My Home, My Way: UNDP Helps Disaster Victims Build Back Better

Sangeeta Devi and three generations of her family outside her newly-reconstructed house in Orlaha, Bihar which was re-built as a part of the UNDP supported Kosi Reconstruction Project
Sangeeta Devi and three generations of her family outside her newly-reconstructed house in Orlaha, Bihar which was re-built as a part of the UNDP supported Kosi Reconstruction Project

A Government of Bihar and UNDP pilot helped rebuild climate resilient houses devastated by the Kosi floods of 2008 through empowering local communities to own the reconstruction process.

A pilot initiative supported by the Government of Bihar and UNDP and implemented by the Owner Driven Reconstruction Collaborative has helped rebuild climate resilient houses devastated by the Kosi floods of 2008 through empowering local communities to own the reconstruction process. Recognizing the success of this model the Government of Bihar has up-scaled this pilot to build 100,000 houses in the worst flood affected districts of Madhepura, Saharsa and Supaul under its new Kosi Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Scheme.

Highlights

  • UNDP in partnership with the Government of Bihar has helped rebuild climate resilient houses devasted by 2008 Kosi floods
  • Under the project, affected households received INR 55,000 each to rebuild their homes
  • The project that empowered local communities to own the reconstruction process now up-scaled to build 100,000 houses

“Sometimes in my sleep I can still hear the sound of the river gushing towards my village,” says Sangeeta Devi, recalling the terror of a night -- three years ago -- when her village in Supaul district of the eastern Indian state of Bihar was devastated by the mighty Kosi river that left 150,000 people homeless.

Sangeeta was among the three million people affected when Kosi, one of the youngest rivers in the world, breached its embankment and within hours inundated vast tracks of land in the northern regions of Bihar, India’s poorest state.

Today she is the proud owner of a disaster-resistant house built the way she wanted under a pilot initiative supported by the Government of Bihar and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the Owner Driven Reconstruction Collaborative (ODRC).

Under the pilot, affected households in two villages received INR 55,000 or just under USD 1,200 each to rebuild their homes. The money was transferred to a joint account on the condition that one account holder was a woman. For many this was a first -- two-thirds of the population in India has no bank accounts.

People without land were given additional money to buy land and by putting in some of their own money and labour, home-owners were able to get more out of the scheme.

Today, Sangeeta’s pride is palpable. The house also has a toilet and solar lights – not common in these parts. An additional INR 8,000 (just under $200) was given for constructing an Ecosans toilet, a toilet built above ground-level to guard against groundwater contamination, particularly critical in north Bihar that has a high water table. “I no longer dread the long walk in search of privacy every morning” she says.

By empowering families to own the reconstruction process, the pilot also resulted in significant savings. For example, when Jurilal Mandal and his relatives from Puraini village decided to share walls between three houses they saved 30 percent in costs and double the built-up area.

Past experience shows that reconstruction is most successful and houses are less likely to be abandoned when communities themselves are empowered to participate in the process. The Kosi model builds on this approach. In addition to being community-led the use of indigenous building materials and traditional designs is another innovation. All the new homes in Orlaha are made of bamboo that is specially treated to last longer. In addition, local masons have been trained in disaster-proofing techniques, to boost livelihoods and revive village economies. This flexible combination of innovation in design, local skills and participation, resulted in the reconstruction of houses, each with its unique stamp and character.

Recognizing the success of this model the Government of Bihar has up-scaled this pilot to build 100,000 houses in the worst flood affected districts of Madhepura, Saharsa and Supaul under its new Kosi Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Scheme. ODRC is supporting the reconstruction process and has set up facilitation hubs to monitor the scheme. Known as Kosi Setu Kendras (KSK) these centres provide day-to-day support to house-owners, generate awareness, monitor implementation and support the district administration. They provide a critical bridge between the community and district administration. Since the announcement of the government plan, The World Bank has committed US$ 220 million to the reconstruction process including the scale up of owner driven housing.

The ODRC has developed guidelines to ensure the use of low-cost, indigenous disaster-resistant material and 262 masons and bamboo workers have been trained in these new techniques.

“In a multi-hazard prone country like India, frequent disasters pose a challenge to any progress in human development,” says Caitlin Wiesen, Country Director, UNDP India, adding, “The project demonstrates that lasting solutions are possible when enabling technologies and support, are combined with empowered local communities who own the process.”

The successful up-scaling of the strategy that empowers communities, particularly the poor and marginalised, to prepare for and combat natural disasters has important lessons for India where natural disasters affect millions of people each year.

Projects and Initiatives
Kosi Flood Recovery and Reconstruction

The 2008 Kosi floods affected three million people in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. In partnership with the government of Bihar, this project supported recovery processes in the aftermath of the floods, including settlement and habitat planning to reduce disaster risk. An owner-driven reconstruction pilot has since been upscaled across flood-affected districts in the state.

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