After the quake

Punarvasan: A Document on Reconstruction in Post-Earthquake Marathwada Audio Visual Unit, Tata Institute of Social Sciences 58 min English Rs 500; US $40

THIS 2-part video documentary critically examines the donor and government reconstruction programme following the devastating earthquake of September 1993 in the Osmanabad and Latur districts in Maharashtra.

In the 1st part, it examines the donor agency-sponsored housing relocation programme and reviews the validity of the decision to relocate the 52 villages in the core damage zone. It also evaluates the negative impact of building technologies used on the lifestyles of the people.

The 2nd part examines the participation of the local communities in the reconstruction process, especially in settlement and building design, the use of local materials, the training of artisans and the use of points, strengthening and retrofitting techniques on partially damaged buildings.

The video effectively presents conflicting viewpoints on the relocation process, including that of senior government officials who assert that the move was necessary because of the post-quake psychological dislocation of the people. They claim that satellite remote sensing technologies had been used to select "safe" sites -- a claim strongly debated by technical experts.

Villagers spoke of their distress at the present pattern of housing and the need to maintain their own identity and avoid conflict. The satellite data, to make a point, did not record village boundaries.

Punarvasan presents powerful images of monotonous concrete block houses and a bleak landscape dotted with geodesic domes that are clearly unsuitable to the local climate and lifestyle. These buildings also have severe quality problems because of the lack of good sand and water for curing, a critical factor overlooked in the initial technical appraisal.

The Dalits claim that they were not consulted during so-called "participative" design exercises. Now, many households are using their newly-allotted houses in ways that urban designers couldn't even have conceived of. The few positive cases include Laurie Baker's attempt to use local materials and skills, developed through a participative process which was much appreciated by the villagers. Baker and his team had to eventually withdraw because of conflict with Malayala Manorama, their funding agency.

An interesting example of local initiative was the relocation of Rampur village by its residents, using a melange of materials and their own funds. The 1st retrofitting tests in Morgarga village and other houses by ASAG are also shown. Retrofitting is the most significant segment of the World Bank programme, with over 1.8 lakh houses to be strengthened against future earthquakes in the region. This will be a process extended over 3 years, and has received positive feedback from residents.

Unfortunately, the film seems hurriedly spliced together from a wide range of footage from over a year of shooting. An amateurish lack of polish shows up in the final product. Nevertheless, Punarvasan should be compulsory viewing for professionals and agencies working in the areas of rehabilitation, disaster management and development.

---Aromar Revi is with The Action Research Unit (TARU) .

Down To Earth