Looking back at 2018

2018 was a year that threw up multi-faceted disasters for India. It showed us a range of risks, both visible and invisible.

With this in mind, our work has been focused both on helping disaster-affected families recover, but also on creating more resilient communities that are better prepared to deal with these rising risks. A few examples of our work are highlighted below.

All of this has only been possible with your support. As we move into our 25th year of service to humanity, we hope you’ll continue to partner with us in building a safer and more sustainable word.

Helping Kerala recover from devastating floods

In August 2018, flash floods and landslides triggered by extreme rainfall, dam openings devastated large parts of the state. Over the last five months, SEEDS has been working with the most vulnerable communities, primarily in Wayanad district, to help them recover. We’ve taken a holistic approach, looking at shelters, water & sanitation, education and health; and emphasising long-term local resilience.

Our intervention began with immediate relief distribution and health camps. With the primary water sources – wells – submerged during the flood, access to clean water was critical. We’ve been working to clean wells and building village-level capacity on chlorination to spread the impact. We are now beginning work on rehabilitating Primary Health Centres as well.

The long-term impact on education is usually an invisible secondary impact of disasters. It rarely gets the attention it deserves. The distribution of children’s kits and classroom supplies helped children get back to their routine. We’re now starting to repair and restore schools, focusing not just on safety, but designing for happy environments.  We’ve also been part of the team working with teachers on revising academic curriculums to include disaster management.

At the centre of all of this work has been our efforts to get families back to their homes. The transitional shelters follow cultural norms, using materials that are local and can be re-used later on. The design leaves enough flexibility to use salvaged material, or build above existing plinths where available. These homes have been built in partnership with the homeowners, and a simple smart card has walked them through the construction process.  We’ll now be supporting homeowners for permanent reconstruction, working alongside the local government to provide socio-technical support.

Building homes that became safe havens in this year’s Assam floods

After the devastating floods in Golaghat district last year, we were supported by Godrej to build transitional shelters in Nikori village as part of our response there. As the rain poured down this year, these homes continued to stand tall in the midst of rising waters. For these families, they have proved safe havens, protecting life and preventing them from getting caught in a recurrent cycle of devastation. The flood waters, higher than usual this year, lapped at the floor but didn’t enter, thanks to the increased 5-foot height that was instituted. The concrete foundation for each bamboo column digs down deep anchoring the house in the soft soil. Cross-bracing adds to the stability. The entire structure is put together with bamboo nails that are durable without causing any damage. A balcony provides a semi-open space that other homes lack.

Each home was built through community collaboration, in a long-standing ‘hariya’ system that is used for processes from harvesting to community infrastructure. With materials all sourced from within a six km radius, the homes are truly local, yet safer.

Spreading safety at school in East Delhi

Schools are one of the most important places for children and for the larger community. Yet there is still a lack of knowledge on safety measures.  Developing the skills for resilience is critical to address this gap.  East Delhi is a perfect example. The area is at high risk from earthquakes and floods, as well as a number of day-to-day risks which add to the vulnerability.

Our Honeywell Safe Schools programme has been working with Government Schools in East Delhi, with a child-first and holistic approach to climate and disaster risks. Taking a tailor-made approach to each of the 51 school’s unique challenges, it aims to reach 57,000 children, 40,000 parents, and 2,356 teachers by 2020.

The programme takes a broader view of risk. It attempts to influence behavior and bring about a culture of safety. So we’re looking not just at the school building, but empowering the students to speak up on their safety issues and creating more comfortable learning environments. This involves structural assessments and non-structural mitigation measures; design changes; disaster management planning and creation of task forces; and awareness building in fun and interactive ways! Broader campaigns with the community and linkages to the government are raising awareness around critical issues like road safety and water, hygiene and waste management!

‘Innovating’ on the interface of the built environment and health

Let’s find and nurture community-based innovations that can reduce disaster risk!

‘Innovation’ as a buzzword has been used and abused. We hope to learn from vulnerable communities, tapping their learning, doing more with less and still doing better! Our Safer Communities Innovation Lab is part of a START Network funded global programme. It examines the direct, yet seldom recognised impact of built environment on emergencies as well as chronic stresses and quality of life. Inputs come in the form of the community inputs and facilitation of small grant based innovations. Through a process of handholding and validation, the outputs become community-based ideas that address current needs.

The main lab is based in Korail (the largest slum in Bangladesh). Our backend work in similar contexts in India is helping further refine these ideas. From green walls and improved insulation for homes to improving nutrition at informal child care centres and mobile-based community radio to spread awareness. www.innoatwork.org

Managing complex disasters in the face of climate change in Sikkim

The impacts of climate change are both amplifying and changing the nature of risks in Himalayan communities. Working with the Indian Institute of Public Administration and the Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority, we’re asking, how do you facilitate community capacity to cope and redesign development processes to address these risks?

It’s an interesting and multi-faceted process. State-level workshops are sensitizing officials, and fairs are raising awareness more broadly. 50 community risk registers across 16 model Gram Panchayats are being set up. These public documents are prepared by the local government, providing an overview of potential risks in the community. It serves both as a knowledge base and helps makes decisions on emergency planning work.

It’s about reaching children as well! A ‘climate school’ has been established as a pilot programme in Gangtok, getting children interested in climate concepts and weather trends.  Students aim to record daily weather data for six paramteres. This includes temperature, humidity, wind direction, wind speed, rainfall and atmospheric pressure. They later analyse the patterns in a hands-on experience of climate concepts.

Pioneering a ‘touchless’ toilet in Delhi

This pilot programme was part of a larger citizen-led action programme in East Delhi and work on it began last year. It asks the question, can changing the experience of a toilet help change hygiene behaviour?

Through our risk, vulnerability and needs analysis, one of the major issues that was identified was this access to toilets. Considering that women of this community showed stark apprehension in using public toilets due to their poor condition, hygiene was one of the major issues to address.  The second was to look at design elements to make it a more positive experience.

In an attempt to address these issues, this community toilet designed exclusively for women is experimenting with minimal contact. Reduced use of hand means less exposure to viruses and infections.  The first of its kind, doors, taps and flushes all work with a foot-operated system.

The toilet is also designed in way to support natural access to sunlight and ventilation. Solar panels ensure functionality of the toilet even during the night. Perforated jalli on all four sides ensures cross ventilation and reduction of foul smell while translucent fiber roof allows ambient and natural illumination by the sun during the day. Inaugurated in 2018, the toilet is proving a novel addition to the community.

Amplifying voices of local changemakers at a regional level

Local champions are the biggest reason behind disasters that didn’t happen. The Asian Local Leaders Forum for Disaster Resilience (www.all4dr.net) is an ongoing initiative of SEEDS in partnership with the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN) and UNISDR. It works to recognise, enhance and link the power of local leadership.

In July this year, in an evening of celebration at the Asian Ministerial Conference on DRR (AMCDRR), five local champions from different walks of life were felicitated for their inspiring work on DRR in their communities. Each embodies qualities of individual achievement, passion, persistence and leadership.

The five’s moving stories were an example of the critical work being done by local champions across the region – a sentiment echoed by the dignitaries in attendance. Further promoting such local leadership was clearly seen as a harbour of hope in achieving the 2030 sustainable agenda.

Extending socio-technical assistance to rebuild Nepal

How do you help 26,912 earthquake-affected families all rebuild at the same time? We’re working with the Government of India and UNDP as part of the Owner Driven Reconstruction Initiative across six rural municipalities and two urban municipalities in Gorkha, Nepal. The initiative provides facilitation support to ensure families build back better! We’re providing on-site design and technical guidance; capacity building for house owners and masons; monitoring and quality assurance; and facilitating appropriate disaster resistant technologies.

Designing out of the box for the Resilient Cities Award

‘A shelter within a month and a home within a year!’ Our design for the World Bank’s Resilient Cities Award won an Honorable mention. The challenge? Resilient, modular and affordable homes that cost under $10,000. Our idea was designed for Himalayan regions with earthquake and landslide risks, with a temporary shelter that grows into an intermediate and then finally a permanent shelter. This would allow families to meet spatial needs immediately post-disaster, and then grow incrementally towards permanence. Materials are up-cycled in this process. Therefore, a flexible joinery system was developed that can accept multiple vernacular and modern materials. This joinery allows for a modular system that enables the construction of one-million houses in one-go. The design has been informed by the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Himalayas, as well as the desire to be safe, sustainable and resilient!