In 2017, two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hit the Caribbean countries, destroying homes, roads, utilities and livelihoods. In Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, about 65 per cent of structures were severely damaged and more than 20,000 families on both islands (Antigua and Barbuda/ Dominica) required roof repairs. While UNDP and respective governments mobilized resources to support the initial comprehensive assessment and recovery assistance, there is a clear and urgent desire on residents’ part to return to their home islands, where physical structures – including homes, schools, and public and community structures’ required rehabilitation. However, both islands presented enormous challenges in terms of logistics, access to the affected population, availability of skilled labour and provision of construction materials.
Towards a Solution
In the aftermath of the disasters, the Government of China, UNDP and governments in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica quickly kicked off a disaster restoration initiative to support building-back efforts on both islands. The initiative aimed to facilitate the installation of roofs on over 700 homes and large government priority buildings, including schools and hospitals, complementing and linking to the governmentsrebuilding efforts.
This critical and timely untied assistance for housing repairs expanded traditional bilateral cooperation and sought to reach the most vulnerable families on both islands. The initiative both procured and distributed quality construction materials, tools and equipment and, most importantly, provided technical assistance and training to ensure ”building back better” and promote long-term resilience.
The initiative’s success is premised on government leadership and quick response, adequate technical assistance, and ”build back better” with quality construction materials and hurricane-resistant techniques as the guiding principle for all UNDP- supported interventions. Under the leadership of the national governments, and with the participation of local bodies and community platforms, a set of criteria including social vulnerability, hazard exposure and readiness for reroofing was developed so that target buildings could be prioritized. Building codes were enforced as part of the repair activities and also revised, calling for quality construction materials and solid installation techniques. The projects procured materials, and logistics experts have been working with shipping companies, port authorities and distribution firms to deliver roofing materials to all affected areas, regardless of remoteness and access difficulties. In Dominica, the collaboration with Engineers Without Borders also ensured the technical quality of every step of the intervention: from data gathering using a pioneering tool that captures damage in every building on the islands, to the development of technical assistance centres at the community level, and the direct supervision of each building repaired. In Barbuda, a UNDP team composed of quantity surveyors, architects and engineers supported the Development Control Agency (DCA), the national authority responsible for the inspection of the repairs.
Additionally, a comprehensive advocacy and outreach strategy was developed and implemented to advance the national housing standards and revise the guidelines to realize these standards, including the production of posters, booklets and electronic documents. More than 2,000 people benefited from training and dedicated information sessions and all the materials were downloaded to apply to the construction methods.
Close collaboration and partnerships with government authorities were critical to successful and sustainable implementation of the projects. A strong partnership with the central and local government authorities helped to ensure sustainability of the results achieved in terms of data collection and management, community mobilization, and resilience building, in line with building- back-better principles. Project implementation entailed day-to-day interactions with national partners and stakeholders, which created a network of UNDP partners on the impacted islands that will be very valuable for future engagements in these countries. In addition, project implementation involved close coordination with specialized institutions in order to enhance the projects’ impact on the national capacities of recipient countries.
In Dominica, the China-UNDP partnerships have catalysed the engagement of other stakeholders and the inception of other South-South cooperation initiatives, such as the deployment of 80 Cuban workers for the re- roofing.
The South-South cooperation initiative boosted national capacities, gathered key data for recovery planning, revised construction codes, trained inspectors, contractors and the affected community, and accelerated the repair of hundreds of homes and key government priority buildings. Over 700 homes and 15 large government buildings were successfully repaired, including schools, a state college, medical clinics and hospital buildings. The estimated number of direct beneficiaries is over 9,000. Approximately 30,000 people have also benefited indirectly from the project’s positive impact, based on improvements in the quality of life of the communities where projects were implemented and job creation associated with repair activities. UNDP’s community support projects and cross-agency activities greatly complemented the Chinese aid-funded initiative. Furthermore, more than 2,000 construction professionals and affected families received training on building-back-better techniques and the importance of resilient buildings.
Building Damage Assessment is a pioneering tool for rapid comprehensive data gathering of structural damage that has been used for the first time in Barbuda and Dominica. This tool has provided real- time information for evidence-based decision-making processes.
Additionally, partnerships were established with governments and other stakeholders to install roofs properly, which operated very creatively in ensuring that resources were used for maximum impact. While China provided appropriate materials, technical assistance and quality control, other partners provided the labour required to perform the house repairs. The balance between international procurement and promotion of national economies and local business has also proved to be instrumental.
Building back better and resilience are intrinsically linked to sustainability and long-term impact. The initiative tackled the root vulnerabilities that resulted in the scale of the disaster and revised building codes to enforce housing standards.This intervention has also been shared with other countries in the region so that lessons learned and best practices can be used in similar contexts.
The initiative is replicable as revised building codes and guidelines will be shared with other countries, which can adapt to similar disasters.