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Resilience Building Against Natural Disasters in the Caribbean Proposal

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Updated: Jul 31st, 2021


The Caribbean has undergone several severe natural disasters that have severely damaged the infrastructure of the region and impacted people’s lives.

Most notably, Hurricane Irma, which occurred in 2017 and severely damaged the British Virginia Islands, is a case study that illustrates the need to address the issue of resilience to natural disasters. As highlighted by Munoz and Otker (2018), the climate change that affects water temperature increases the risk of hurricanes and requires policies that strengthen the infrastructure and provide insurance to the people living on these islands. The Irma hurricane was a Cape Verde Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which implies catastrophic damages.

The destruction that emerged after the hurricane suggests the need to evaluate the existing construction strategies used in the British Virgin Islands and determine the level of resilience to natural disasters that they provide. According to Cangialosi, Latto, and Berg (2018) and the Caribbean Development Bank (2018), four people died as a result of this incidence, and the overall damage of the islands’ property is estimated at Β£2.78 billion.

Firstly, this resulted in the economic contraction in the region since the damage is equal to the estimate of three and a half times the worth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the British Virginian Islands. Cangialosi et al. (2018, p. 14) state that “numerous reports of collapsed homes, businesses, and power lines were reported,” including critical public establishments, such as fire stations or hospitals. Therefore, the current methods of construction and materials used in the British Virgin Islands are not suitable for withstanding severe natural conditions and protecting people.

Arguably, the destruction caused by the Irma hurricane and the implications of climate change suggests that this region will be subjected to other natural disasters in the future. According to the Lancet Planetary Health, “a warmer world makes hurricanes nastier and wetter, giving them more energy and greater intensity” (Hurricanes and architecture: adaptation to the destruction, 2018, p. 414).

Hence, the reason for selecting this topic is the need to examine the issue of construction methods and materials, which can be employed in the Caribbean to ensure resilience against natural disasters. Additionally, this research will help one examine products that can impend storms and develop an action plan that will help mitigate the damage to property and life threat to the people living in the Caribbean.

The objectives of this research are the need to investigate the current practices of construction in the British Virgin Islands to determine the levels of resilience that the buildings in the region have. Additionally, this research aims to review the existing evidence, best practices and create a list of materials, which can be used when building houses resistant to hurricanes. Different construction methods may provide different levels of resilience. Next, it is anticipated that through this research, various products that can help withstand storms that often occur in the Caribbean will be introduced. Finally, A preparedness plan for protecting people and structures subjected to the impact of the storm will be developed.

Literature Review

The theoretical framework for this assignment is based on the idea that new materials can be introduced to the global market that can help withstand the storms. This is based on different construction concepts suggesting in disaster-prone areas, methods such as elevation or employing reusable materials that can be easily replaced can help address the problem of natural disaster resilience. Firstly, from the perspective of architecture, building homes and other buildings in areas subjected to the impact of natural disasters should consider the safety implications in case of an emergency.

The editorial article by the Lancet Planetary Health (2018) suggests that people should adopt new strategies they can use when constructing and building houses, in accordance with the increased frequency of hurricanes caused by climate change. The main factors are resistance to floods and wind resilience. One example is homes designed by Patrick Marsilli and titled Solaleya, which have a spherical shape and can resist even the most severe hurricanes. In the context of the British Virgin Islands, it is anticipated that this research will help understand the impact of the hurricane on the people living in low and high areas, helping improve the resilience techniques.

Next, it is necessary to incorporate literature that will help understand the history of architecture and specifics of its development in the region of the British Virgin Islands. To understand the history of architecture in the Caribbean, one must review the historical evidence about the development of these territories. In essence, one can argue that this territory is a melting pot of different styles and approaches. According to Nitzki-George et al. (2018), it is the reflection of the various cultural groups and people with diverse ethnic backgrounds who lived in this area, including the Dutch, French, and British colonies. Mainly, these are narrow buildings with features that reflect Victorian or Georgian features.

Defining the concept of resilience is crucial for this research since it will help develop a cohesive preparedness plan. English, Friedland, and Orooji (2017) argue that one should pay attention to resilience building not only due to extreme weather conditions, which result in severe damage of properly, for instance, hurricanes, but also consider the impact of smaller events, such as strong winds that often occur in hurricane-prone regions.

The static elevation is also cited by Esteky, Winman, and Wooten (2017) as they argue that elevation of buildings in relation to the street level is not always the best practice, although it is commonly used to avoid floods, because it impacts the behavior of the people. One risk of this strategy is the fact that it can increase the wind vulnerability of the structure. Hence, as shown by these articles, the definition of resilience as a concept differs, and different approaches to it may result in the impairment of people’s daily lives.

The inconsistency of current guidelines and recommendations provided to people living in areas where natural disasters often occur is a significant issue because by addressing the problem of hurricanes, the buildings become less resilient to strong winds, which can also lead to substantial damage to property. Both English, Friedland, and Orooji (2017) cite the fact that permanent elevation leads to difficulties with accessing the housing areas for the people living in these buildings. Novel approaches to construction and new materials can help improve the area’s readiness for future natural disasters.

English, Friedland, and Orooji (2017) suggest using amphibious constructions and developing guidelines that emphasize this approach to architecture. In essence, amphibious buildings are similar to regular houses. However, when a flood occurs, they can be risen to float above the water. Hence, developing a comprehensive guide for construction in areas prone to hurricane impact is a necessity.

Next, implications for the readiness plan and introduction of the new materials will be examined using the following books. Moore (2016) speculates on the topic of the architectural future in regard to an increased number of natural disasters that will probably occur. He introduces the concept of metabolic architecture in this context, which implies the growth of architectural cites similar to the development of biological structures.

The cities are constructed in the form of one megastructure, where all elements are connected to one another. Although the concept was first introduced in 1959 in Japan, Moore (2016) argues that it is applicable today and that building structures that leverage reusable materials and use material dependency can help combat disasters. The author compares the architectural design to the process of metabolism, which would mean that in areas such as the British Virgin Islands, houses are constructed in a way that allows people to easily change different parts of the construction, in case of an emergency.

The quality of the housing and its resilience to the natural conditions are often overlooked. Shaw et al. (2016) discuss the issue of urban disasters, arguing that regions that experience a rapid expansion face serious dangers. This book will help design the questions for the interviews because it is vital to understand under which circumstances houses in the Caribbean are usually building, and is enough attention is dedicated to ensuring that those are safe. In this context, Shaw et al. (2016) argue that vulnerable populations face a significant risk since their housing is likely to be built using materials that do not correspond with the safety standards. The authors argue that the current population trends suggest that the poor migrate from rural sights to the cities and often inhabit the most disaster-prone areas.

In the case of the Caribbean islands, it is evident that the social purpose of architecture is to ensure that people have safe places where they can hide during hurricanes, similar to Irma. The book by Togal et al. (2018) contributes to the research because it discusses the topic of resilient urban architecture in depth. In addition, Chapter 4 contains an interview with a person working on developing best practices for resilience. This helps structures the interviews that will be conducted as part of the research and improve the comprehension of architecture. In the book, the concept of resilience is reviewed in-depth, which helps improve the scope of this paper. The authors argue that this term can have varied definitions, including constructing buildings that address a societal purpose.

In general, the reviewed literature suggests that architects should approach construction in different regions differently, considering the possible threats. Merrill and Giamarelos (2019) help broaden the understanding of architecture resilience, as the author argues that the primary meaning behind this concept is the ability to withstand natural conditions. In addition, the massive destruction within the British Virgin Islands suggests that readiness plans should be developed to ensure that people can address the destruction. According to Merrill and Giamarelos (2019, p. 7), “originally developed in the ecological circles of the 1970s that pursued critical alternatives to the modernist worldview, the concept of ‘resilience’ has pervaded 21st-century thought, from psychology to political theory, and from planning to architecture.”

The authors suggest that proper resilience architecture has specific benchmarks set to withstand a catastrophe. Merrill and Giamarelos (2019) argue that the first historical mention of resilience was the one about Theseus’s ship, which was preserved for extended periods of time because people took old timbers and replaced them over time. Hence, this suggestion can be used to better design buildings and chosen materials, which can be easily replaced. Sources identified for further reading include works by Coaffee (2016), Grove (2018), Abramson (2016), Nucera (2016), McGreavy (2015), and Zolnikov (2017).

Research Methodology

The main aim of this research is to investigate the impact of the hurricane on people living in different areas of the Caribbean, especially those living in high and low areas, which will be achieved through interviews and questionnaires. The hypothesis is that by examining the best practices of construction reflected in the literature and discussing the impact of Hurricane Irma on its victims, the researchers will be able to locate inconsistencies within the current practices and levels of resilience used within the British Virgin Islands. Another estimation is that there is a significant difference in the effect that hurricanes and other natural disasters have on building in high and low areas; understanding it can help design a comprehensive preparedness plan.

The interviews and questionnaires were chosen as a methodology for this research because, despite a lot of information available from governmental and non-governmental organizations regarding the destructive consequences of the Irma hurricane, it is unclear how this disaster affected the day-to-day life of the people. Moreover, it is unclear how they restored their homes and what strategies they used to minimize damage in case a similar disaster would happen in the future. Hence, by having a direct dialog with these people, it is possible to comprehend their experience and gain a better comprehension of the distraction and suitability of different resilience methods, including specific materials.

Hence, the research will focus on a structured review of the published scholarly articles that present materials that can be used in construction in areas prone to hurricanes. The sampling should also incorporate people of different socioeconomic backgrounds since the literature review suggests that some populations are more likely to inhabit areas that are often subjected to the impact of natural disasters. The participants will be recruited through media sources, which will help attract attention to this research and its primary purpose.

The ethical issues connected to this research are connected to the need not to disclose the identities of the people who will be interviewed. Hence, this research will employ methods that will help ensure the confidentiality of subjects if they choose to withhold personal information, such as age, name, or area of residence (Understanding confidentiality and Anonymity, n.d.). Appendix A presents the Ethics Checklist that will be used when working on this project.

The research plan incorporates gathering relevant information, designing interviews and questionnaires, choosing the distributing and sampling methods, recruiting subjects, and collecting data. The observation stage will encompass a large portion of this research because it is necessary to evaluate the damage and the current approaches to choosing materials and constructing houses in the region. To conduct this research, one must examine the existing materials and construction methods that are currently used in the Caribbean region and identify their main flaws.

Next, it is vital to conduct research that helps one locate innovational materials and design approaches, which can be used for resilience building. In this regard, it is necessary to consider the variables of usability and level of protection from storms since the literature review highlights that many conventional protection methods, such as elevation, in fact, have many downsides and impair the day-to-day life of the people.

To locate evidence on the existing materials, which can be used to build hurricane-resistant structures, scholarly databases will be examined. In the validation phase of this project, it is necessary to examine all the data collected, including the responses from the interviews and scholarly work on the topic of natural disasters resilience, and make conclusions based on the objectives of this research, including current resilience practices, new materials that can be introduced to the market, and preparedness plan.

The restrictions and limitations are connected to the lack of well-developed practices and the mass production of materials, which can be used to resist the storm. In this regard, the testability of materials to resistance in real-life conditions is also limited. However, in regards to the research method that was chosen, no evident restrictions and limitations that would obstruct interviewing and analysis of the collected data are anticipated.

Overall, it is evident that hurricane Irma affected the British Virgin Islands and raised a question of resilience to natural disasters, which will be addressed in this research. The research method will include interviews and questionnaires distributed to the victims of Hurricane Irma. The sampling method will include selecting subjects who were at least eighteen years old at the time of the hurricane, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, living in different zones of the British Virgin Islands. The main focus is on the difference in how people and buildings living and situated in high and low areas were impacted. The ethical considerations revolve around the need to preserve the identity of the people who will be interviewed and not disclose any information that can be sensitive to the victims of the hurricane.

Reference List

Abramson, D. (2016) Obsolescence: an architectural history. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cangialosi, J., Latto, A., and Berg, R. (2018) . Web.

Caribbean Development Bank. (2018) Country economic review 2017 – British Virgin Islands. Web.

Coaffee, J. (2016) Urban resilience: planning for risk, crisis, and uncertainty. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

. (n.d.) Web.

English, E. C., Friedland, C. J. and Orooji, F. (2017) ‘Combined flood and wind mitigation for hurricane damage prevention: case for amphibious construction’, Journal of Structural Engineering, 143(6), pp. 1-12.

Esteky, S., Winman, D. and Wooten, J. D. (2017) ‘The influence of physical elevation in buildings on risk preferences: evidence from a pilot and four field studies’, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 28(3), pp. 2-8.

Grove, K. (2018) Resilience. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

‘Hurricanes and architecture: adaptation to the destruction’ (2018) The Lancet Planetary Health, 2(5), p. 414.

Nitzki-George, D., et al. (2018) ‘Dealing with the unexpected during and after Hurricane Irma’, American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 75(4), pp.170-171.

Nucera, F. (2016) ‘Model of resilience for the cultural heritage in Umbria: the earthquake of 1997’, Atti dei Convegni Lincei, 306, pp. 109–125.

McGreavy, B. (2015) ‘Resilience as discourse’, Journal: Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 10, pp. 104–121.

Merrill, E. M., and Giamarelos, S. (2019) ‘From the Pantheon to the Anthropocene: introducing resilience in architectural history’, Architectural Histories, 7(1), p. 7.

Munoz, S. and Otker, I. (2018) . Web.

Shaw, R. et al. (2016) Urban disasters and resilience in Asia. Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Trogal, K. (eds.) (2018) Architecture and resilience: interdisciplinary dialogues.Oxon, Oxon: Routledge.

(n.d.) Web.

Zolnikov, T. R. (2017) ‘A humanitarian crisis: lessons learned from hurricane Irma’, American Journal of Public Health, 108(1), pp. 27-28.

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