Recap: Monthly discussion with Dr. Yenny Rahmayati

Who doesn’t recall the shocking images of tsunami waves crashing into the western coastline of Aceh? On December 26, 2004, one of the largest natural disasters in the history of Aceh caused a tremendous loss in human lives and severe damage to livelihood, environment and infrastructure. The effect on housing and settlement rendered 20% of the surviving Acehnese population homeless, leaving up to 140,000 homes severely damaged or destroyed. More than a decade after the tsunami, the most northern province of Sumatra has slowly been rebuild. For our monthly discussion, we reflected on post-disaster housing reconstruction in Aceh under the guidance of Dr. Yenny Rahmayati, postdoctoral research fellow at Swinburne University in Melbourne.

While Dr. Yenny Rahmayati has received her Master’s degree in Sustainable Heritage Development and Management at the Australian National University and conducted her PhD at the National University of Singapore, her personal background is strongly rooted in the province of Aceh. Born and raised in this special region of Indonesia, the bitter fate of Aceh as closest point to the epicenter of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 moved her to focus on the build-up period of the disaster-stricken province as a central topic in her studies. With a background in architecture and profound working experience with several international aid agencies and non-profit organisations such as the UN and World Bank, her academic work has focused on social and cultural factors in post-disaster housing reconstruction, using Aceh post-tsunami housing as a case study.

For our monthly discussion, Dr. Rahmayati introduced us to her research for which she evaluated the socio-cultural impacts caused by modified spatial arrangements of newly constructed houses. She combined on the spot observations of 18 case study houses together with in-depth interviews with homeowners, reviewing the post-disaster transformation of Acehnese houses based on six categories of new housing built by different donors. While most agencies used a top-down approach, a Jakarta based grassroots NGO provided the option of do-it-yourself design by the beneficiaries. Dr. Rahmayati argued that while the DIY housing tends to impact the cultural and social practices less, her results show that all case study houses became smaller with changed house plans and fewer rooms. For most houses, post-disaster reconstruction had a serious impact on family and social practices, mostly because some important rooms such as the kitchen and veranda were too small or disappeared from the house plan.

Together, we talked about the great importance for post-disaster housing reconstruction actors to be aware of the social and cultural factors for housing design and planning. As Dr. Rahmayati’s research has shown, post-disaster housing did not satisfy Acehnese family needs, which caused disruptions in daily practices on a large scale. We learned from Dr. Rahmayati that it is necessary to build a synergy between the local community and the planners by involving social scientists to assist in translating social and cultural needs into better designed post-disaster housing. We hope that Dr. Rahmayati’s case study will serve as a lesson learned for addressing social and cultural needs, as well as the role of the women in post-disaster housing planning. In that way, the rebuilding of Aceh could act as a guide for post disaster housing construction in regions that are prone to disaster all over the world.

Follow this link to learn more about Dr. Rahmayati’s work.

Source: Rahmayati, Y. ( 2016)
“Post-disaster housing: Translating socio-cultural findings into usable design technical inputs”, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 17, pp. 173-184

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