Anuradha Mukherji


Negotiating Housing Recovery in Post-Earthquake Urban Kutch, India

Anuradha Mukherji, Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture, University of California at Berkeley, December 2008


The 2001 Kutch earthquake, in Gujarat state in western India, destroyed 230,000 houses and damaged another 1 million. In Bhuj and Bachhau, urban centers close to the epicenter of the earthquake, single-family houses, squatter settlements, and high-rise apartments were destroyed, and public and private housing reconstruction programs were introduced to help communities rebuild their houses. However, five years after the disaster, in spite of interventions by local and global, public and private entities, many communities in both towns continued to struggle towards housing recovery. This dissertation examines why some communities were able to rebuild and improve their overall housing conditions after the disaster, as opposed to others who struggled to achieve even pre-disaster housing standards.

The research is based primarily on 50 in-depth field interviews conducted with 38 caste-based communities in Bhuj and Bachhau. Communities were identified based on their caste because field observations showed that rather than spatial proximity, households in both towns define their sense of group and community identity based on their caste affiliation. The research is designed as a comparative study around three components. The first two components examine the impact of World Bank funding, government policies, NGO interventions, and community resources on final housing recovery outcomes in both towns. The third uses the findings from the first two to compare and contrast the housing recovery process and outcomes between Bhuj and Bachhau for homeowners, renters, and squatters.

Study findings show that the key reason why some communities could rebuild in Bhuj and Bachhau while others struggled to recover is due to the difference in availability of appropriate public assistance that matched community needs and capacities. The research also demonstrates that while social capital theory can help conceptualize community-based recovery efforts, it is also important to consider how social capital is produced because the socio-economic capacities of communities impact their ability to produce and use social capital after disasters. The study expects to contribute to future public policy debates on post-disaster housing recovery, in India and beyond, by providing a deeper understanding of the impact of public programs, private interventions, and community initiatives on housing recovery outcomes



This study looks at Bhuj and Bachhau, two towns close to the epicenter of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake in India, where houses located in the old town and squatter settlements as well as high-rise apartments were destroyed and public and private housing reconstruction programs were introduced to help people rebuild their homes. However, five years after the disaster, in spite of interventions by local and global, public and private entities, many homeowners, renters and squatters in Bhuj and Bachhau continued to live in temporary shelters or tents and struggled financially to rebuild their homes or buy a house. The dissertation compares housing recovery processes in the towns of Bhuj and Bachhau, to examine why some communities were able to rebuild and improve their overall housing conditions after the disaster, while others were unable to achieve even pre-disaster housing standards.

On January 27th, 2001, as the country was celebrating its Republic Day , a 7.7 Mw earthquake with its epicenter in Kutch, a little known, remote region close to the Pakistan border, hit the state of Gujarat in western India. The quake had flattened about 230,000 houses and damaged another 970,000 in Kutch. The Gujarat government moved fast to secure reconstruction finance, and in February 2001, just one month following the earthquake, the World Bank consented to finance the first phase of a $704 million loan to the national (federal) government of India to fund reconstruction activities in Gujarat. A sum of $380 million or 54 percent of the loan was allocated to support urban housing recovery in Kutch . Two years after the earthquake in 2003, the United Nations awarded the UN Sasakawa Award to GSDMA, the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority , and pronounced the Gujarat government's reconstruction efforts in Kutch a success. The World Bank followed suit in 2004, awarding the GSDMA its prestigious Green Awards of the World Bank . But ground realities were different, and albeit rural housing recovery in Kutch had progressed rapidly, urban housing reconstruction, bogged down by urban town planning processes, had only just started in 2004, the year I began my field research.

How then did urban housing reconstruction and recovery happen in Kutch? Not surprisingly, this question often remain unanswered because, as past disasters have shown, recovery work in devastated areas usually begins long after the news and media crews have left, and most of the work happens outside of public or media scrutiny. In Kutch, just nine months after the earthquake, as the people and the government pulled up their sleeves and got down to the nitty-gritty of rebuilding, the world attention had shifted to the horrors of 9/11. Researchers (Berke and Beatley, 1997) also note that among the various components of a disaster policy (pre-disaster mitigation, emergency preparedness, emergency response, and recovery), post-disaster recovery has received the least amount of attention from hazard scholars, and is the least investigated and understood area of study within the hazards field (Comerio, 1998). This dissertation attempts to address this gap in knowledge by examining post-disaster urban housing recovery processes in Bhuj and Bachhau.


This research is located at the intersection of scholarship in the areas of hazards, housing policy, and international development. While grounded within empirical studies in hazards and housing policy, the research applies theoretical insights from the field of international development to examine post-disaster housing recovery.

The hazards literature provides the primary context for this dissertation, emphasizing four main points to consider when looking at the difference in post-disaster housing recovery levels among communities. First, personal or community assets, such as cash, savings, land, livestock, knowledge, health, and kinship networks, play a central role in the housing recovery of households and communities. The more assets people have, the less vulnerable they are to long-term negative impacts of a disaster and are better able to cope with and rebuild after a disaster (Vatsa, 2004). Second, the internal and external capacities of a community prior to a disaster are important in determining the post-disaster housing recovery levels of a community. Internal capacity can help a community to organize well and participate in the local decision-making processes, whereas external capacities can help the community to expand its economic or material resources through its larger social and economic links during post-disaster housing recovery (Berke, Kartez, & Wenger, 1993; Siembieda, 2002). Third, it is important to recognize that within a community factors such as class, caste, ethnicity, gender, age, and health often influence access to resources like stable employment, types of income, savings, education levels, and ties to local institutions (Blaikie et al, 1994), which in turn can determine housing recovery outcomes. Finally, the difference in the levels and rates of housing recovery not only depend upon a community's or household's own resources, its internal and external capacities, or its social class and ethnicity, but also on the type of recovery assistance programs it has access to (Bates, Killian & Peacock, 1984).

It is within the context of this last point that this study is situated. Freeman (2004) notes that since post-disaster financial aid policies and programs are often based on housing loss, public funding directed to rebuild pre-existing housing stocks after disasters is mostly captured by middle and upper classes, and fails to meet the housing needs of the poor such as low-income renters or squatters. This in turn often exacerbates socio-economic inequalities and hinders equitable housing recovery for all socio-economic groups (Oliver-Smith, 1990). In contrast to these arguments, along with middle-class homeowners, renters in Bhuj and squatter communities in Bachhau also had access to public housing recovery funds. This dissertation thus investigates that apart from its own resources or aid from NGOs, how did a community's access to and the use of government housing assistance program impact final housing recovery outcomes in Bhuj and Bachhau?

This research is also situated within the context of a changing urban housing policy in the developing world, part of an overall shift in developing countries from an economic development model that requires heavy government involvement to a model that emphasizes development based on market-oriented open economy and free trade without state intervention. As developing countries have moved towards this neo-liberal economic development model, urban housing policies have also been impacted. Most significantly, the provision of low-cost urban housing has moved from the realm of public and the idea of the government as a provider or facilitator of affordable public housing to that of private market-based housing solutions as a way to meet the rising demand for low-cost urban housing (Ward & Macoloo, 1992). It is within this changing paradigm in urban housing that post-disaster housing recovery policies are also situated. In other words, existing housing policy plays a critical role in shaping governments' approach to post-disaster housing reconstruction in developing nations. The neo-liberal housing policy that gives priority to private home-ownership and market based solutions for urban housing, also has implications for the use of public funds for housing recovery and the role of the state in post-disaster housing recovery, particularly among low-income housing groups like renters and squatters.


Hazard researchers (Berke & Beatley, 1997; Blaikie et al, 1994; Oliver-Smith, 1990) have increasingly called for greater local participation within long-term development as a strategy for a more successful recovery planning. The scholarship is especially critical of public and private recovery approaches that although present post-disaster planning programs within the framework of development, but rely exclusively or predominantly on expert knowledge and do not incorporate the values or requirements of the local people. Based on arguments within the hazards field, that emphasize a localized understanding of post-disaster recovery, this dissertation examines post-disaster housing recovery in Bhuj and Bachhau from the local community perspective to examine why some people were able to rebuild and improve their overall housing conditions after the 2001 earthquake, while others were unable to achieve even pre-disaster housing standards. Using Sen's (1999; 1993) capabilities approach as its theoretical framework, the study instead of looking at housing recovery merely as a function of government recovery programs or private NGO interventions, attempts to engage in a broader approach that conceptualizes the difference in post-disaster housing recovery through the experiences of local communities.

Although an economist, Sen's (1999; 1993) work addresses the underlying argument within the post-development literature that instead of being passive recipients of development programs, people should be actively involved and have the opportunity to shape their own future. He has put this argument of post-development theorists into a useful theoretical framework called the capabilities approach, which looks at development as a process that expands the freedoms and capabilities of the people (Sen, 1999). He argues for an approach that focuses on people and looks at human functionings and the capability of people to achieve those functionings. Sen defines functioning as various things that a person may want to do or to be, and can range from being adequately nourished, being in good health, and well sheltered to complex functionings such as achieving self-respect and being socially integrated (Sen, 1999; Nussbaum & Sen, 1993). Capability refers to the actual ability or the freedom of a person to achieve a given functioning or a combination of functionings (Sen, 1999; Nussbaum & Sen, 1993). Sen's (1999) capabilities approach thus argues that the primary objective of development is the expansion of human capability rather than economic growth, and that development should be assessed in terms of the capability of a person to achieve the functionings that the person values.

The capabilities approach provides a strong theoretical framework to address the main research question posed in this dissertation, which is to understand why some people were able to rebuild and improve their overall housing conditions in Bhuj and Bachhau after the Gujarat earthquake, while other have not been able to achieve even pre-disaster housing standards. The usefulness of the capabilities approach rests on two main reasons. First, by emphasizing the enhancement of people's capabilities, the framework allows for an approach that looks at post-disaster housing recovery from the perspective of the local population by focusing on aspects that impacted peoples' capability to rebuild their houses after the disaster. Although the capabilities framework considers individuals as active agents of change and focuses primarily on individual capabilities, the framework can be extended to understand the capabilities of larger groups or communities such as caste-based groups, homeowners, renters, or squatters. While such groups are not homogenous entities, the capabilities approach offers a framework that can understand the difference among the needs of various groups and the corresponding difference in the capability of various groups and communities to rebuild their houses.

Second, by using this framework, the research, rather than focusing on various factors that may or may not have impacted housing recovery, can instead analyze the aspects that enhanced and strengthened the actual ability or the capability of communities to rebuild their houses in Bhuj and Bachhau. This is an important aspect of this research. Among policy makers and government officials, housing recovery after disasters is often reduced to narrow measures such as the number of houses rebuilt or the amount of money spent on recovery. The capabilities approach shifts this narrative from its focus on housing recovery itself to the people who rebuild their houses by making the capability of people and communities central to its argument.


Based primarily on in-depth interviews conducted with 38 communities in Bhuj and Bachhau, the research is designed as a comparative study around three components. The first component examines how the monies for urban housing recovery in Kutch, a sum of $380 million that the Gujarat state government borrowed from World Bank, impacted post-disaster housing recovery outcomes in Bhuj and Bachhau. The second component of the research looks at Bhuj and Bachhau individually to understand the difference in final housing recovery outcomes among various communities within each town. The third component uses the research findings from the first two components in order to conduct a comparative analysis that compares and contrasts the housing recovery process and final housing recovery outcomes between Bhuj and Bachhau.

Bhuj and Bachhau are appropriate sites for a comparative study because of two reasons. First, though they are similar in basic characteristics such as demographic composition, socio-economic structure, building techniques, and the scale of housing damage, the housing recovery process in both towns however, is fundamentally different. In Bhuj, which is the district (Indian districts are akin to United States county) administrative seat, the housing recovery process was tightly controlled by the district collector's office, the highest and most powerful administrative office in the district, and the Bhuj Area Development Authority (henceforth referred to as the Bhuj Authority), a public agency appointed by the Gujarat state government after the earthquake to rebuild Bhuj. There was limited participation from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private entities and citizen groups in the decision-making process. In contrast, in Bachhau, a minor town in terms of its size and economy, the Bachhau Area Development Authority (henceforth referred to as the Bachhau Authority), a state government appointed agency to rebuild Bachhau, and the highest taluka level (akin to United States civil township) office, known as Mamlatdar office, were in charge of housing recovery and urban reconstruction. Though the Bachhau Authority and the Mamlatdar in Bachhau had complete control over housing recovery, unlike Bhuj, they were willing to engage NGOs and other private bodies in the recovery process. As a result, local NGOs had a higher level of participation in the decision-making process in Bachhau.

The second reason for the comparative study between Bhuj and Bachhau is that, the overall housing recovery outcomes in both towns are very different. Research in the hazards field has pointed out that post-disaster housing recovery often gives the highest priority for housing reconstruction to upper-income groups with land and property, and lowest priority to groups such as low-income renters or squatters (Freeman, 2004; Comerio, 1998; Oliver-Smith, 1990). In both Bhuj and Bachhau, single-family housing, renter apartments, and squatter settlements were destroyed, and homeowners, renters, and squatters were equally rendered homeless. In Bhuj however, six years after the earthquake, not just homeowners but renters have also been able build houses for themselves, but many squatters have struggled to rebuild their homes. In contrast, in Bachhau, along with homeowners, squatters have also been able to rebuild their houses, but renters have not been able to achieve even pre-disaster housing standards. As a result, though Bhuj and Bachhau are similar in many ways, the housing recovery process and the final housing recovery outcomes in the two towns was uniquely different. The comparative research thus compares and contrasts the difference in housing recovery processes and outcomes in Bhuj and Bachhau, in order to map the impact of their differing approaches on the final recovery outcomes.

The communities in Bhuj and Bachhau were identified based on their caste identity. This is because initial site visits revealed that rather than spatial proximity, people in Bhuj and Bachhau define their sense of group and community identity based on their caste affiliation. Caste played an important role during post-disaster housing recovery in Bhuj and Bachhau, when communities used their caste-based network to lobby their community members at the larger national (i.e. caste members residing in other parts of India) or even international level (i.e. caste members residing abroad) to arrange for financial or material assistance for members of their own group. Due to this empirical reality combined with the fact that both Bhuj and Bachhau are socio-economically structured along caste lines, the caste based community evolved as a unit of observation and analysis for this study.

Using an emergent sampling technique, whereby groups are interviewed until no new insights or information are obtained, 18 caste groups in Bachhau and 20 in Bhuj were interviewed. For each caste group one or two leaders were identified, and in-depth semi-structured interviews lasting from half hour to one hour were conducted with each person. During the interviews, the data collected was of two types – first, the housing status of communities prior to the earthquake, and second, the financial or material assistance provided by individual communities to their member households, as well as on the amount and type of housing assistance received by individual communities from public programs and private aid. The data on housing status was particularly important because the Gujarat state government used the pre-disaster housing status of a household, as a basis to decide the amount of post-disaster financial housing compensation the household was eligible for. So households who were homeowners had better chance of receiving adequate financial aid based on their property titles, as opposed to renters and squatters who could not produce property titles. To capture perspectives of key entities working for housing recovery, interviews were also conducted with government officials, NGOs, religious groups, and local politicians. Secondary data including public records from Government Census office in Ahmedabad; archival documents from GSDMA office in Gandhinagar; as well as digital data of maps, housing damage and compensation lists from the Deputy Collector in Bhuj and Mamlatdar (revenue officer) in Bachhau were used to supplement and support the primary interview data.


There are three main findings in response to the research question that which communities could successfully rebuild their houses and which communities could not. First, the study findings show that in both Bhuj and Bachhau, caste-based communities that had a higher percentage of high-income homeowners were largely successful in rebuilding their houses after the earthquake. Second, communities with a larger percentage of low-income homeowners had some difficulties in rebuilding their houses. Third, communities with a high percentage of renter households were able to recover in Bhuj, but they struggled to achieve their pre-disaster housing standards in Bachhau. Fourth, squatter communities in Bachhau were able to rebuild their houses and recover, but those in Bhuj struggled to rebuild. The research findings beg the question that what was different or similar in Bhuj and Bachhau that led to these housing recovery outcomes. The key reasons are outlined in the detailed study findings below.

Shortcomings of State Policy: One of the most critical factors at the state level that impacted housing recovery was the Gujarat government's recovery policy itself. Rather than a broader focus on the recovery of people, the policy was narrowly oriented towards the recovery of destroyed and damaged housing property, particularly legally owned units. Ideally, a housing policy focused on the people could lead the state government to examine how the disaster impacted different communities or groups such as homeowners, renters, and squatters and to find appropriate housing recovery solutions for each group. But since the policy focused solely on the reconstruction of private housing units, it was naturally inclined towards homeowners, while ignoring squatters and renters. The policy thus fell short of addressing the housing recovery needs of groups other than private homeowners. It was at the local level that the Area Development Authorities responding to ground realities, tried to address the housing recovery needs of groups other than homeowners, i.e. squatters in Bachhau and low-income renters in Bhuj. While these local recovery efforts are definitely noteworthy, they were created due to local pressures and conditions. Without an overarching housing recovery policy at the state level providing a broad consistent framework for the recovery needs of diverse housing groups, these efforts remained inconsistent and sporadic across different urban areas of Kutch.

Presence of Local NGO: A fundamental reason at the local level for squatter recovery in Bachhau and renter recovery in Bhuj was the presence of local NGOs who understood local issues and pushed local Area Development Authorities for an expansion of the housing recovery program. The presence of a local NGO named Unnati, who came to Bachhau immediately after the earthquake, was important for the squatter housing program in Bachhau for three reasons. First, because Unnati had prior experience in urban issues, it was able to identify squatter housing needs in Bachhau through independent field research. Second, its extended local presence gave Unnati the legitimacy it needed to push for squatter housing with the Bachhau Authority. Third, Unnati's knowledge of squatter issues and technical expertise in seismic safety gave it the tools to help the Bachhau Authority set up a squatter housing program. Similarly in Bhuj, Abhiyan and the Bhuj Development Council were both locally based groups, who were deeply familiar with Bhuj and the local issues confronting the city. Like Unnati in Bachhau, these groups were in a position to identify the renter housing crises in Bhuj after the earthquake, and had knowledge of renter housing needs to push the Bhuj Authority to expand their recovery program to include renters.

State Control and Continuity in Local Leadership: Rigid control by the state government on the local administration lead to discontinuity in recovery programs as officials in leadership positions were changed frequently. In Bhuj, Bhuj Authority officials were changed as frequently as the Gujarat state government's political priorities shifted. The Bhuj Authority CEO changed four times between October 2001 when the Bhuj Authority was first established and August 2003 when the fourth CEO was appointed. These changes impacted the continuity of recovery programs as new officials brought in their own ideas and approaches to recovery. In contrast, in Bachhau, which not as politically important to the state government as Bhuj (the administrative, economic, and cultural capital of Kutch distric), there was less state control over the Bachhau Authority. The Bachhau Authority CEO and the Mamlatdar in Bachhau were at their respective posts continuously for a period of more than three years starting in 2002 and still remained in 2005 after the conclusion of fieldwork. The continuity in local government leadership led to the implementation and continuity of local programs, such as the squatter housing program in Bachhau, and ensured that these programs were carried through to its conclusion.


The study makes two main contributions to the hazards scholarship. The first contribution of this research is that it challenges the current paradigm in housing recovery literature, which suggests that a community's own resources and assets, its internal (organization) and external (links to other groups) capacities, and its socio-economic position dictates the difference in post-disaster housing recovery outcomes among various communities (Vatsa, 2004; Berke, Kartez, & Wenger, 1993; Siembieda, 2002; Blaikie et al, 1994; Bates, Killian & Peacock, 1984). This research instead argues that these factors actually played a limited role in producing a significant difference in housing recovery among communities in Bhuj and Bachhau. Based on findings from its comparative analysis, the study contends that it was due to the difference in the availability of appropriate public assistance, designed to meet the needs and capacities of the targeted community, that why some communities were able to rebuild their houses while others struggled to recover in the two towns. Among all communities, wealthy or otherwise, and whether they comprised of homeowners, renters, or squatters, public assistance was a critical aspect of strengthening their capabilities to achieve housing recovery. The findings show that when communities, regardless of their assets, capacities, and socio-economic position, were able to use public assistance that was built around their needs and capacities, they could rebuild their houses and recover.

A second contribution this research makes to the hazards literature concerns the use of social capital in housing recovery following disasters. Recent studies in the hazards field have argued that disasters can trigger the formation of new social capital among impacted communities through the emergence of civic networks (Ganapati, 2005), and that social capital can increase the ability of communities to recover after disasters through collective action (Nakagawa & Shaw, 2004). Social capital according to Putnam (2000) refers to the collective value of all social networks and the tendency of these networks towards collective action, based on common values, shared interests, trust, and reciprocity within the community, for their own benefit. The hazards literature however, does not discuss a fundamental aspect of social capital formation, which is that social capital is created unequally among communities. This research argues that while social capital can help to conceptualize community-based recovery efforts, at the same time it is important to understand how social capital is produced or mobilized among communities. The study shows that wealthy homeowner communities in Bhuj and Bachhau, with strong socio-economic networks since prior to the earthquake, were able to mobilize and use their social capital following the earthquake. In contrast, among poorer communities with a high percentage of low-income homeowners, renters, or squatters, social capital often suffered from a lack of critical networks and could not be adequately mobilized to generate resources for housing recovery. The dissertation suggests, that understanding this process is an integral aspect of using social capital as a framework to examine community-based initiatives for post-disaster housing recovery. An approach that cannot explain the difference in social capital mobilization and use among communities can lead to policies and programs that ignore socio-economic capacity differences among communities while crafting housing recovery programs.

The significance of this project also lies within its larger empirical scope. The study expects to contribute to future public policy debates on post-disaster housing recovery, in India and beyond, by providing a deeper understanding of the impact of government policies, NGO interventions, external funding from organizations like World Bank, and community resources, on housing recovery outcomes.


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