De meningen ge-uit door medewerkers en studenten van de TU Delft en de commentaren die zijn gegeven reflecteren niet perse de mening(en) van de TU Delft. De TU Delft is dan ook niet verantwoordelijk voor de inhoud van hetgeen op de TU Delft weblogs zichtbaar is. Wel vindt de TU Delft het belangrijk - en ook waarde toevoegend - dat medewerkers en studenten op deze, door de TU Delft gefaciliteerde, omgeving hun mening kunnen geven.

Posted in March 2010

Haiti: Moving beyond the conventional redevelopment paradigm

This article by Alexander Vollebregt appeared on Reuters The Great Debate UK on March 31st 2010. Alexander Vollebregt is Assistant Professor at Delft University of Technology and Head of the Urban Emergencies Programme.

At the request of President Rene Preval’s Strategic Advisory Group, several members of Delft University’s Urban Emergencies Centre are now working with the Haiti authorities to assess how post-disaster urban redevelopment can support the rebuilding process in Port au Prince.

We believe what is now urgently needed is a paradigm shift in current thinking and methods in order to facilitate sustainable reconstruction in the country and indeed similarly disaster effected areas.

Since the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, international organisations, aid and money have flooded into Haiti; the government itself having little control over the reconstruction efforts.  This disjunction between the local, governmental and international organizations could hamper any significant long-term reconstruction and development, creating a post-disaster transitional environment that never transitions.

To achieve this goal, it is essential to better integrate grassroots (local) voices with international NGO and governmental voices.  This will create a mutual platform for contributing knowledge about what is best long term for this devastated landscape and peoples.

This perspective stems from a major study that Delft University undertook last year on Urban Emergencies.  This included a focus using action research in order to investigate various aspects of disaster relief management and reconstruction process such as hurricane proofing, risk assessment, spatial planning, socio-economical development, land administration and water, waist and energy management.

The  Delft research focused upon the interrelationship of the social, spatial, political and economical consequences of post-disaster urban responses.  We worked 3-months on-site studying six case studies :  Venezuela (landslide), El Salvador (earthquake), Ghana (floods), Indonesia (tsunami), Bangladesh (floods, landslide, cyclones), and Philippines (volcano eruption, earthquake, typhoons).

After 50 years experience in post-disaster redevelopment, there are unfortunately many more worst-case practices then best-case practices. This is predominantly due to a lack of an integrated redevelopment vision as the reconstruction process is divided into various phases with different relief agencies each responsible for separate tasks.

This conventional paradigm used by governments and NGOs after disasters is often not sustainable or appropriate in the long term.

To take one example of this paradigm, the three common stages for shelter response are:

1. Temporary housing (installing emergency relief  tents,
2. Transitional housing (easy/quick to construct shelter) and
3. Permanent housing (better quality constructed buildings).

The second stage, while described as ‘transitional’ appears to hinder any permanent reconstruction. For example, some residents have remained in their ’stage 2′ accommodation for over 10 years. This is not designed to be disaster resilient so, if a natural disaster occurs again, it would devastate the inhabitants, bringing the area back to stage 1.

Furthermore, the constant relocation and displacement of the effected populace inhibits them to pickup their livelihoods (e.g. job opportunities, social relations) resulting in psychological traumas and frustrations. Often, even after receiving ‘permanent’ housing, due to their remote location, disconnection to the city and inability to find economic opportunities, inhabitants usually sell (or simply leave) these ‘permanent’ homes and move back to the vulnerable spaces inside the city.

Why do post-disaster communities get stuck in phase 2 for such long periods of time?

The answer is that a great deal of resources tend to be put into this phase because global pressure to see quick results mounts upon the aid agencies and governments operating within the post-disaster space.  This is coupled with the reality that very few local governments in the past have shown willingness to invest in long term disaster preparedness interventions.

This can be attributed to a lack of public funds or insufficient taxation systems in many vulnerable states, hence putting money into preparing for something that ‘may not happen’ has lacked justification on their part.

History shows, however that this view can end up proving much more expensive for these governments, who have to reinvest again should their infrastructure be insufficient to cope with natural disasters.

How do we move efficiently from temporary relief to sustainable permanent solutions (Phase 3)?

Firstly, we should introduce spatial thinkers (e.g. architects and urbanists) to the reconstruction efforts at an earlier stage; bringing not only expertise on resilient and pragmatic urban construction into the redevelopment process, but also including a deeper understanding of socio-spatial and spatial economic relationships for the long term. Though this may take more time, it is the best opportunity to include resilience strategies within the redevelopment proposals.

Furthermore, it is the only moment that vast resources are available to implement Disaster Preparedness Strategies.

Secondly, we need to bring together local knowledge and opinion that understands the community cultural needs and practices and incorporates it with the international and governmental opinion. An integrated, multi-stakeholder perspective is the only way to ensure that reconstruction and planning brings together expertise and cultural understanding. This approach facilitates local ‘ownership’ of the redevelopment and means that the inhabitants will engage in and drive it.

Thirdly, rather than applying textbook, standardised responses and procedures, we need to move more towards a collaborative, tailored response, coordinated by government and developed by multiple stakeholders; by and for the people.

Over the next few months, Delft graduates of the Urban Emergencies programme will immerse themselves in Port au Prince engaging with local inhabitants to support ‘acute’ architectural reconstruction in the rural areas; they will collaboratively construct semi-permanent housing with local inhabitants.

Simultaneously, academic staff will offer short capacity building workshops enhancing spatial and technical skills for participants in the current reconstruction phase.

Finally, when the rubble has finally been cleared away in the most devastated areas, an inter-university team of students and researchers will work for one year with UN Habitat and local stakeholders in an effort to understand what is needed by local people, the government and the international forces in order to collaboratively research and design sustainable develop strategies for neighbourhood, city and regional scale, transforming Haiti into a resilient and prosperous urban space.

If this can be achieved, this will go a long way to securing significant urban, economic and social recovery. To be sure, this will not be easy, but we are committed to doing all we can to avoid more degeneration for Haiti and its people.

Check out the website of the Urban Emergencies programme at 

Bringing a new perspective to World Water Day

This opinion piece by Jules van Lier was published on Reuters The Great Debate on World Water Day, Monday 22nd March 2010

The international observance of World Water Day, this year on March 22, is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.  This year’s theme — ‘Clean Water for a Healthy World’ — reflects the fact that population and industrial growth are adding new sources of pollution and increased demand for clean water across the world.  Human and environmental health, drinking and agricultural water supplies for the present and future are at stake, yet water pollution rarely warrants mention as a pressing issue.

It is absolutely right that water quality considerations should be highlighted just as much as water quantity issues going forwards.  However, what is sometimes obscured in this important debate is that, even with a step change in global water treatment efforts, vast amounts of potentially valuable wastewater will continue to be produced for the foreseeable future.  

Indeed, in some developing countries some 80% of all waste is being discharged completely untreated, because of lack of regulations, resources and control. Globally, it is estimated that 1,500 cubic kilometres of wastewater is produced on an annual basis, whereas the world renewable fresh water reserves amount only 40,000 cubic kilometers per year. Realizing that 1 m3 of non-treated wastewater may spoil over 1000 m3 of fresh water for human consumption or other activities, the urgency of the matter is an obvious issue.

My research at Delft University of Technology, UNESCO-IHE and my previous employer, Wageningen University, has convinced me that, especially in the developing world, it is crucial that we change our perspective on wastewater for two main reasons:  

•    In an era of increasing water scarcity, especially in the developed world, it is increasingly vital that we use all our water supplies efficiently.  As a result of climate change, it is estimated that some 1.8 billion people will live in countries by 2025 with absolute water scarcity.
•    Moreover, in recent years, the treatment technologies for removing the harmful components from wastewater have become increasingly effective.  Thus, far from being a useless by-product which is collected in pipes and gutters and flows into a dump-hole somewhere in the ground, wastewater is actually fast becoming a potential source of valuable raw materials including water and energy that can be reused productively for energy and irrigation.

Going forwards, the potential of wastewater is truly huge, especially in the developing world.

For instance, if we assume only a 50%  recovery of the chemical energy enclosed in human excreta the potential energy generation equals about 100 watt-hours (Wh) per person per day. This alone would be enough to light a substantial part of the poorest cities of Africa all night long!
Moreover, a city with 1 million inhabitants with an average water consumption of 100 litres a day can theoretically irrigate and fertilise between 1500 and 2000 hectares of farmland through wastewater, while nutrients from the wastewater can also be put to good use and the farmland serve as a sand filter to purify the water. With our world phosphorous mines being depleted in about 60-70 years from now, we simply have to recover our valuable resources from our urban waste streams. In fact, the word ‘waste’ does not exist anymore and must be replaced by ‘a stream of non-defined resources’, ready for valorisation.
In the past, public sector municipalities, especially in the developing world, have failed to appreciate this potential and have underinvested in sanitary engineering and construction infrastructure and personnel.  

Going forwards, however, it is likely that a new generation of developing country entrepreneurs will be able to unlock the value and potential profitability in wastewater and play a key role in the construction and implementation of basic sanitary infrastructure, opening up new opportunities in areas such as micro-financing and environmental engineering.  

This would be hugely important in the developing world where 2.6 billion people still have no proper sanitation, resulting in some 200 deaths per hour, with the highest number among children under five.

Indeed, it is perfectly possible in the future that entrepreneurs might, under appropriate regulation, operate municipal-wide sewage treatment systems with investment costs being covered by loans, donations, franchise systems and/or lease contracts, and profit margin coming from sources like sewerage levies, nutrients benefits, stabilised organic matter, and recovered energy.  

Such wastewater treatment plants may even eventually become reprocessing plants that produce water suitable for reuse.  This will lend an entirely new impetus to the process that could lead to the application of new reprocessing technologies, especially in areas where waste water treatment is still seen as a ‘Western luxury’.  

One final key element that will drive this process forwards is the relaxation of very stringent Western-driven standards that have paralysed construction and implementation of sewerage and waste treatment plants in the developing world.  The resulting costs are often beyond the means of local municipalities, or encourage development of the wrong kind of sewerage and waste treatment plants for their needs.

A good example here is the city of Amman which, driven by Western donors, has built a high-technology treatment plant with costly wastewater treatment systems.  Amman would have instead benefited from a decentralised treatment plant that yields an extra 5 to 6 megawatts (MW) of electrical power which could then be used to drive irrigation pumps, for example, to benefit agriculture in local dry regions.   
Unfortunately, what has happened in Amman is a common phenomenon in the developing world where insufficient interest is paid to potential alternative sewerage and treatment plants that would be more robust and suitable for these regions.  The end result is often abandoned or under-performing systems, and or plants that consume so much of the available financial resources that only a fraction of the pollution problems can be handled.
If local entrepreneurs can shift this perspective towards one more focused on adaption towards the local situation and a proper financial cost-benefit analysis, wastewater could easily grow to become an exceptionally valuable source of resource recovery, powering a broader development process in developing countries which still often lack even basic sanitation and water treatment infrastructure.

Implications of recent climate science controversies

This article was posted on Reuters The Great Debate by Sir Julian Hunt on February 18th 2010

– Julian Hunt is visiting professor at Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands) and formerly director general of the UK Meteorological Office. The opinions expressed are his own.-

In the past few weeks, there has been a steady stream of stories highlighting major concerns over scientific evidence relating to climate change.  One example has been the world-wide furore relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) assertion that all Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

Going forwards, as the UK Government Chief Scientist Professor John Beddington has stated strongly, standards of openness about sources, verification and presentation must be at the highest level.

The most regrettable implication of recent events is that further confusion has been sown amongst global publics about climate change.  What I believe most people want now is enlightenment, not further argument, about what might be the gravest issue confronting humanity in the twenty first century.

One of the key challenges for scientists and indeed politicians is communicating the reality of climate change to global publics in an accurate and intelligible way.  Contrary to belief in some quarters, the leading models that forecast global climate temperature in decades ahead are reliable and this is strongly supported by satellite data.

Dismissive views expressed about climate predictions are often based on the uncertainty of long range weather forecasts.  However, this is false because even sceptics know how long it takes to heat water in a sauce pan and that it does not depend on understanding the eddy movements in the pan (which are analogous to weather patterns and are only approximately described by models).

What is needed is more openness and clarity about the huge complexity of the climate change phenomenon.  For instance, over the last decade, while the earth’s land surface has been warming overall, trends of weather and climate records reveal larger and more unusual regional and local variations — some unprecedented since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago.

Among such warning signs are the disappearing ice fields around the poles and on all mountain ranges, more frequent droughts in Africa and now in wet regions (such as the 2006 drought in Assam India, previously one of the wettest places in the world), floods in dry regions (as recently, the worst floods in 50 years in northwest India), and ice storms in sub-tropical China in 2008 (for the first time in 150 years).

What these data patterns underline is that, while climate change is a reality, it is impacting regions and indeed sub-regions of the world in very different ways.

Although such variations are approximately predicted by global climate models such as the IPCC’s, these data-sets need buttressing with more local measurements and studies for sub-national governments, industry and agriculture to better understand their climatic situation and develop reliable and effective strategies to deal with all the ways that climate change affects their activities and well being.

Post-Copenhagen, adopting this approach is especially crucial as we may be heading towards a future in which no long-term, comprehensive successor to the Kyoto regime is even politically possible at the international level.  One of the chief flaws in the Copenhagen negotiations was the fact that the negotiations were aimed at an ambitious top level deal that did not account for political imperatives in developed and developing countries.

Experience shows that an ‘bottom-up’ approach works very effectively.  Publics and businesses are far more likely to believe local monitoring reports on climate change.  Moreover, it is only when sub-national areas learn how they will be specifically affected that grassroots action can often be aroused.

This latter lesson was one I learned as a City Councillor in Cambridge in the 1970s when I helped introduce air pollution measurements to show the effects of traffic in the city’s town centre.  Once the high air pollution was measured and better understood by local people, traffic control measures were quickly introduced.
I am therefore delighted at the increasing numbers of regional monitoring centres across the world which, by communicating and interpreting climate change predictions and uncertainties, are contributing towards local adaptation plans:
•    In China, where provinces require targets for power station construction, regional environmental and climate change centres are now well developed.
•    In the United States, a recent report has highlighted the value of non-official centres, such as a severe storm centre in Oklahoma, which gives independent advice to communities and businesses, while relying on government programmes for much of the data.
•    In Brazil, a regional data centre is providing data and predictions about agriculture and deforestation and informs legislation about policy options.

What this activity points to is the need for a broader global network of such centres to support national climate initiatives, and to facilitate international funding and technical cooperation in delivering the right information to the right place, at the right time.

Local actions can only be effective if measurements of climate and environment are made regularly and are publicised as well as information about targets, and projections of emissions.  Experience shows that full exposure is needed about what is happening, what is planned, and how every individual can be involved (as the Danes show by their community investment in wind power).

Moreover, as legislators in Globe (Global legislators for a balanced environment) and city governments across the world are already putting into practice, adaptation to climate change also needs to build on existing knowledge and infrastructures in local settings.

Forming loose collaborative networks will enable regional facilitation centres, their experts and decision makers to learn from one another and also draw upon the resources of existing national and international databases and programmes, such as the growing number of consortia linking major cities, local governments, and the private sector.

The overall message is clear.  ‘Localisation of action and data’ must be the post-Copenhagen priority if we are to facilitate public understanding of climate change and truly tackle the menace it poses.

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