After a disaster, demolition is key to economic recovery

In urban development projects, or the so-called “brownfields redevelopment” projects, the demolition costs for unusable buildings is always calculated into the development costs.  It remains perfectly unclear to me why the majority of donors exclude demolition from reconstruction projects after disasters.

Probably demolition is seen as something destructive which nobody wants to be involved in. Instead, demolition after a disaster should be seen as a boost for economic recovery.

In Guiuan, Province of Eastern Samar, Philippines, the City Hall was heavily damaged by the super-typhoon Yolanda in October 2013. The roof structure was prone to collapse and a significant part of the superstructure was so unstable that the next typhoon or earthquake might have caused the whole building to collapse.

Guiuan City Hall after Yolanda, 2013

After the typhoon, the city administration staff had moved their offices to tents and containers, to avoid the risk of working in an unsafe building, and to maintain  public services and governmental functions.

The Municipality of Guiuan had received funding of > 40m PHP (approximately 900,000 US$) from the national government to build a new City Hall, but it lacked the funds to demolish the old building. Demolition ‒ as nearly always ‒ had not been included in the reconstruction funds, even though demolition was paramount to build the new City Hall at the same spot.

This is where our team came in, the disaster waste management team of the United Nations Development Programme of the Philippines. Our team ran a programme to demolish structurally unsafe buildings constituting a public health and safety hazard. We set up a plan to demolish the old City Hall, involving

  • 30 Cash for Work staff to remove all reusable and recyclable materials from the building and segregate them (costs ~250,000 PHP or ~ 5,600 US$) for reuse or recycling,
  • two excavators for demolition (costs ~660,000 PHP or ~15,000 US$).

With an investment of little more than 20,000 US$, our demolition team enabled the local government to build the new City Hall, starting with the construction within days after successful demolition. The 900,000 US$ in construction costs to be spent by the Municipality directly benefited the local and regional construction, service and trade industry.

The construction site of Guiuan’s new city hall


Without our intervention, the Municipality would have been forced to continue working in tents and containers, and the investment in a new building would have been delayed indefinitely.

For us this meant removing only a relatively small building, but after its demolition the Municipality provided a significant contribution to the recovery of local economy and livelihoods after the disaster.