DIY : Community-based participatory study of Do-It-Yourself shelters

All content is part of proposal The Toyota Foundation Research Grant Program 2016, submitted as a researcher at nonscale Corporation, Tokyo, Japan for the purpose of Individual Research Grant.

Reach out at for discussion, further ideation and possible deployment of this project.

1. Abstract

The study targets social issues due to lack of permanent shelters, among resilient communities affected by 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. By exploring inclusion of Do-It-Yourself (DIY)/self-built shelters, research aims to improve resilience amid disaster risks. Millions of people are currently displaced by disasters having lost their shelters and settlements. Japan and India, together with rest of the world, face shortage of permanent shelters in post-disaster zones. Temporary shelters provided by humanitarian aid organizations fail to catalyze long-term self-recovery process. Thus, through community-based participatory research (CBPR), the project intends to demonstrate that monitored participatory approach for resilience could spring sustainable values creating self-reliant society. Further, by emphasizing on vernacular building knowledge during reconstruction, DIY/self-built strategy develops sense of belonging in owners towards their homes. Research aims to build upon existing literature on self-built reconstruction in three broad stages: data-oriented research, efficacy trials and CBPR/field-work. The results are: (i) DIY/self-built permanent shelter proposals, for each of the two communities; (ii) hands-on training of ‘self-built’ strategies to community members; (iii) public database of building knowledge exchange; (iv) DIY/self-built tool-kit suggesting modifications to Sendai Framework (2015–2030); presented in form of exhibition, symposiums, publication and film.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Training of Trainers Workshop for the Implementation of the Sendai Framework (Source: UNODRR)

2. Targeted Social Issues and Project Objectives

(1) Primary targets: Post-disaster homelessness; Social issues amid risks, amplified by lack of shelters; Global shortage of permanent shelters in post-disaster zones, especially in Japan and India; Insufficient literature on self-built reconstruction; Loss of expression of local identity in post-disaster shelters; Lack of self-reliant preparedness and participatory self-recovery efforts in affected communities; and lack of independence from external-aid. (2) Global targets: Lacking mention of ‘self-built’ housing for disaster risk reduction in Sendai Framework (2015-2030). (3) Background: Aftermath studies on 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, floods in Pakistan (2010) and typhoon in the Philippines (2013); my dissertation project on dwellings in India and my immersion among the resilient communities of Japan. (4) The project pursues new value of self-reliant society through ‘self-built’ efforts of resilience.

The study primarily targets social issues amplified by lack of shelter amid disaster risks by exploring inclusion of ‘self-built’ shelters for improved community resilience. Millions of people are currently displaced by disasters having lost their shelters and settlements. 30% of these people are sheltered by humanitarian aid organizations. This leaves the remaining to improvise own shelters, which are disaster-prone again. There is a global shortage of ‘permanent’ shelters in post-disaster zones, especially in Japan and India. Temporary shelters fail to catalyze self-recovery process, leading to dependence on external aid and support. Such dependency increases the cost and impending delay in effective impact, and seldom involves low-income survivors’ active participation. There is insufficient literature on self-built reconstruction, especially one that respects local building traditions. Lack of exchange platform for vernacular building knowledge leads to loss of expression of local identity, while its presence fosters community values both in Japan and India. Imported emergency shelters come without sense of belonging, addition of which enables owners to recognize their home. Feeling at home and having future perspective are crucial for post-disaster happiness and mental recovery. Exploring value of self-reliance in community resilience through Do-It-Yourself (DIY) shelters is primary objective of the project. Sendai Framework (2015–2030) of disaster risk reduction outlines necessary goals and intended methodologies that shape preparation amid risks in next decades. However, it fails to identify ‘self-built’ as a strategy for pre-disaster capacity building and post-disaster recovery. In case of areas of recurring disasters (of Japan and India), basic understanding of hazard-resistant construction principles can empower local communities reduce their vulnerability, meet their own needs and thus contribute to long-term improved resilience. These values would shape sustainable principles of human race for coming future. Innovative DIY construction methods have been tested in areas of urban housing crisis. While substantial literature and proposals are available for reference on the same, application of ‘self-built’ strategy in post-disaster recovery needs wider stimulation. The project explores scope of ‘self-built’ strategy for past cases and impending social issues at aftermath of 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, taking lessons from cases of the floods in Pakistan (2010) and the typhoon in the Philippines (2013) that demonstrate self-reliant resilience. My experience from surviving a disaster-event in childhood, individual dissertation project on dwellings of resilient communities in India and nation-wide research activities on housing crisis stirred insights leading to the proposal. My in-depth exploration of local traditions of Japan and India, design-led resilient efforts of Japanese communities and designing of DIY prototypes form background leading up to the project. The related preceding research on various scales rightly equate ‘permanent’ shelters as an important catalyst to increase in human happiness, and ‘right to build’ as a necessary value towards the realization of a more people-oriented society. The study aims to assess, dignify and hone this value.

3. Project Implementation and Methods

The project aims to explore new values of research techniques leading to comprehensive ‘self-built’ strategy and tool-kit for disaster risk reduction and post-disaster scenario.

It is achieved through intellectual and experiential exchanges between three broad stages : (1) data-oriented research, (2) efficacy trials and (3) community-based participatory research for effectiveness trials.

Content and methods of the three stages are detailed as follows:

(1) Data-oriented research- What: Qualitative- and quantitative-study of three preceding cases of post-disaster ‘self-built’ reconstruction efforts: (i) India Housing Project (2004 Tsunami, Sri Lanka), (ii) Green KaravanGhar (2010 Flood, Pakistan) and (iii) Resilient communities (2013 Typhoon, Philippines). How: The study initiates by building upon scarce data from preceding studies on the three cases (through literature search, data-gathering from existing study, interviews and data analysis). An accessible on-line database with interactive textual and illustrative narratives will be created. This web-based public platform (with scope of future expansion) stitches together literature study of ‘self-built’ building techniques, critical analysis on permanency of the shelters and preservation of local traditions, individual in-depth interviews, analysis of Big Data, participant observation amid risks and updates on the current situation.

Why: To augment and disseminate literature on ‘self-built’ reconstruction, formulate cohesion in existing data, encourage use of digital tools for data-gathering and necessitate platform for DIY building knowledge exchange in disaster risk reduction. This stage builds foundation for further study.

(2) Efficacy trials- What: A formal efficacy trial in form of chaired session/event will be organized at this stage. Central theme of the session is to evaluate what ‘self-built’ reconstruction and intervention of DIY principles in post-disaster situations achieve under optimum conditions. The output is standardized and optimized ‘self-build’ strategy, inclusive of participatory methods to integrate local traditions and disaster-resistant structural elements. While this stage intends to formulate a definite framework or tool-kit guiding ‘self-built’ strategies amid risks, it also challenges notion of ‘standardization’ by testing flexibility of the system when in varied contexts of Japan and India. This stage will assess the results of optimizing cost, time-frame and permanency of the shelters.

Why: Results add ideological and inter-disciplinary dimension to the study and digital database. The chaired session promotes informal dialogues and exchanges among an invited panel of academicians and professionals. While results could be deemed utopian, this stage generates sense of hope and positivity towards the larger goal.

How: Invited experts (especially from Japan and India) on post-disaster building strategies, disaster risk reduction and DIY building techniques advice, discuss and guide series of informal explanatory trials, which are documented for further dissemination. Final chaired session on the study theme will be conducted in Japan. It utilizes and builds upon resources from the on-line database formerly created, that help speculate and formulate ideal interventions. The final output of ‘self-built’ strategy or tool-kit will be in form of booklet with texts and illustrations.

(3) Community-based participatory research (CBPR) for effectiveness trials- What: The final stage of the project requires field research and intervention study at two identified post-disaster zones amid recurring risks (of Japan and India). Pragmatic testing of the ‘self-built’ tool-kit and knowledge from preceding stages is carried out by working closely with the two resilient communities. The two contexts are explored at this stage using direct immersion. The project justifies its intent of collaborative approach by equitably involving communities in the research process and recognizing the unique strengths that each brings. How: The two communities would be specified during course of preceding stages (selected with experts’ advice), broadly those necessitating intervention being survivors of 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake respectively. The researcher (self) would be based at the two locations during specified periods of study and test how flexible and effective the ‘self-built’ tool-kit is or could evolve into.

The intended output is (i) one DIY permanent shelter proposal, based on local building techniques at each of the two locations; (ii) to provide hands-on training of ‘self-built’ strategies to community members; (iii) to modify the ‘self-built’ toolkit based on contextual learning; and (iv) analyzed proceedings of CBPR.

Why: The aim is to combine knowledge with action and achieve improved community resilience. The results could suggest effective modifications to Sendai Framework.

4. Results and Effects

Result contents: (1) DIY/self-built permanent shelter proposals/prototypes, at each of the two locations; (2) efforts for preservation of local building traditions; (3) results of chaired session/event; (4) DIY/self-built strategy and tool-kit; (5) lessons from CBPR process. These affect methodologies of humanitarian aids across the world, paving way to more contextually developed DIY/self-built proposals. It portrays that monitored participatory approach for resilience amid risks springs sustainable societal values.

Research results are as follows-(1) Two DIY/self-built permanent shelter proposals/prototypes, one for each disaster-affected community in Japan and India respectively; (2) data and analysis of local building traditions and preservation efforts; (3) results of chaired session/event with invited panel of experts conducted in Japan; (4) standardized DIY/self-built framework in optimum conditions; (5) DIY/self-built strategy and tool-kit; (6) lessons from course of community-based participatory research (CBPR) and cost-effectiveness; and (7) documented progress through research stages, events and feedback. Presentation details are given as follows- Formats and methods: (1) illustrative panels and scaled models of the two DIY/self-built proposals/prototypes, (2) website database of building knowledge exchange, (2) peer-reviewed printed booklet/publication , (3) short documentary film, (4) public mixed-media exhibition in Japan and India (in respective national languages too). The targets are community members, stakeholders, global policymakers, Sendai Framework representatives, cross-disciplinary experts, design professionals, humanitarian aid organizations from Japan, India and worldwide. The project’s paradigm and tool-kit would affect methodologies of humanitarian aids across the world; paving way to more contextually developed DIY/self-built proposals and enhanced preparedness. It demonstrates that participatory approach for resilience springs sustainable societal values amid risks.

Here is the full version of Sendai Framework for your perusal:


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