Owner Driven Reconstruction: A Model for Nepal

Prepared by: Amy Leigh Johnson


Background and Concept

In the aftermath of natural disasters, homeowners face immense challenges to rebuild damaged homes and livelihoods. Over the last two decades, centralized donor-driven reconstruction programs that standardize home design and construction for large-scale implementation through contractors have been demonstrated to result in delayed home occupation and low homeowner satisfaction (Leerum and Arora 2011). Increasingly, Owner Driven Reconstruction (ODR) is identified as a dignified approach encouraging individual homeowners to implement safe building design and construction in natural disaster affected areas. ODR programs have informed reconstruction in post-earthquake Pakistan and Gujarat, as well as in post-tsunami Sri Lanka and Thailand. Three years after Pakistan’s earthquake in 2005, 300,000 homes out of a target of 400,000 homes had been constructed across a disbursed area of earthquake-affected households through a government-led Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) designed using an ODR framework (Jha and Duyne 2010: 96). Given the high number homes to be rebuilt and the scattered nature of earthquake-affected settlements, a decentralized ODR approach can be utilized as a set of principles guiding reconstruction in Nepal.


Owner Driven Reconstruction is a participatory model which places homeowners at the center of reconstruction, integrating homeowner’s decisions on home design and site selection for house construction with building techniques tailored to local environments and resilient to environmental hazards—in the case of Nepal, earthquakes, floods, landslides, and high winds. To expedite a well-informed and accelerated reconstruction process, ODR programs create contexts for homeowners to access building materials, finance construction, and receive technical assistance with home design and construction. The model of ODR sponsored by the World Bank and the ICRC, for example, uses cash incentives to encourage homeowners to complete home construction according to government-approved building codes, such that homeowners are rewarded for successfully applying earthquake-resistant technologies to their home construction. Representatives approved by the national government monitor the construction process to ensure that homes are built to code, while homeowners remain in control of the pace of construction, the organization of labor for construction, and, within limits, the home design. In the example of Kashmir and Uttarakhand, vernacular architecture was approved for inclusion in the ODR program, and thus local knowledge was validated rather than replaced during the reconstruction process (Abhiyan 2005; GoU 2013).  In response to the Gorkha Earthquake of April 25th 2015, ABARI is activating a two-part Owner Driven Reconstruction approach that facilitates homeowners to build environmentally conscious transitional shelters and permanent homes in earthquake affected districts.

ABARI’s vision for an Owner Driven Reconstruction approach incorporates vernacular Nepali architecture and construction practices with innovative methods in natural building, and corresponds with principles enshrined in Nepal’s national building codes. Since 1994, the Nepal Building Code 203 has provided guidelines for building safe low masonry construction homes sourced from local materials such as stone, earth, bamboo, and timber. While the Building Code was mandatory for government buildings constructed after 1994, and for all low masonry residential homes built in urban areas and municipalities, it was only a recommendation for building construction in rural Nepal. ABARI’s ODR program can help ensure that the building code is implemented in all permanent homes constructed through the program, expanding the reach of seismically safe construction practices throughout Nepal’s rural areas and preparing Nepali households for the inevitable next disaster.


Transitional Shelters

Immediately after the April 25th earthquake, Nepalis began building shelters. ABARI is currently partnered with NGOs and local government in Sindhupalchowk district assisting individuals to design and construct 3,600 transitional shelters that are low cost and which minimize the use of manufactured and imported materials. The temporary shelters constructed in consultation with ABARI engineers and architects incorporate up to 80% of salvageable materials from damaged homes (e.g. stone, brick, wood, bamboo, doors, door frames, and window frames) along with the two bundles of CGI sheets (jasta) distributed by the GoN for transitional shelter construction. Although no building code exists for the construction of a transitional shelter, ABARI has drafted several designs that can be modified to fit the needs and desires of individual households and local environments while preserving best building practices. These designs have been disseminated as open source “do it yourself” manuals through the ABARI website as well, widening the reach of ABARI’s vision of flexible homeowner driven reconstruction to sites beyond Sindhupalchowk. ABARI expects the process of constructing transitional shelters to last from 3-6 months.  

In the ABARI transitional shelter designs, the layouts, connections, partition walls, and material used for walls can all be adjusted to feature ideas valued by local people, empowering them to take charge of the reconstruction process. Some examples of design materials for walls encouraged by ABARI include random rubble masonry, thatch or leaf cover, bamboo weave, and wattle and daub. Additionally, homeowners are consulted on options for concrete, PVC pipe, or plastic foundations in accordance with local soil conditions. The temporary shelters ABARI has designed can last for up to two years and can easily be converted for other purposes, such as cattle sheds or storage houses, or dismantled to provide building materials for the eventual construction of permanent homes. In this manner, ABARI envisions an integrated transition between temporary shelters and the rebuilding of permanent homes and livelihoods.


Supporting Permanent Home Reconstruction through Community Facility Centers

Earthquakes are shown to shake people’s confidence in local technologies of home design and construction. In Nepal, the apparent seismic resilience of reinforced concrete structures in comparison to badly damaged stone and mud-constructed homes creates the potential for homeowners to forsake traditional building materials and traditional knowledge of home construction when building new permanent homes. Learning from the experience of Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority’s Owner Driven Reconstruction program, Nepal can introduce simple and effective methods to reinforce traditional Nepali architecture and construction. ABARI believes that these techniques can be disseminated throughout rural Nepal in tandem with new home construction, and aims to facilitate the continued use of local building materials and building practices during reconstruction.

As homeowners prepare to rebuild, however, ABARI recognizes that there will be differences in the time frames by which individual homeowners are able to begin and end home construction. This reality makes implementing a standardized house construction program inappropriate to local conditions. In order to be flexible to the individual needs of homeowners to plan and rebuild, and to reach a wide range of individuals from varied backgrounds across communities, ABARI is committed to a decentralized and diffuse approach to reconstructing sited at Community Facility Centers. 

ABARI envisions a series of public Community Facility Centers established in earthquake-affected districts which can offer vocational trainings in home construction and provide space for other services agreed upon by communities, for example temporary school classrooms. The Centers will be built in accordance with ABARI’s principles for environmentally conscious design and construction, demonstrating to communities how traditional, natural, buildings can incorporate contemporary technologies that enhance structural resilience to environmental hazards. These techniques will also be taught through vocational trainings in building adobe, stone, compressed earth, and rammed earth structures, as well as trainings on ways to integrate seismic reliant technologies into Nepali vernacular construction. Led by ABARI-trained engineers and local artisans, sthese recurring workshops can facilitate a great number of homeowners in earthquake affected areas to learn natural building construction, increasing the varieties of design and construction options for homeowners preparing to rebuild. Because power tools will be introduced in the training workshops, the opportunity for women to participate in housing construction will be enhanced—a program outcome that accelerates building of permanent homes since the trend of male outmigration has resulted in a lack of sufficient skilled human resources in earthquake affected districts. The training sessions in building construction will also diffuse knowledge about safe design and construction practices in rural regions of Nepal, making communities self-reliant and less dependent on outside technicians to assist in building resilient permanent homes.

Given the anticipated scale of housing construction and the cost of transporting materials, having pre-fabricated building materials on hand can greatly expedite homeowner’s individual efforts to rebuild. After receiving instruction from ABARI trainers, Community Facility Centers can serve as sites to produce bulk supplies of treated bamboo poles, bamboo panels, bamboo weave mats, clay tiles, and rammed earth blocks for use in local home construction. Resources used to make natural building materials will come from the local environment. Bamboo, for example, can be sourced from local Community Forests, and planting new stands of indigenous bamboo species can augment its population. As per the decision of communities, items manufactured at the Community Facility Center can be sold to homeowners, generating a potential source of revenue for communities. The use of natural building materials develops self-sufficiency in Nepali villages, enhancing the connections between local environments and local communities, lowering the need for imported construction materials, and vitalizing village economies.

Through training programs and the production of pre-fabricated natural building materials, ABARI believes the Community Facility Center model can introduce enterprises and skills amongst community members that both encourage homeowners to rebuild with confidence and provide knowledge valuable to individuals beyond the rebuilding process. As the home reconstruction process gradually concludes, the Community Facility Center can be transformed into a permanent community building with a new purpose—rice mill, cheese factory, weaving center, microcredit building—providing further economic and social benefits to earthquake-affected communities. The homes built through the Center can incorporate elements for increasing livelihood opportunities, such as extra rooms for homestays, space for animal husbandry, or facilities for dairies. The enterprises generated in the rebuilding process can be advertised on an online platform maintained by a staff member of the community center in order to entice tourism and sales. Through a versatile Community Facility Center model, ABARI aims to promote long-lasting livelihoods as a social infrastructure supporting the establishment of permanent homes.


Integrating ABARI’s Model with National Programs for Home Reconstruction

The two-part Owner Driven Reconstruction model supported by ABARI can enhance government initiatives to facilitate high quality construction of seismic resistant structures in rural Nepal. Previous post-disaster housing reconstruction initiatives in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka incorporated a compensation program into the concept of Owner Driven Reconstruction to incentivize homeowners to follow building guidelines—delivering partial payments at key stages in home construction after the structure had been evaluated as conforming to building code. In Pakistan, for example, the homeowner was distributed a cash incentive after constructing plinths and, later, lintels in accordance with seismic resistant technologies. The cash incentives delivered through these ODR programs were not sufficient to cover the full cost of home reconstruction, but were designed to encourage the widespread use of seismic resistant technologies as well as proper monitoring of new home construction. In this aim, ODR is demonstrated to be highly successful.

However, there are lessons to be learnt from past implementations of ODR before implementing an ODR program for Nepal. One criticism resulting from the ODR program in Pakistan has been that homeowners found that the requirement to have homes evaluated at several points in the construction process slowed down construction and made them susceptible to corruption from monitors. A second criticism from the Pakistan experience concerned the early decision on which home designs could be used in the program—a decision that had not incorporated traditional buildings and hence led to slow uptake of the program in its early stages. Recognizing this weakness, authorities began experimenting with pre-existing home designs and approved a model dhajji home that was popularly adopted. Lastly, in Pakistan official trainings were provided to local artisans to enable them to gain skills in earthquake-resistant construction. This intervention facilitated the quick dissemination of knowledge and expertise across remote areas. Keeping these lessons in mind, ABARI envisions the Community Facility Centers as key sites for training artisans and homeowners about seismically appropriate building technologies through practical programs and social enterprises which prepare communities to build with knowledge and materials generated within their own communities. This attitude of self-reliance combats the tendency toward dependency that can manifest in post-disaster economies of housing reconstruction.

Importantly, ABARI seeks to promote a positive, owner-driven approach in the earliest phase of the reconstruction process: the building of transitional shelters. By encouraging homeowners to use their own knowledge of local environments confidently in the creation of transitional shelters, ABARI hopes to offset the tendency for homeowners to move away from local resources and knowledge in the post-disaster reconstruction of permanent homes. By making construction training programs available throughout disaster-affected districts and encouraging workshops to produce natural building materials in advance of construction, ABARI’s model aims to empower local communities to rebuild. ABARI looks forward to working with the Government of Nepal and interested partners in realizing this vision.




Abhiyan, Kutch Nav Nirman. 2005. A Unique Owner Driven Interim Shelter Initiative in J & K: Report on Tangdhar Region. Electronic resource: http://www.odrcollaborative.net/odrc_docs/interimshelter_J&K.pdf 


Government of Uttarakhand. 2013. Technical Guidelines and Information for Stone Construction in Uttarakhand. Electronic resource: http://odrcollaborative.net/odrc_docs/uttarakhand_stone_part1.pdf


van Leersum, Alexander and Saurabh Arora. 2011. “Implementing seismic-resistant technologies in post-earthquake Pakistan: A process analysis of owner driven reconstruction. Habitat International 35: 254-264.


Jha, Abhas Kumar and Jennifer E. Duyne. 2010. Safer Homes, Stronger Communities: A Handbook for Reconstructing After Natural Disasters. World Bank Publications.