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Engineers say replacement homes vulnerable

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, May 5, 2010) - Tsunami shelters built for survivors of last year’s tragedy exposes them to future disasters, the government of Samoa has been warned.

[PIR editor’s note: The tsunami last year in September killed over 143 people in Samoa. Towering up to 46 feet high, the tsunami virtually destroyed everything in its path. See last year’s story.]

The warning comes from a team of University of Auckland engineers who are conducting a long-term study of Samoa’s recovery.

"Whole villages have moved to higher ground to safeguard themselves against tsunamis, but many new buildings are not cyclone or earthquake proof," said Associate Professor Suzanne Wilkinson. "An opportunity has been missed to protect these communities against future disasters."

The study is being carried out by the Post-Disaster Reconstruction Research Team in the Faculty of Engineering.

Having recently returned from an eight-day research trip to Apia, they say while aid agencies are doing a terrific job, a lack of engineering expertise in the villages affected means sub-standard buildings and facilities are being constructed.

"In some cases villagers are being given the resources to build themselves, and they have the capability to do that, but not necessarily the knowledge to mitigate against future disasters," said Professor Wilkinson. "If a cyclone came through their buildings could collapse again." The team has also highlighted issues with access to clean drinking water, and the uncoordinated arrival of donated supplies to the island has meant many items have ended up in landfill.

The research team is conducting a long-term study of Samoa’s entire recovery process, which is expected to take several years.

The research team involves four undergraduate and five PhD students, three of whom are Samoan. They are led by Dr. Wilkinson and Dr. Regan Potangaroa from UNITEC.

The study aims to gather information about the recovery and reconstruction process to better prepare communities anywhere in the world for when the next disaster strikes. "Analysis of previous disasters is not done adequately. Our role as a research group is to advise agencies and governments on how to best recover and reconstruct their communities, based on previous scenarios. Gathering information across multiple disasters and seeing patterns in the recovery and reconstruction activities will allow the research to feed into government policy so we are prepared for future disasters."

Dr. Wilkinson said there are lessons for New Zealand in Samoa’s recovery, such as how volunteerism and community cohesiveness could work in New Zealand, and how to better prepare for rebuilding and relocation.

"If a major earthquake or tsunami struck in New Zealand, we may have similar issues in terms of effectively managing volunteers and donated supplies, the need for mass temporary shelters and the hasty relocation of entire communities to new locations."

The President of Institute of Professional Engineers Samoa, Fonoti Perelini could not be contacted last night.

Chairman of the Disaster Advisory Council responsible for tsunami recovery, Taule’ale’ausumai La’avasa Malua was also unavailable.

The study receives funding from the Foundation for Research Science and Technology and the Resilient Organisations Research Programme.

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