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Towards resilient non-engineered construction - guide for risk-informed policy making

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Increasing the resilience of buildings to natural hazards is essential as we strive to design more sustainable cities. Earthquakes pose considerable risks, as they have caused the highest number of casualties due to natural hazards in the last decade. During the second half of the century, more than 75 % of the total number of earthquake fatalities was caused by building collapse. However, natural hazards do not always translate to tragedy: disasters occur at the intersection of hazards and vulnerability. Preparedness and sound risk reduction policies can help to void them. Today, UNESCO presented a guide for risk-informed policy making on this issue in Quito, Ecuador during the Habitat III conference. This publication, entitled “Towards Resilient Non-Engineered Construction”, covers wide range of social, economic, and administrative aspects to facilitate policy-making.

This issue is well known in Quito, as Ecuador was painfully hit by a M 7.8 earthquake on 16 April 2016, causing more than 600 casualties. Homes and livelihoods were also lost. Today, more than 90% of the population living in earthquake-prone regions are living and working in informal buildings, which are more vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2014, UNESCO had released technical “Guidelines for Earthquake-Resistant Non-Engineered Construction”, drawing from post-earthquake field studies, promoting safer techniques for informal buildings designed with little or no intervention by architects or engineers. Together, these two publications provide a new, culturally sensitive approach for safer construction.

The publication released today aims to help policy makers and leading engineers to formulate the policies and technical training needed for safe non-engineered construction, explaining all of the aspects and phases that are essential for the creation of resilient non-engineered construction. This includes public perception of risks and social aspects, such as gender issues. Women often lack access to the resources necessary for coping with hazards, which is gendered. In this sense, disaster preparedness is an opportunity to transform traditional gender roles and unequal gender relations.

This issue is closely related to poverty reduction, as residents of informal buildings tend to be low-income families. Support must be built into policies and implementation sustainably, to enable retrofitting or safe reconstruction, but also to mainstream disaster risk reduction through the adoption of locally appropriate techniques, using materials that are locally available. Often, houses made from cheap imported materials have proven to be less safe than traditional houses, built using local materials and techniques that are adapted to the local conditions. In others, making simple changes to the traditional techniques and materials is necessary to increase the resilience of the constructions.

Taking a culturally sensitive, integrated approach to disaster risk reduction can be a driver of the transformative change we need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially when it comes to building our homes.