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Editorial: Saftey first

26 January, 2010 – Rebuilding the homes and lives of the people in the eastern region that was hit by a series of quakes between September and December last year is turning out to be a major challenge for everyone involved.In all fairness the repeated quakes that occurred in October and again on December 31 did cause major setbacks and complicated whatever had been planned and done.

Instead of going ahead with rebuilding it recreated emergency situations and the need to reassess damages to individual homes and infrastructure. Doing this involves combing the countryside on foot and checking each individual structure. Assessment of damages, experience has shown, needs to be done with care because it involves money paid out as compensation needed to rebuild homes.

But it also shows a lack of capacity to handle such situations probably because it has never been a priority for the government. The aid that is pouring in, in cash and kind, from international organisations, friendly nations and individuals has been a major help to cope with the disaster. Families that are still living in the open are sheltered by tents and kept warm by blankets given as aid.

A lot of effort was directed in helping those affected recover from the shock of the disaster, which is how it should be although the reoccurring quakes and the endless aftershocks continue to fill the mind with fear.

With several studies already marking out the eastern region as a highly seismic prone zone it would not be wrong to assume that tremors could hit again in the future.

Today, the focus is on the delay in the rebuilding of homes and it is a valid complaint considering that many families have been living outside their homes for almost four months. The government spelt out several plans on how it would aid the reconstruction process but it is moving much slower than expected like getting timber for example which needs some time to get seasoned.

The RBA soldiers have been deployed to help in the reconstruction and many have started rebuilding their homes. Perhaps because of the repeated tremors many are choosing to build single storey structures, which is what the government wants. But people are also doing this because they do not have adequate resources to build larger ones.

But what is definitely not happening is monitoring for quality structures. It has been said again and again that one lesson from the tremors is that safer and stronger structures need to be built. Yet the officials in the field are there to check that money given as compensation and kidu is used only for rebuilding.

The governments prototype designs for stronger safer structures are nowhere to be seen as people go about building a roof over their head. The government cannot afford this. Something must be done.

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