We are at a crossroads where the rhetoric is hitting the pavement in the humanitarian construction world. The Sendai Framework’s strategy of “Build Back Better” (followed closely by “Build Back Safer” from Humanitarian practitioners) collides with the realities of the humanitarian construction world and it is accountability that’s at stake. The modern world’s access to the internet and the globalization of information-sharing means that poorly executed construction projects cannot escape scrutiny, and why should they? With scarce donor money and the lives and livelihoods of the stakeholders on the line, it has never been more important to make sure that construction projects in humanitarian settings are held to professional standards.
What is the Construction Good Practice Standards (CGPS) and how will it help? The CGPS 2021 is a ‘common set of standards for the responsible delivery of construction projects in humanitarian settings’. The CGPS seeks to improve accountability and professionalism in the humanitarian construction world. The CGPS takes a holistic approach to the entire project lifecycle with standards that focus on safety, proper engineering / design, the environment, maintenance and community/stakeholder engagement.
Shane Copp, a professional engineer and experienced Shelter and Settlements adviser, says, “I have seen many building projects, executed by NGOs and international organizations, that are blatantly not meeting building codes, safety and accessibility standards. Furthermore, the enforcement of codes and standards and the approval of design and construction work by the regulatory bodies in said countries is often inadequate. The combination of poor design, construction and oversight means that the work ends up substandard and could pose a danger to public safety. The CGPS provides quality and performance standards that are intended to prevent poor design, enable technical oversight to help produce safe construction based on a commonly agreed approach.”
Construction projects that fail due to preventable design errors and omissions can not only injure and kill people, they can also shorten the effective life of the project. In addition, poorly designed buildings will have reduced functionality, increased repair and maintenance costs and decreased efficiency. Priority 4 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) outlines the imperative for the humanitarian and development communities to implement a risk-based approach to critical infrastructure.
Shane believes that the issue is endemic in the humanitarian construction community mainly because of the lack of ‘in-house’ construction professionals, particularly engineers, in decision-making roles.
“Very often non-technical staff are tasked with planning and executing construction projects, or making technical decisions without the input or guidance of technical construction professionals (engineers, architects, etc.). Technical expertise, and the funding required for this essential capacity, should be embedded into the organization’s standard operating procedures for construction projects.“
He went on to explain that the root of the problem is when construction projects are funded and planned by donors and implementing partners not experienced in construction. Projects without funding/time for key roles, tests, and responsibilities, planned by people without a full understanding of what needs to be done, can spell disaster for a construction project since critical items in the projects will be missed.
CGPS uptake in the humanitarian sphere
The uptake of the newly released CGPS 2021 by the humanitarian community is a start to saying ‘no’ to substandard construction and affirming its commitment to building back better and safer. Donors and organizations are adopting the CGPS as a part of their standards or requiring the CGPS as a condition for funding.
Elizabeth Palmer, Global Construction Lead for Save the Children (SCI) has been rolling out and embedding Construction Policy and Standards within SCI Country Offices with incredibly positive results.
“In SCI, we have seen the immediate improvement to site safety and safe construction practices, with enhanced resilience, maintenance planning and DRR in designs. Technical staffing for the planning, design and supervision of construction projects has also improved due to the advocacy for funding and capacity building of staff. At a time of increased trends of natural disaster and growing concern over the ability of infrastructure to withstand future shock, it is an obligation of all actors to prioritise life safety and resilience. I believe that agencies who are implementing construction projects can benefit from the CGPS, not only with the direct benefit of improved quality and safety, but also for the overall reputation of the agency and strengthening this sector as a whole.”
Chiara Vaccaro, Global Shelter and Settlement Sector Lead for Danish Refugee Council reinforces the need for the standard and its adoption in the humanitarian community, “... to help with the safety and security of our stakeholders and to maximize the value of the donor money. If we aren’t there to do the project well and set the example, then why are we there?”
Development and Humanitarian organizations who are interested in learning more can download the PDF of the Construction Good Practice Standards for free from the website*. An introductory module is available on Disaster Ready, and a community of practice has been established with the support of the Global Shelter Cluster.
You can also view the Disaster Ready Construction Good Practice Standards module here.