On 6th August 2010 disaster struck Ladakh. Flash floods killed more than 200 people and left 1000 families homeless. The 2010 floods were a timely reminder that there is still much to be done to ensure the fragile region of Ladakh is well equipped to withstand the sometimes ravaging forces of nature.
Rebuilding after the disaster
Following the flood devastation in Ladakh, various NGOs worked to develop sustainable shelter rehabilition strategies for the region combining climatic comfort with low-cost construction. SEEDS India sent technical and development professionals to Leh who worked with local NGOs to help develop a strategy drawing on the potential of local materials, techniques, and the local community, whilst also introducing some simple adaptations to the traditional building technology where these would enhance sustainability or reduce risk to future disasters such as earthquakes and floods. They, together with other NGOs, were able to construct a number of climatically appropriate shelters prior to the onset of winter.
However, the majority of the shelters which were constructed were prefabricated units imported to Ladakh at extremely high cost, and to very little benefit. The units were not well adapted to the cultural or climatic needs of the region and therefore have had low occupancy levels.
“As a means of addressing the urgent shelter needs before the onset of winter, pre-fabricated units were provided to nearly all the affected families by the Leh district administration. These units included an estimated 450 units supplied by Hindustan Prefab Limited (supported by a number of public sector undertakings) and close to 100 additional units supplied by the National Bamboo Mission. In the course of consultations with the community members in the month of February, it was found that these shelters were unsuitable for the local needs and climatic conditions and had low occupancy levels. …[and resulted in] increased dependence on heating appliances and fuel…
…The use of pre-fabricated units, apart from being extremely expensive (the cost of each unit provided by Hindustan Pre-fab Corporation is estimated at approximately Rs. 4,000,000) were also the loss of an opportunity presented by the reconstruction process to stimulate the local economy. Through the use of local Ladakhi construction techniques and materials (such as mud blocks and timber), a signifi cant amount of income, employment, entrepreneurship, training and skill creation opportunities as well as demand in the local economy could have been created.”
– Sphere India report reviewing the response to the Leh Flash Floods
The rebuilding effort is ongoing and local NGOs are focusing much of their time and skills on the essential task of shelter provision for vulnerable families. But it is not only people’s homes that are at risk in a disaster situation, and as crucial as the rebuilding process is there is also a need to reassess current buildings and building practices in the light of possible future disasters as well as improvements in environmental sustainability.