Repairing and retrofitting public schools by the community

the case of the Gujarat earthquake

Introduction

Due to urbanization, global climate change and other geographic reasons, there is a global increase in natural disasters. Government organizations are generally designed and equipped for operation and maintenance of public infrastructure. In the event of disasters, they often find themselves overloaded, mainly due to inadequate capacity of government machinery. This is due to the overwhelming nature of disasters. Each disaster is unique and their effects are unique to a particular place. When a disaster is local in nature, government has options to mobilize resources from the nearby regions. In the case of disasters with widespread effects, a crisis of resources often occurs. Communities, engaged in rescue and relief operations immediately following disasters, have a major role to play in reconstruction. The community is the beneficiary of disaster reconstruction. The quality of reconstruction affects the community livelihood. Hence, the community can make a significant contribution in the reconstruction period even in reconstruction of government infrastructure such as public schools.

The Gujarat (India) Earthquake of 2001 created such widespread effects that millions became homeless; thousands of government buildings, including school buildings, were destroyed or damaged. This paper discusses the rehabilitation of primary schools in Gujarat, a unique approach where communities managed the repairs of 9,201 schools, as a case of disaster recovery that can allow us to examine the findings of disaster research.

Past experience of disasters suggests that there is great enthusiasm in volunteering activities in the beginning, but that willingness decreases as time passes. This results in a loss of institutional memory and lack of continuity in terms of personal, behavioral, organizational, and financial sustainability (Shaw & Goda, 2004). In recent times, the capacity of local public officials, with support from government, has increased, and their ability to handle the post-disaster situation has considerably improved. The officials familiar with working with communities have better prospects of dealing with disaster recovery. But the speed and quality of the recovery from the disaster largely depends upon the formation and implementation of policies (Rubin & Barbee, 1985).

The typical disaster response can be viewed as a command-and-control structure. By nature these approaches are top-down and logistics-oriented (Pandey & Okazaki, 2005). This typical response eliminates or reduces the role of community, which is essential in recovery since communities face the disasters. Community-based organizations (CBOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) play a vital role in disaster recovery, but they are often met with resistance from local political interests. One issue communities often face is under-estimation of damages by outside estimators not familiar with local building codes (Bolin & Stanford, 1998). In managing the disaster recovery, management is not sufficient; recovery requires good management. Good management includes adequately performing general functions, effective mobilizing resources, developing overall coordination, and delegation of authority at appropriate levels (Quarantelli, 1997). The disaster often induces an increase in the demand for construction services, which by economic theory affects the prices of materials (Lindel & Prater, 2003). Shaw et al. proposed a checklist for sustainable community recovery. According to the research, sustainable community recovery starts with establishing principles of recovery followed by a needs assessment, capacity building and local institutional strengthening. This paper examines our understanding of disaster recovery in the context of rehabilitation of primary schools after the Gujarat earthquake.

The Gujarat Earthquake, 2001

The west coast of India was shaken up on the morning of January 26, 2001, by an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale (Indian Meteorological Department). The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Kutch district of Gujarat. The earthquake was followed by more than 500 aftershocks of Richter intensity 3.0 or more. The Gujarat earthquake is considered to be one of the worst in the Indian history of disasters. Located almost 250 miles away from the earthquake epicenter, the city of Ahmedabad saw the collapse of 68 reinforced cement concrete low-rise and high-rise buildings. About 14,000 people died, and 165,000 were injured, due to the earthquake. The earthquake caused damage to about 1.2 million houses and the stoppage of more than 10,000 industrial production units of small to medium sizes (GSDMA, 2001).

Damage to Education Sector

The effects of earthquake were so widespread that primary schools in 18 out of 25 districts of Gujarat were affected. In the affected 18 districts, 9,593 (38 percent) of the schools were damaged or collapsed (WB, 2001). The worst-affected districts were Kutch, Surendranagar, Jamnagar, Banaskantha, Rajkot, and Patan. The task of rehabilitation finally resulted in reconstruction of more than 4,000 classrooms and repairs to over 42,678 damaged classrooms in 9,201 schools, which excludes work undertaken by non-government organizations (GCPE, 2004). Additionally, 1,152 municipal schools were also repaired under the same initiative. There was also associated work such as reconstruction of toilets and drinking water facilities, which are generally standalone structures adjacent to the school buildings.

The Rehabilitation of Primary School Buildings

The participation of NGOs after the Gujarat earthquake was overwhelming and it could be one of the reasons for the success of rehabilitation programs. Sixty-six NGOs participated in the health sector, 16 in irrigation, 95 in education, and 39 in livelihood-related activities (Panda, 2001). The government had a difficult task in coordinating their internally-funded programs with those proposed by NGOs. In post-disaster settings, intergovernmental relations often poses issues of limited coordination, uncertainty, and conflict between key players (Rubin & Barbee, 1985). The decision to entrust the rehabilitation of primary schools to the District Primary Education Program (DPEP) proved to be very effective in overcoming the issues of coordination and conflicts due to the autonomous nature of the organization and funding from external sources (other than government).

The District Primary Education Program (DPEP), which operated in three districts at the time of the earthquake, was a model and successful national program which involved the community in construction and repairs of the school buildings. DPEP was entrusted with the responsibility of planning and implementation of this massive rehabilitation program. Including UNICEF and the Red Cross, a large number of NGOs participated in this work and they were allocated sites by the education department in consultation with the DPEP. The overall framework of the earthquake rehabilitation of primary schools is illustrated in Exhibit 1.

Model for repair, retrofitting and reconstruction of primary schools after Gujarat Earthquake

Exhibit 1 – Model for repair, retrofitting and reconstruction of primary schools after Gujarat Earthquake

The main tasks related to rehabilitation of physical infrastructure included:

  • Conducting rapid damage assessment of the earthquake affected primary school buildings in 32 talukas1 of the six worst-affected districts.
  • Providing temporary shelters to continue school functioning where the school buildings were collapsed or schools required major repairs.
  • Conducting detailed damage assessments and repair estimates of the damaged primary schools in 18 districts.
  • Carrying out repairs through the Village Civil Works Committee (VCWC) and supporting and monitoring school repair work by appointing engineers, consultants and auditors.
  • Developing new earthquake-resistant prototype school building designs and modifying them to suit local conditions.
  • Reconstructing school infrastructure through contractors by National Competitive Bidding.

A brief description of the elements of rehabilitation of public primary school buildings is provided below. The repairs and retrofitting of the school buildings through the community is explained in detail.

Rapid Damage Assessment

Rapid damage assessment was carried out by appointing consultants who surveyed 3,900 schools to document the damage, and prepared ballpark estimates for reconstruction and repairs for budgeting purposes. This assessment was carried out in a period of one month immediately following the earthquake and became the basis for developing a rehabilitation strategy.

Temporary Shelters

Temporary shelters were constructed where school buildings had completely collapsed or were unsafe for school functioning. The total requirement exceeded 10,000 school rooms. UNICEF provided 7,000 tents and other NGOs also constructed temporary shelters, leaving 2,400 rooms to be constructed by DPEP. The shelters were designed to last three years, which was almost twice the anticipated completion duration of reconstruction. The contractors were invited to construct samples at State Project Office premises located at Gandhinagar, the state capital of Gujarat. A technical committee evaluated the structures and work was awarded to the selected contractors.

Detailed Damage Assessment

The consultants were appointed to carry out detailed damage assessment in 18 districts. An important outcome of the damage assessment was individual repair estimates based on the prevailing schedule of rates as published by the Division of Roads and Buildings (R&B) Department of the Gujarat government. The estimates also included line sketches with damage details for easy interpretation of the estimates. The detailed damage assessment also identified the schools or part of the schools that required complete reconstruction.

Reconstruction

The reconstruction of classrooms was taken up with conventional competitive bidding using the World Bank standard bidding documents. This was necessary in view of the amount of work, the new earthquake-resistant designs, and the scarcity of technical resources.

Repair and Retrofitting of Primary Education Infrastructure

The decision was made to implement the repair and retrofitting of the school buildings using an existing model already successfully adopted in three districts prior to the earthquake. The model used the community for implementing the repairs. The works considered for community are those works which can be done locally, using local machinery and materials, which do not require very high skills, and particularly where contractors may prove costly due to the small value of the works (GCPE, 2001). While SPO managed the process of damage assessment and estimation, the district administration carried out groundwork for the actual work. The first step towards the entire process was formation of a VCWC. A training program was organized which was located at a central place and the school's proposed committee members were invited. They were informed about their roles and responsibilities and the terms of their appointment were explained. A formal memorandum of understanding was signed during the training program which fixed the responsibilities of all signatories. The VCWCs were required to open a bank account in the joint name of the principal and a member of the Mother Teacher Association (MTA). Once the VCWC provided the bank account details to district administration, the process of sending the bankers’ check to the VCWC was arranged. Subsequently, the implementation of repairs took place. The process of repairs through VCWC is schematically represented in Exhibit 2.

The process of repairs through the VCWC

Exhibit 2 – The process of repairs through the VCWC

The steps in the process of repair and retrofitting through VCWC can be described as:

  1. Formation of VCWC and MOU with VCWC
  2. Training of VCWC
  3. Opening of B ank account
  4. Receipt of first installment of funds (75% of estimate)
  5. Execution of repairs, record keeping by VCWC
  6. Supervision, Technical support from TRP
  7. Weekly review meetings at District and State level
  8. Supervision by Consultant
  9. Release of remaining 25% amount on 50% physical completion of work
  10. Financial auditing by Chartered Accountants

VCWC Formation and Training

The primary schools are located at the village level. The government of Gujarat, by its resolution, has established a Village Education Committee (VEC) which works for various aspects of elementary education. However, in the specific requirements of the DPEP program, an individual Village Civil Works Committee (VCWC) is formed for implementation of school construction, maintenance and repairs. The formation of VCWC is done by the people of the village through VEC meeting. The key feature of VCWCs is involvement of women and local people. After the earthquake, VCWC formation was initiated in the remaining 15 districts where DPEP program was not under implementation. This involved formation and training of over 8,000 VCWCs.

The training was mainly imparted by the Technical Resource Persons (TRP), the engineer recruited on a contract basis for earthquake rehabilitation works. The accountants from district administration, district engineers, technical consultants, and SPO consultants also participated in training the VCWCs. The VCWC members were trained for interpretation of estimates, selection and purchase of materials, repairs, and maintenance of records. The formation of the VCWC involved a Memorandum of Understanding by the VCWC with State Project Office for timely execution of repairs and proper utilization of funds.

The village civil works committee has the following form (GCPE, 2001);

1) Sarpanch (Head of Village, elected member) President
2) Principal Member Secretary
3) Member of Mother-Teacher Association (MTA) Or Teacher Member
4) Member of MTA Member
5) Local Mason Member

Funds Transfer

Signing of the MOU was followed by opening up of a bank account in the joint names of Principal and an MTA member, which could be operated by joint signature of VCWC members. The details of bank account were sent to the SPO for release of funds. DPEP appointed professional engineering consultants to prepare estimates for the repairs. The State Project Office released the funds to respective bank accounts depending upon estimates by the consultants. The funds were released in two installments. The first installment, amounting to 75% of the estimated cost, was released before commencement of works and the balance money was transferred after a utilization of 50% of funds from the first installment. A utilization certificate was issued by the Principal and supported by a physical progress report by TRP. On completion of the project, any surplus money was returned to the SPO.

Role of Village Civil Works Committee

The VCWC members played major role in implementation of repair works. They were responsible for material purchases, and teachers and members were often required to travel to nearby towns for procurement of key materials. The committee also maintained the material registers and stock registers. The Principal kept the accounts and coordinated with the TRP for technical matters. A weekly committee meeting was called to review the progress of work and plan the work for the next week. Since the buildings were built using masonry construction, a local mason was put on the committee to assist in material selection, storage of materials, and arrange for local labor. The member of MTA participated in reviewing progress and provided oversight of the work. The TRP recruited by SPO visited the site periodically to assist the VCWC in interpretation of estimates, checking quality of work, providing guidance, and checking the expenses with respect to estimates. The time allocated to repair works was linked to the amount of repair, as shown in Exhibit 3 below.

Amount of repair and time frame

Exhibit-3 – Amount of repair and time frame

Analysis of Case Study

This was the first time that community building was utilized on such a large scale, relying on committees consisting of members from the community who executed the construction works. The author was part of the team of SPO consultants and was also involved in the damage assessment, estimation, and later on in the inspection process. The experience of working in the recovery of school buildings taught important lessons about the community process.

Role of DPEP

The DPEP program had a heavy emphasis on communities prior to and at the time of the disaster. The program structure already existed in three districts; it was just a matter of scaling up to 18 districts from three districts. The prior organizational structure needed some modifications and more people were added. The engineers were required for implementing the works. The engineers are better known as Technical Resource Persons (TRP) in the DPEP organization. The prior experience of local and state level officials helped to quickly mobilize the community in the recovery process. Recruitment of 248 engineers was efficiently done in a period of one month after the initial estimates for the repair and reconstruction requirements became available.

The appointment of consultants for damage assessment and estimation was also done equally fast and effectively. However, the estimation had some problems, which surfaced during implementation. Some VCWCs complained about low and unworkable estimates. The SPO arranged for the re-estimation in deserving cases, but some of the requests for re-estimation were politically motivated.

The disbursement of checks to thousands of VCWCs was done swiftly, demonstrating a good coordination between technical staff and finance department, which often poses a problem in government organizations. The TRP periodically supervised and certified the work in addition to training to VCWC members and troubleshooting on an as-needed basis. The engineers were even required to resolve conflicts within the committee and motivate the VCWCs when they were not performing efficiently. The effective role of DPEP in managing repairs and retrofitting through VCWC can be contributed primarily to the lack of interference from state government, effective team work, a high level of coordination in absence of necessary infrastructure, and prior experience of the DPEP staff in working with the communities.

Speed and Quality of the Works

The planning phase and design phase of the school repair program was very efficiently carried out. AT SPO level, the state project engineer, aided by a team of SPO consultants, planned and detailed the damage assessment and estimation process. One issue that was often faced was managing data, due to lack of adequate computer infrastructure and database capacity. The civil works unit of the SPO worked in isolation from the MIS department of DPEP. The MIS department was contacted for obtaining school name and location data. The overall implementation of repairs and retrofitting works was completed within a specified time limit, i.e. from one month to four months with few exceptions. The timely implementation of the repair works could be attributed to simplified planning targets, efficient coordination within civil works groups, decentralization of supervision at the taluka and district levels, and the positive role of VCWCs.

The reports of the third party consultants, donors, and central government inspection teams appreciated the work done by the VCWC. However, some problems were observed in the technical works, when even TRP were unaware about proper use of materials, in spite of training. In some locations, the weld mesh required for retrofitting was replaced by chicken wire mesh, a cheaper and ineffective alternative for retrofitting masonry structures.

Community Involvement

The biggest question the research answers is whether the VCWC truly represented the community. The answer is no. The VCWC structure included community members, but in most cases work was executed by the Sarpanch, principal and teachers. There were conflicts between principals and Sarpanchs, since the financial powers were not given to the Sarpanch. The Sarpanchs are political figures and often they waned to manage the whole process singlehandedly.

Where political interference did not exist, principals played a vital role in school repairs. There are ample numbers of cases reported where principals performed more than expected, particularly when they belonged to the same village or locality. However, the role of principals was sometimes involuntary; they feared that inefficiency might be marked in their career records. Formal signing of MOUs with the SPO kept principals worried, as the principal was the only one of the VCWC members who could be easily implicated in case something goes wrong. They often complained that the work was forced on them and that they were technically not competent to handle the work. The principals often did not belong to same village and had no motivation for the work. Members of MTA often did not participate in the process, and were present in the committee just for appearance's sake. Interestingly, the VCWC structure existed prior to the earthquake, and so did the question of real community involvement.

Transparency

The money management by VCWC provided transparency to the whole process. The school principal maintained accounts with the help of a committee member. The details of the estimates and expenditures were updated periodically on public notice boards or school black boards for public review. Besides this, the DPEP appointed third-party consultants both for technical and financial review of the work and accounts. The consultants visited the sites periodically as specified in their respective terms of references. Several registers were maintained physically on site, which were open for inspection at all times. The list of records maintained included: (1) Cash book; (2) Labor attendance; (3) Labor register; (4) Material inward register; (5) Material usage register; (6) Material stock register; (7) Fund utilization register; (8) Resolution book; (9) Bank passbook/ Reconciliation; (10) Vouchers; (11) MOU file; and (12) Inspection book. It took lot of time for the principal and teacher to maintain these records, and most of the time it was at the cost of education. The school repairs and associated recordkeeping work was a second job for principals but they ensured that it was done neatly. The appointment of third-party technical and financial inspection and the process set for recordkeeping brought a great deal of transparency in the whole process. The consultants were appointed by the SPO and reported to the SPO. The SPO intervened in the process only when the school lacked in progress, quality, or recordkeeping.

Capacity Building

Pandey and Okazaki (2005) have noted that since communities are at the forefront of disasters, any disaster response and recovery action not involving the community may not be sustainable. The need to involve community is not just essential to creating sense of ownership, but preparing communities for future disasters. The experience of the DPEP program with community involvement in school construction not only paid off during earthquake recovery, but it further prepared the community to face future disasters. While the existing program was limited to educationally backward districts, the earthquake opened up learning experience across a wider range of the districts. The repairs and retrofitting of earthquake damaged structures was a new experience, and both engineers and masons learned during the implementation process. There were formal training programs for engineers and masons. The masons’ training programs included hands-on training and were conducted at the local level.

At the school level, it was a learning and developing experience for the principals too. Some argued that the knowledge may not remain at the village level since school principals were subject to job transfers. However, the large scale of the disaster nullified this effect, since most of the school principals received training in the process. Definitely, the VCWC and its process have built the capacity of the community, engineers, and the district and state administration. Interestingly, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which means “Education for All,” was launched as a successor of the DPEP for regular school infrastructure development, which adopted the VCWC structure with even more emphasis on community process than its predecessor program.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The community-based school rehabilitation program following the Gujarat earthquake can be regarded as a success story in India. The adoption of the VCWC process in the SSA, a successor of the DPEP program with much wider scope, also indicates the success of VCWC approach. The timely recovery of schooling, including repairs and retrofitting of school buildings through Village Civil Works Committees, can be attributed to highly effective planning and coordination at the state level. The proper use of information technology could have saved some resources and even could have resulted in better controls, as the whole management information system was dependent on paper-based reporting and review. The previous experience of working through communities helped to quickly mobilize communities and the program could be scaled up without much difficulty. The elaborate system of independent checking helped to ensure the appropriate use of funds, and never hindered the on-time completion of projects, as may occur when more than one level of approvals is necessary. The school principals and few other committee members played vital roles in mobilizing resources and implementing the repairs, though perhaps a community as a whole in general and women in particular did not participate as much as expected in the program. The process was a tremendous educational experience for engineers, masons, school teachers, and communities. The villages are prepared to handle future disasters and recovery processes better than ever before.

The process of school repairs through community has been successful in Gujarat state. It is possible to adopt similar process for other social sectors also. The successful adoption of this model to other places, however, needs a careful consideration of the culture of Gujarat. The people of Gujarat are regarded as progressive risk-takers. High levels of decision-making capacity, leadership, and, entrepreneurship are some of the key attributes of the people involved in the process. In adopting the program elsewhere, the characteristics of community and administrators needs to be considered.

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1 Taluka is a subdivision of a District (similar to county)

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2013 Devanshu Pandit
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana

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