vballano / July 3, 2018

Why Do Post-Disaster Projects Fail?

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One of the important stages in disaster management is post-disaster recovery. What happens after a major disaster or calamity? How should post-disaster projects be conceived and implemented by the government, stakeholders, and organizations? What are the primary factors that can cause failure or success of post-disaster recovery projects? Can plurality of laws and informal norms affect the success of post-disaster projects, especially in the Philippines?

What is a  Post-Disaster Project?

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A project can be defined as a “large or important item of work, involving considerable expense, personnel, and equipment, a one-time endeavor with a specific result or end-state envisioned (Kerzner, 2003; Benator and Thumann, 2003), with a proper plan (Dhillon 2002)” (as cited in Ismael et. al, 2014). A PDR project is often participated by a variety of stakeholders, agencies, and individuals. Thus, to ensure that decisions and participation of the various agencies and stakeholders are in accordance with goals of the PDR program, the project management approach is usually employed in managing many post-disaster humanitarian relief and recovery projects (LaBrosse, 2007). The management approach usually determines a project’s “success” in terms of scope, time, and cost. Project management literature suggests that project success revolves around planning, defined goals and objectives, top management support and financial support (Marchewka, 2006; Hughes and Cotterell, 2006). Most PDR projects which apply the management approach also recognized these factors as a key “areas of success.”

Inadequate or Lack of Planning 

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Planning is said to be crucial to PDR project “success.” The most common attribution of failures of PDRs is the lack of proper planning. Disaster planning is said to be important as an effective human intervention in achieving sustainable community development when confronted with natural disasters (Ge, Gu, and Deng, 2010). In particular, recovery and reconstruction planning as an important component of disaster management systems represents a comprehensive response and proactive adjustment in disaster recovery (Turner, et al., 2003). Specifically, the power of pre-event planning is also considered as crucial to the “success” and “failure” of a PDR project. “The literature shows that such planning improves outcomes at the local level (Oliver-Smith, 1990; Berke, Kartez, and Wenger, 1993; Berke and Beatley, 1997; Schwab, Topping, Eadie, Deyle, and Smith, 1998). To some scholars, careful planning, as well as implementation, are highly important for the “success” of post-disaster reconstruction. They argued that PDRs should be well defined, planned, and implemented in stages (Roosli, Vebry, Mydin, & Ismail, 2012) and their existing tools or new tools must be adapted to attain their goals; otherwise, further vulnerabilities in a disaster-affected community can occur (Chang, Wilkinson, Potangaroa, & Seville, 2010b).

Lack of Participation of the Beneficiaries

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Another area which is crucial to the “success” of PDR projects is the participation of the beneficiaries in the planning and implementation of the programs (e.g. Scott, Ed, 2003) and effective project management (Baroudi & Rapp, 2010). In fact, community involvement is usually a compulsory component for the funded organizations (Davidson et al., 2006, p.2) to stress that beneficiaries’ participation is crucial to the “success” of any PDR program. Thus, Oliver-Smith (1991), presenting case study materials on the problem of resettlement of population after disaster in Turkey, Iran, and Peru, argued that public participation, aside from the appropriateness of the site, layout, and housing of the relocation, are crucial for the “success” of post-disaster resettlement projects. The public input in terms of communal involvement is said to be an important component of a “successful” PDR project. Moreover, an effective project management can also be crucial for the “success” of PDRs. Poor management can lead to disastrous effects to PDR projects. But an effective project management plays a significant role to ensure a successful completion of reconstruction projects (Baroudi & Rapp, 2010; Hidayat & Egbu, 2010). Munns & Bjeirmi (1996), for instance, stressed that effective project management techniques would contribute to the achievement of the goals of projects (Ismail et al., 2005).

Inadequate Environment and Lack of Jobs


Other scholars point to the adequacy of the physical environment for disaster victims, the proximity of the relocation to urban jobs and livelihood, and empowerment and independence of beneficiaries from settlement agencies as crucial in success factors. Coburn and others (1984), for instance, identified the physical environment of the new settlement, relationship to the old village, and capacity of the community to develop itself as factors crucial in determining the success or failure of a resettlement project. Most beneficiaries, especially those from urban areas, returned to their old location to resume their informal jobs and livelihood if the resettlement area is remote and far from livelihood opportunities. Thus, in-city relocation would more likely result in successful resettlement than out-city relocation. In Japan, for instance, Imura and Shaw (2009) noted that in the Iwate prefecture of Japan after a tsunami, the village people were relocated to the mountainside but soon returned to their previous location to resume their livelihood in fisheries. Other studies also pointed out greater autonomy and empowerment of the relocated beneficiaries as crucial for the success of PDR projects. Michael (1988) argued that successful resettlement schemes should result in a transfer of responsibility from settlement agencies to the settlers themselves.

Lack of Institutional Arrangement, Coordination, and Collaboration


Finally, some authors used a multivariate approach to identify the “success” factors in PDR projects. Moe & Pathranarakul (2006), for instance, in their case study of a post-disaster reconstruction project in Thailand, considered the following factors as areas for success and failures: effective institutional arrangement; coordination and collaboration; supportive laws and regulations: effective information management system; competencies of managers and team members; effective consultation with key stakeholders and target beneficiaries; effective communication mechanism; clearly defined goals and commitments by key stakeholders; effective logistics management; and sufficient mobilization and disbursement of resources (Moe & Pathranarakul, 2006). A case study of Kim and Choi (2013) on flood rebuild projects also used multivariate approach and identified five factors as critical for the success and failure of a government PDR: clear project execution plan; improvement in design management; enhancement of coordination at the plan–design-construction interface; elimination of vicious cycle for improving project performance; and rapid evaluation of contractor’s qualification.


Although community participation, proper planning and implementation and other factors are crucial for the “success” of PDR projects and maybe considered as proximate cause, they are not, however, the ultimate cause and sufficient to account for the inadequacies and numerous negative unintended effects that occurred to a government-initiated post-disaster housing and relocation in the Philippines. All projects and their social contexts are different. Thus, the success criteria must be determined for each project rather than just using a standard set of success criteria (Cooke-Davies, 2002).

Plurality of Legal and Social Norms 


Disasters are often treated as external to the law in project management. And yet social processes in disaster mitigation, response, and recovery include mobilization of law by people and organizations (Sterett, 2013). Disasters as social phenomena are embedded in both legal and nonlegal normative orders. And government disaster projects are particularly juridified and are usually embedded in multiple organizational contexts (Sydow et. al, 2004). Thus, the conceptualizations of the success criteria for government post-disaster projects must take into account the multilevel and legal and bureaucratic nature of a resettlement project as well as the plurality of informal norms that surround the official laws during the implementation phase. National and local governments with their multiple networks of stakeholders such as public and private agencies, non-profit organizations, community groups, and individuals can create numerous unintended consequences. This plurality of participating groups in the project can lead to stakeholder issues (Baroudi & Rapp, 2014; Haigh & Sutton, 2012; Walker et al., 2014), resource challenges (Chang et al., 2010; 2012), capability issues (Crawford et al., 2012), long-term reliability concerns (Hayes & Hammons, 2000), coordination issues (Drabek, 1985; Drabek & McEntire, 2002; Quarantelli, 2000) and even corruption issues (World Bank, 2013).

Effects of Graft, Red Tape, and Normative Pluralism to PDRs: The Philippine Case


In a highly complex, graft-ridden, and bureaucratic real estate regulatory system such as that of the Philippines, the quantity and multiplicity of laws, rules and informal normative orders for the enforcement a PDR project are crucial in the success criteria of government projects. Legal pluralism and lack of coordination mechanism for actors and organizations in the shelter sector can create regulatory barriers to providing emergency and transitional shelter after disasters (IFRC, 2015). It is undeniable fact that public projects such as PDRs must follow strictly the multiple national and local legal provisions and their implementing rules and regulations (IRRs); otherwise, they can be nullified by the courts and the legal officers, and their private collaborators involved in illegalities can be prosecuted for violations of the articles of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. 3019). But laws, policies and institutional arrangements for disaster management are significantly shaped by the Philippines’ highly decentralized governance system in the country as prescribed by the 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code of  Norms Affecting Success in PDRs1991 (Sherwood et al., 2015). And in the absence of a “one stop” disaster management agency and a coherent set of laws or Magna Carta on disaster management in the Philippines, negative unintended consequences to a PDR project can happen. Thus, the simplicity and cohesiveness of laws and informal norms in the recovery projects and their legal and nonlegal normative systems can be crucial in determining the “success” and “failure” of government PDR projects.


Normative pluralism, both in the legal and non-legal normative orders, can produce hybrid or mixed normative environments which can result in multiple unintended deviations from original objectives of the PDR project. Moreover, pluralistic and bureaucratic normative structures in government disaster recovery program do not only lead to delay and higher cost to PDR projects but also encourage managers to behave unethically in project implementation resulting in more negative impacts to project’s outcome. In an environment of legal pluralism, the “Rule of Law” with its checks or balances is said to erode, and the accountability of public officers become problematic (Grenfell, 2006). When government rules and regulations for business are complex and highly bureaucratic, individuals and groups can resort to informal channels and offer grease money and similar dishonest dealings to expedite transactions (Ballesteros, 2000). Once corrupt patterns are established, they tend to perpetuate to avoid uncertainty (Seleim and Bontis, 2009; Getz and Volkema, 2001). No less than the World Bank acknowledged the negative consequences of corruption to PDR projects (World Bank, 2013).


The Philippines is known for corruption, red tape, delays, and complex bureaucratic requirements in doing business in the country (Ballano, 2016), particularly about housing and real estate transactions such as the establishment of a housing and relocation projects (Valte, 2000). Heavy, costly, and complex bureaucratic burdens in business often breed corruption. Thus, the Philippines is consistently among the most corrupt countries in the world with high corruption index in government transactions and projects according to the Transparency International (TI) annual surveys. The World Bank underscores corruption as a major obstacle to the implementation of PDR projects. Thus, the Philippines, with its high level of corruption in real estate projects due to bureaucratic burdens, plurality of PDR agencies, organizations, and groups, as well as pluralism in normative systems that implement PDR project illustrates a unique case in understanding “success” factors in public post-disaster housing projects.

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