In October 2008, a major tropical storm produced one of the worst natural disasters to affect Yemen in more than a decade. Thousands of families fled their homes, and nearly 7,000 people perished. The storm destroyed critical infrastructure and halted economic activity. Damages were estimated at $1.6 billion, or 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The turbulent political atmosphere complicated things further, and rolling out recovery and reconstruction programs commensurate to the scale of the disaster proved a major challenge.

The aftermath of a disaster is a critical moment, when government policies and decisions can determine how quickly a country and its citizens will be able to bounce back.

To help countries like Yemen build capacity to design and implement comprehensive programs for disaster recovery and reconstruction, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with country governments, have developed a series of nine country case studies. The case studies document practical lessons and good practices in implementing disaster recovery programs in Bangladesh, Haiti, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mozambique, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, and Yemen.

Following the tropical storm in Yemen, the government established a Reconstruction and Recovery Fund to finance and coordinate recovery and reconstruction efforts in the affected regions, Hadramout and Al-Mahra. Clarifying responsibility and accountability is important to avoid unnecessary delays during the delicate process of recovery and reconstruction.

“Yemen’s recovery experience after the floods of 2008 highlights the importance of learning from the best practices of recovery and reconstruction programs,” said First Deputy Minister Abdulmalek Al-Jolahy of Yemen’s Ministry of Public Works and Highways. “In Yemen, we plan to institutionalize these lessons by establishing a permanent central coordinated unit for disaster risk management, which will promote resilient recovery, and in turn, sustainable development at the national level.”

The case studies complement the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) and Disaster Recovery Framework (DRF) guides, which are being launched this week by GFDRR and UNDP at the Second World Reconstruction Conference (WRC 2). The guides provide recommendations on how to assess damages after a disaster, and help countries better plan, design and implement post-disaster recovery and reconstruction programs.

“Large-scale natural disasters, particularly in fragile and developing countries can set back years of development achievements. While we can’t eliminate future disasters completely, we can learn from each event so that when we rebuild, we reduce identified vulnerabilities,” said Francis Ghesquiere, head of the GFDRR Secretariat.

But resilience is not only about the end result – the new buildings and infrastructure -- but also about how the process is carried out. By engaging the local government and affected communities, the reconstruction process can strengthen social capital and community capacities, as well as innovate in and improve public sector delivery and effectiveness.

This was clear after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. The government of Pakistan rolled out a public subsidy program for housing reconstruction which provided households with both technical and financial support. Having a clear stake in the rehabilitation or rebuilding of their homes, the affected households ensured that the new construction was earthquake-safe. Over 400,000 homes were rebuilt – 90 percent of which were in compliance with the new seismic codes, better preparing the region for future earthquakes.

To build resilience, recovery, and reconstruction programs should also take into account the specific vulnerabilities of the poorest segments of society – the households and individuals who don’t have access to the safety net of savings or property and are most at risk of falling deeper into poverty.

In Bangladesh, for example, Tropical Cyclone Sidr damaged over 1 million homes in 2007, triggering the largest housing reconstruction program in the country’s history. However, during the recovery and reconstruction phase, the government encountered a major challenge: over half of all households didn’t have legal rights to their land.

For poor households, targeted solutions to address their specific vulnerabilities can tip the balance toward a more resilient and prosperous future. By compiling the best knowledge and expertise from around the world, we can help disaster-prone countries learn from others that have faced similar challenges in the past.

In addition to good practices, the case studies also provide insights into what countries could have done better.

“Disasters happen because development went wrong. When a disaster strikes, we have an opportunity to set development on a different path that ultimately leads to better sustainable development outcomes and poverty reduction,” said Jo Scheuer, coordinator for the Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery Team in the United Nations Development Programme. “We have come an extremely long way. Every recovery setting is different and we have to continue learning, adjusting and collaborating with the international partnerships we have established.”

The nine case studies will be presented at the Second World Reconstruction Conference to foster learning and knowledge exchange among regions, countries and sectors of development. They are available for download at