What is the problem?
On June 6, Russian troops blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. As a direct consequence of this terrorist attack, the water level in certain areas of the Kherson region increased by over 5 meters. Thousands of houses and thousands of hectares of fields and forests were submerged. State Emergency Service employees and volunteers evacuated over 3,700 people and 284 animals from the affected area during the rescue operation. Unfortunately, not everyone could be saved.
There's a heavy coating of dried mud on the roads of Kherson. Photo: Rubryka
The water started going down, and people started coming back to their homes. But where the water had gone, mud, dead animals, and piles of busted stuff were left behind. The hard part for the area's inhabitants is just beginning.
What is the solution?
Water-related natural disasters are among the most widespread in the world. The same water that keeps us alive can also bring a lot of grief and misfortune. Devastating tsunamis, incessant rains, and large-scale floods that periodically occur on the planet can wipe out human life, ecosystems, and economies.
No one-size-fits-all solution exists when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of floods for people, communities, or nations. Everyone's situation is different, so the approach taken to recovery is different every time. Governments across the world take on the huge task of beginning to repair the damage done by floods and then rebuilding. Mistakes are always made, but with each instance, the experience gathered helps people to learn and informs the decisions of the future.
The lessons that the "big water" has to offer and the solutions that may be beneficial to Ukraine are outlined in our material.
How does it work?
The power of communities
People take furniture damaged during flooding to the roads of Puketapu; volunteers take garbage to landfills. Photo: RNZ
The danger of flooding is not new to New Zealand communities, having existed for thousands of years. Disaster resilience here refers to the readiness to respond to disasters and the capability to manage and bounce back from hardship. In Aotearoa (New Zealand), the government controls flooding and reduces the damage it causes, but the people also play a crucial role. The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have a saying reflecting the potential of working together: "It is people, it is the community that is most significant."
In February 2023, New Zealand got struck by Cyclone Gabriel. It was the worst cyclone to plague the nation since way back in 1968, unfortunately causing 11 fatalities and costing an eye-watering $8 billion in damages. An apocalyptic landscape was left behind, thousands of houses were flooded, villages had no access to communication, gardens and farms were completely covered in silt, and the water rose up to 2.5 meters in some areas.
The people of Puketapu, hard-hit by the flood, got together quickly. The pub became a help center, and the school was set up as a donation center offering necessities like clothes and food. First, the school pool was utilized for washing, and then local masters erected a shower for people who didn't have water. Residents then took shifts – picking up rubbish and dirt from their yards and roads, hauling away furniture ruined by water, and they stayed on guard at roadblocks to stop looters from coming into the village at night.
Over 1,000 people worked overnight to remove flood mud from Chongqing's roads. Photo: Wang Xiang
China is cognizant of the power of community. As the huge flood ravaging Chongqing in 2020 was subsiding, sanitary personnel, soldiers, and volunteers emerged in the streets to clean up the city. The flooding left truckloads of mud and rubble all over the main roads, the deepest points topping out at 50 centimeters. The citizens and municipal workers rushed to the scene to restore order and return to normal quickly. Everyone worked around the clock non-stop to move all the mud and debris out of the way, getting the roads open for traffic again as soon as possible.
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's ten provinces. In November 2021, a month's worth of precipitation fell here in two days. The downpours caused widespread flooding, and mudslides descended on cities and towns across the province. The flood hit over a thousand farms, 15 thousand hectares of farmland, and two and a half million livestock. People fished out the cattle using all kinds of water transport: boats, jet skis, and even hovercraft.
Once the water went down, the issue of getting farms back on their feet was brought up. To help out agricultural producers who were severely affected by natural disasters, the government kicked off AgriRecovery in early 2022. Costs for the initiative were split 60-40 between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and provincial governments.
The federal and provincial governments combined set aside $228 million for the program, which British Columbia Agriculture Minister Lana Popham declared as the most extensive recovery program ever seen in the province. Funds were put towards four main categories that weren't taken care of by private insurance or existing government programs:
- Clearing, repairing, and rehabilitating flood-affected lands to return them to a usable state.
- Repair of non-insurable farm infrastructure.
- Animal welfare costs, including feed supplies, livestock transport, and veterinary care.
- Compensation for losses of perennial plants not grown for resale, for example, blueberries.
Most importantly, the program was developed based on feedback from farmers and ranchers about what they need most urgently for recovery.
The National Fund for Reconstruction and the Masters Platform
After the water receded… The town of Schuld in the Arweiler district. Photo: REUTERS
Europe wasn't spared from significant disasters. In July 2021, due to heavy rain caused by Cyclone Bernd, several rivers broke their banks, leading to the worst flooding seen in over a century. Germany was hit the hardest, especially Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia. A staggering 134 people lost their lives in the Ar River valley alone. Tens of thousands of people were put in a life-or-death situation, having to rebuild their lives completely. During her visit to the worst-hit areas, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany at the time, remarked that the situation was so dire that "there are hardly words in the German language to express the level of destruction."
Once the water went down, the devastating impact of the disaster was revealed. Tens of thousands of workers from different organizations joined forces to look for the missing and to repair the infrastructure, from utility companies to the German Armed Forces. Thousands of volunteers from all over Germany showed up to help the people in need. Community and charity organizations have started various fundraising initiatives, and people living in the Arweiler area of Germany have been using large shovels to clear away massive amounts of dirt and sand from their homes.
Two months after the devastating floods, the German federal government and state governments agreed to set up a national fund to reconstruct affected areas with a total value of 30 billion euros, to which all federal states contributed to the financing.
It's worth noting that two years later, many affected area residents are still unhappy with how quickly the reconstruction is going. They're saying the recovery is taking too long, and some are still living in container-type housing. Many homes have yet to be repaired or completely restored, and some business owners can only focus on restoring their businesses, living in temporary accommodation on construction sites.
However, the officials didn't hide that the rebuilding process would take years; from the start, they emphasized that they needed more specialists from all across Germany to finish this job as quickly as possible.
Roofers from Rhineland-Palatinate are fixing one of the houses that was flooded.
The solution was a unique nationwide offer: the internet platform handwerk-baut-auf.de, created by the Chambers of Crafts of Koblenz and Cologne. Handwerk-baut-auf is a marketplace where one can directly find businesses that support the restoration of flooded areas. The platform is designed to make it easier for affected individuals and municipalities to find entrepreneurs who offer jobs and services for rebuilding. More than 1,900 companies currently offer their services on the handwerk-but-auf.de platform. It can be used throughout the country after natural disasters.
The best experience for Ukraine
Ukraine should only take the best for its cities – that is why Ukrainian experts continue to study the experiences of other countries that were rebuilt following wars and natural disasters.
A mosque in Aceh province has become a symbol of the destruction caused by the 2004 tsunami. Photo: Getty Images
Indonesia is viewed as one of the most successful examples in the world. In 2004 a devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean took over 200,000 lives, of which Indonesia was hit the hardest. The Indonesian province of Aceh was the worst affected, where 1,500 schools, 49 primary health care centers, two hospitals, and 270,000 homes were destroyed, and much of the road infrastructure was ruined.
In January 2005, the Indonesian President held a donors' conference in Jakarta, where many millions of dollars were pledged in aid for reconstruction. The Indonesian government was the key player in assessing losses and damage from the tsunami and created a Master Plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction (requiring more than seven billion dollars to implement).
In April 2005, the country set up a new organization called the BRR Agency, which the local government gave the full authority to oversee the reconstruction process transparently and accountable. As of 2006, the BRR Agency has been assigned the responsibility of constructing about 120,000 residences. Thus it also became the executor of the project.
The mosque in Banda Aceh 10 years after the devastating tsunami. Photo: Getty Images
Due to the hard work of international and national organizations to bring the affected area back to normal, almost 14 billion dollars has been collected to fund the restoration of Indonesia. By 2009, 140 thousand homes, 23 ports, 3.5 thousand kilometers of roads, 13 airports, and 1115 health care centers had already been reconstructed. In total, in 5 years, it was possible to restore and, in some places, even scale the infrastructure. "Soft" projects were aimed at poverty alleviation and labor market growth.
Of course, there were bumps along the way. Corruption was an issue, as well as providing quality education. People were unhappy about the quality of the new housing, its inconvenient location, lack of jobs, and not having access to the basic necessities (water and electricity). Additionally, funding from international donors decreased drastically over a few years, which made it difficult for most organizations to put forward ongoing programs. However, surveys revealed that five years following the disaster, most people could move back into the settlements that had been reconstructed at the old sites. Out of the population who had lost their homes, 80% had a new one within five years of the disaster.
Tsunami in Japan after the March 11, 2011 earthquake. Photo: Reuters
Ukraine could look to Japan as an example in its post-war reconstruction efforts, as Japan has had to rebuild after war and natural disasters and has succeeded in doing so.
In 2011, a catastrophic event in Japan – the Great Tohoku Earthquake – resulted in more than 5,000 deaths and left over 8,000 people missing. Large cities in the country were tremendously damaged. A massive tsunami with waves reaching up to 10-12 meters tall stretched from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Ryukyu Islands. At the time, around half a million people in Japan were displaced and without homes.
Following the earthquake in Japan in 2011, a special commission focused on the country's recovery. This commission identified which laws should be prioritized to attain rapid reconstruction. Additionally, the committee created a recovery law that provided a framework for the quick rebuilding of the country after the disaster.
Yoshimasa Hayashi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, declared at the Ukraine Reform Conference in London that Japan is prepared to share its knowledge with Ukraine.
"Japan is the only country that suffered from nuclear bombing during the war. But we rebuilt the country after the devastation during the war and after the war. We have also experienced several natural disasters and catastrophes, including the 1995 earthquake, tsunami, and 2011 earthquake. But each time, we have achieved revival with the support of our friends and the international community. Japan thus has an excellent understanding of recovery," said Yoshimasa Hayashi.
The Japanese minister stated that Japan's main focus of support for Ukraine would be on demining, building up basic infrastructure like power grids, and restoring farming. Additionally, Japan has created a working group with representatives from all related departments and organizations to assist with Ukraine's recovery. Also, Japan is planning to host the "Japanese-Ukrainian Conference to Promote Economic Recovery" before the end of the year.
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