In view of cyclones Amphan and Nisarg lashing through our country with a span of a few weeks addressing disaster management has become pertinent. Next to loss of life loss of shelter comes a close second which can have far-reaching consequences not only in terms of physical damage and displacement but also the aftershock and trauma. Disaster relief measures of the state and concerned agencies aim at evacuation and rehabilitation of the affected populace. Much of rural India lack planning and sturdier construction techniques, leaving the vernacular homes and huts susceptible to damage. Certain remote areas face a greater disadvantage due to a lack of proper access. These conditions essentially tend to amplify the effects of any natural disaster. Construction of even a very basic pukka house for post-disaster settlement is a time-consuming process; this is where temporary shelters come to the rescue of the displaced.
Temporary housing by their definition is not meant to last long, but they need to be sturdy enough to protect the residents from any further damage to life. On the face of it there are four types of temporary shelters which are used disaster rehabilitation:
Sturdier structures like schools or public buildings that remain unaffected by the calamities can provide immediate temporary shelter. Cost-effective with not much labor intervention required this type of shelter can be a very viable solution. Since the construction of houses might prolong the habitation of the structure it might in turn cause inconveniences in the intended functioning of the building.
Tents can be the fastest and easiest option which doesn’t require complex logistical support for transportation. They can be erected pretty much anywhere with little to no skilled labor within hours. The downside however is to its flimsy material which is prone to greater damage in terms of recurring waves of disaster. The most significant issue is the non-conducive nature of tents for providing cooking and sanitation facilities which might lead to chaotic even unhygienic living conditions for the residents.
Prefabricated structures can be a very sturdy option though the assembly might require a degree of skilled labor or entail training of available labor making it a bit tedious. This structure is purposefully designed to have inbuilt or have a detached unit that can be used for sanitation facilities. Prefabricated shelters come with their own set of challenges, in emergencies procurement and dispatch of a large number of shelters might prove to be a herculean task. A significant challenge these shelters pose is concerning accommodating the rural lifestyle where cattle and livestock of the residents also need to be protected. Besides prefab structures have a long life which can ensure good living conditions, although as these tend to be made of non-biodegradable material the disposal becomes an even bigger challenge especially in rural areas.
Rural India still largely relies on vernacular construction techniques. Every region of India has an adapted and mastered construction of huts with the available resources which in turn is very sustainable and climate responsive. Be it bamboo huts of the naga tribe, the katcha mud houses of Bihar, or Koli huts made out of palm stumps and leaves in Konkan Maharashtra, each of this structure is made with locally sourced material and low skilled labor which the rural population is well accustomed to. The dominant use of natural material ensures hassle disposal post usage. Even though mostly climate-responsive these huts may not be able to withstand virulent forces of nature. Hence some improvisation is needed in this context. As most of these tend to use thatched roofs which perform poorly in a cyclone and heavy rains, an effective alternative would be to swap the roof with much sturdier and resilient GI sheets which are just as easy to erect. The rammed earth plinth used in most huts also poses a problem in cases of flooding. Having a bamboo floor raised on stilts as in Assam huts might work or repurposing usable bricks and stones from the debris can be an efficient way. As demonstrated by the temporary structures built after flash floods of 2013 in Uttarakhand. The material from the debris was reused to build shelters with low walls which minimized material requirement while ensuring sturdy shelters.
Improvising and using vernacular techniques provides the best solution in rural India as the material and labor are abundantly available. The participation of the people ensures that these shelters are well suited for the lifestyle. Though this type of construction can be mostly executed by the local populace, expert intervention is still paramount in terms of choosing a safe site, facilitating adequate water supply, and setting up solid waste management. A well-coordinated effort from experts and locals can ensure a timely and effective response to any natural calamities.