Natural disasters in developing countries can have a particularly devastating effect, taking lives and wiping out the hard-earned assets of poor people in a matter of minutes. Compounding this loss is the destruction of vital buildings, including health facilities that are central to recovery but which are often as vulnerable as other parts of the infrastructure.
In Kashmir, after the 2005 earthquake, all health units and schools in AKDN programme areas had been partially or totally destroyed. AKDN believed that it would be irresponsible to rebuild the health clinics and schools without first obtaining a better understanding of the levels of seismic risk for each institution.
Resisting the pressures to rebuild the health infrastructure quickly, AKDN commissioned a series of micro-zoning and geotechnical studies to evaluate the safety of the original locations and to identify safer sites if necessary. These studies showed that many of the original clinics and schools should never have been built at their original sites.
As a result, many communities in both the Indian and Pakistani programme areas donated safer land for the reconstruction of the public buildings. AKDN was then able to design and build new health facilities and schools incorporating seismically resistant features that respond to the conditions of the site.
"The success of a disaster preparedness effort depends on our ability to ensure that health facilities can perform three vital functions: to protect the lives of patients and health workers by ensuring the structural resilience of health facilities; to ensure that health facilities and services are able to function in the aftermath of emergencies and disasters; and to improve the ability of health workers and institutions to react to and manage emergency situations." Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Head of the Social Welfare Department, at the launch of the United Nations world disaster reduction campaign 2008-2009 - 25 January 2008