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September 27, 2017

Repairing The Damage With An Eye On The Future

The US was hit by two huge hurricanes in recent weeks, which means a huge rebuilding operation is now underway.

Sometimes, there’s just no fighting Mother Nature. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen massive hurricanes totally destroy large parts of major American cities. From Houston, Texas to Miami, Florida, the devastation has made headlines around the world. Where then do we begin once the storm has passed? Rebuilding is a complex operation, but there’s no reason why things can’t get back to normal. Here’s how work should begin on making areas habitable again after a natural disaster, and why planning for anything the future has in store is incredibly important.

We’re living in a changing world

While the temptation may be to rebuild things just as they were, this isn’t really an option in an ever-changing world. Sure, it’s easy to rely on existing blueprints, but we need to focus on laying the groundwork for future disaster recovery. The climate change argument is one that continues to rage on, but there’s no arguing with that fact that severe storms are a lot more frequent. So rather than risk-based thinking, structural engineers and other professionals must now think of resilience, so that cities will be able to withstand major natural disasters. That brings us onto the next area of concern – infrastructure.

Identifying risks

At-risk areas need to be carefully assessed and problems resolved as part of the rebuilding effort. Questions do need to be asked of the decision to allow beach homes to continue being built and bought in Galveston, an area of Texas that has been repeatedly pummelled by extreme storms. The fact that the homes are being built isn’t the real issue though – it’s that barely any flood protection infrastructure is being put in place before they are. Add to the fact that in greater Houston there isn’t even a working drainage system in place on the roadways, and the problem becomes clear. With each fresh disaster, questions will only multiply, so action must be taken now.

Addressing inequalities

When rebuilding does commence, it has to work for everyone. Natural disasters really do highlight the inequalities in society, and the relief efforts and rebuilding often focus on those who are already better off. This means that the poor, particularly the homeless, are disproportionally affected, and face much greater difficulties following a natural disaster. How then, can communities overcome this? When the rebuilding effort is underway, experts must make a conscious effort to engage diverse groups and ask for their input on a wide range of issues. That way, we can build for everyone, not just the privileged few.

It’s a long road ahead

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been two of the most destructive natural disasters to hit the United States in recent years. En route to the US, they also destroyed towns and cities in the Caribbean, Cuba and Mexico. It is in these countries where rebuilding will be much more challenging. It’s also all the more important to get it right this time, especially considering some of these nations are still struggling with the after-effects of past disasters. With the right approach, however, the rebuilding effort can succeed.