Rebuilding Communities through Disaster Response

“The KATYE project was much more than removing tons of rubble, repairing or building shelters, and providing clean water and other basic infrastructure. Working alongside the people who live in the community, we rebuilt a neighborhood.”

– Kenneth H. Merten, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti (2009-2012)


When disaster strikes, it is the most vulnerable populations who are hardest hit. Homes lost. Businesses ruined. Lives taken too soon. The devastation caused by these emergencies has lasting effects on families – their health, safety, livelihoods, access to clean water and sanitation, food and housing.

After a disaster, it may take weeks for basic services such as electricity and water to become functional. People become displaced and are searching for loved ones, while roads may be blocked, making it difficult to get aid into hard-to-reach places.

That critical time period offers disaster relief organizations the opportunity to not only assist with the immediate needs, but to also help communities identify vulnerabilities and strengthen resilience for future emergencies. Disaster resilience, when done with expertise and foresight, can reduce recovery and rebuilding costs of the next crisis and reduce the impact on human lives.

PCI’s Approach

PCI’s responses to humanitarian crises are built on the understanding that effective emergency response not only requires utilizing lessons learned, best practices, and normative principles of the broader field of humanitarian assistance, but also a rigorous understanding of the local context, and the underlying factors associated with vulnerability. PCI believes that even emergency responses mobilized with the best of intentions, when not based on rigorous, integrated assessment of the local context, can have unintended negative consequences on local capacity to recover from crises and rebuild stronger, more resilient communities. For this reason, PCI’s emergency response objective is to not only save lives and meet immediate needs, but be accountable for laying a foundation for recovery and longer-term resilience.

doctor examining child

PCI’s Activities

PCI’s Humanitarian Assistance programs work across many sectors to meet these life-saving and longer-term resilience objectives. This includes the areas of: 

Food and Nutrition Security— such as addressing crop and animal disease, reinforcing agricultural productivity and livestock management practices, and promoting better nutrition through small scale agriculture in emergency contexts. 

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene— such as increasing access to clean water and sanitation in emergencies; building local capacity to repair and upgrade wells and sanitation systems; developing innovative sanitation systems in high risk informal urban environments; and generating rain water harvesting strategies in drought prone areas, for example.

Health and Infectious Disease— through providing direct health services and health system strengthening in crises, and responding together with local counterparts to address outbreaks of disease, such as Ebola and Cholera.

Reinforcing Livelihoods and Coping Mechanisms—  such as by helping communities recover livelihood activities in emergencies, diversifying livelihoods in areas of chronic vulnerability to economic shocks and stresses, and working with private partners to increase access to financial services and decrease economic exploitation.

Shelter, Settlements and Housing— providing rapid shelter solutions in the wake of disasters, as well as helping communities to rebuild and repair homes and safer, healthier, and more prosperous neighborhoods.

Protection of Vulnerable Populations— such as through reinforcing the safety, security, health and livelihoods of youth, women, the elderly and disabled in disasters and in dangerous urban informal settlements, for example.

How can you help?

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In the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, PCI made an organizational commitment to develop new, innovative approaches to respond to complex urban disasters in a way that not only saves lives and livelihoods, but facilitates the rebuilding of safer, healthier and more prosperous neighborhoods. This approach, often referred to as the “Neighborhood Approach,” has been utilized by many agencies to respond to urban crises. Additionally, in partnership with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, PCI is now writing manuals for the field of humanitarian assistance on the methodology.  

PCI has since utilized the Neighborhood Approach to develop a unique capacity to reduce vulnerability to urban disasters and upgrade informal high-risk settlements into safe, healthy, and more prosperous neighborhoods. The organization works with local private companies, government agencies, NGOs, universities, and communities to tackle a broad range of challenges posed by urban informal settlements. These challenges include the ability to retrofit unsafe homes and build community mitigation infrastructure in existing settlements; the creation of financial products that help the urban poor afford safer houses; the design of urban water and sanitation systems; and the use of tailored strategies to reinforce the social and economic empowerment of women in high risk settlements. PCI’s Neighborhood Approach was recently adopted by the Government of Guatemala as a core part of its national policy for addressing urban upgrading and resilience.

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