in all stages of the construction, ranging from taking an informed choice on the location of their house to the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of the construction process. Since there was no financial contribution on the part of the house owners, community participation assumes more importance. For SIFFS constructing 1200 houses was a mammoth task. But when the organization of construction was decentralized, it became manageable. The whole project was divided into clusters of 25-35 houses which were managed by a committee of the house owners, community development officer and the cluster engineer.


2.3 Tarangambadi Model


In the owner-driven approach, the major responsibilities for the construction of houses rested with the communities as they had to hire labour and procure construction materials. In many such projects, the lack of supervision and technical support have produced serious issues with regard to the quality of construction. Self-help labour is not free: if it were not employed in the project it might be used to earn income in any case. In cases where technical assistance is provided, the cost of the assistance is not accounted and the financial benefits of the owner driven projects are greatly overstated (Skinner, 1984). Regarding reconstruction projects in Indonesia, using community-based development, some communities have achieved extraordinary results while others have felt overloaded and charged with too many responsibilities (Steinberg, 2007).


In the contractor driven approach, professional construction companies take over the entire construction. Mostly, the labour force will be recruited from far away places and the technology chosen to make use of reinforced cement concrete (RCC). This method is chosen because it is considered the easiest and quickest way to provide housing. Large-scale contracted construction tends to adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach which means that the specific housing needs of individual communities are not met and diversity within the community is not taken into consideration (Barakat, 2003). The shortcomings of the public housing programs as seen in the literature are given in Table 3 below along with how the Tarangambadi Model tried to overcome them;


There is an increased user satisfaction in the owner driven model since the house owners built what they required in the way they needed it and according to their own timetable and resources. There is total house owner participation in which the house owners had full responsibility for their own choices. However, the following table explains the reasons for not attempting the big contractor driven model or the owner driven model in the case of Tarangambadi.


Arnstein (1969) in his article had described a typology of eight levels of participation. For illustrative purposes, the eight types are arranged in a ladder pattern with each rung corresponding to the extent of citizens' power in determining the end product (See Figure1). In the case of the Tarangambadi Model, empowerment of the community was targeted within the overall development context through participation at all levels. To facilitate this the following approach as given in Table 5 with reference to community participation was visualized.


2.4 Habitat Mapping Study & Socio-Economic Survey


To facilitate the planning of the new settlement, a detailed habitat mapping study was conducted which looked into the use of building materials and techniques used in the traditional houses, use of spaces, the lifestyle of the inhabitants, settlement patterns etc. A socio-economic survey examined the social and economic aspects of the community and their aspirations. The major findings of the study which have direct implications on the design of the habitat were;

  • The person cooking always faces east.

  • Most houses had a pooja (prayer) room. No one sleeps in this room even if the house is small. In addition to putting the pictures of Hindu gods, they use it for storage of water, grains & other belongings. The pooja room always faces east.

  • Many house owners had outdoor kitchens.

  • Based on their beliefs, the front and back doors are found to be in a straight line.

  • More than three-fourths of the families wanted to live near their old neighbours when they are being relocated.

  • Storage of firewood and water is of great importance.

  • Streets form a major part of their social life. People sit on the verandahs abutting the streets and discuss everything from fishing to politics. Kids play in the streets which are generally free from vehicular traffic and therefore safe.

  • The fishermen Caste Panchayat has a major influence over the community in all matters that pertain to the village as a whole and therefore they enjoy a great deal of power.

  • Only a small percentage of the houses had toilets.

  • The experiences of the Government Housing Scheme done 20 years ago did not create a favourable impression about the public housing projects.


2.5 Management of the Project


The construction work assigned to a big contractor is usually centrally controlled and managed; he/she may be reluctant to make any changes, as it will involve cost overrun to do the additional work. House owners will not have a say in the construction, especially if they were to be subsidized. The person in charge of construction at the site has no freedom to make any changes because of the terms of the agreement in the contract and every detail is frozen even before the commencement of construction.


In contrast, SIFFS decided to avoid the use of big contractors in the reconstruction project and adopted the labour contract method. The construction materials, scaffolding & centring materials etc. were arranged by the SIFFS Project Team while the construction was done by labour contractors whose team sizes were much smaller.


2.5.1 Selection of the House Owners


As per the Government Policy, the norm was that one housing unit was to be provided for a house and not a household. Those who had vacant plots were not eligible for a new house or those who had a joint family living in a single house were eligible only for one house. The selection of the house owners was done as per the list given by the Caste Panchayat for each cluster before the construction started. Since the habitat mapping studies were done in the initial stages, false claims were easily verified. The guideline was that whoever was closer to the sea in the old village will be so in the new layout. In addition, the majority of the house owners wanted to be near their old neighbours to retain their social relationships.


Before the construction started, the house owners were informed about who their neighbours were and the exact location of the plot. All the house owners met at the site along with the representatives of the Panchayat. Many differences were sorted at this point and changes were facilitated with consensus.


2.5.2 Cluster Committees


The Cluster Committee was assisted by the Cluster Volunteer who was a family member belonging to that cluster. He/She acted as a link between the house owners of the cluster and the construction team. Though the Committee consisted of both men and women, by and large women attended meetings regularly.

Meetings were held at all stages with the house owners on a cluster-wise basis. In addition to grievances, doubts regarding technical issues such as the depth of the foundation required or the feasibility of using stone for the foundation etc. were discussed in these meetings. In one of the meetings, a lady enquired whether SIFFS was paying the contractors on time. In fact, the labour contractors were not paying their workers properly and they used this as an excuse for the slow progress of the work. It had to be cleared with the house owners and the Panchayat that this was wrong information. Thus the cluster meetings helped in strengthening the rapport with the beneficiaries.


2.5.3 Training Programme for the House Owners


When an alien technology was used for the reconstruction project, the community should have the funds and skills to maintain the buildings safely without outside help (Barakat, 2003). Training programmes at all levels are required for empowering the community and the various building workers for making the right decisions and for helping them in extending and maintaining the houses. An exhibition with materials and explanations in Tamil (the local language) and a series of training programmes were conducted. The first meeting of the cluster covered the following topics

  • The options with the advantages and disadvantages

  • Choice of materials and techniques

  • The overall process and their role in the construction

  • The selection of the cluster committee

  • The selection of the cluster volunteers

  • Any doubts and clarifications sought by the house owners


The training programme of the house owners on the technical aspects covered the following topics

  • Safety aspects

  • Importance of quality in construction

  • Quality of materials

  • Technical aspects of concreting, brickwork, plastering, flooring etc.

  • Their role in ensuring the quality of construction and their participation.