Friday, January 15, 2010

Healing and Natural Disasters

There's an important link between sustainability and community healing after natural disasters. This is a link we are exploring in our new book, tentatively titled Healing Green. Beyond the way devastating destruction holds the promise of regeneration and the implicit opportunity to rebuild in a new and innovative way, we think that rebuilding sustainably after natural disasters serves an important healing function for the communities most effected.

We are thinking a lot about this promise of healing as we grieve for the thousands upon thousands of people who have lost their lives, their families, and their communities in Haiti. It's hard to find words to describe the magnitude of such loss and easy to feel helpless as we watch on our television screens, donating money to organizations we hope can help ease some of the suffering. And though against the backdrop of such urgent need, it's hard to imagine a future in which rebuilding will be the focus, such a future will come and we are heartened to see efforts already underway to incorporate green community practices into the rebuilding effort.

The Clinton Foundation has been working with Haiti to "build back better" in the aftermath of the hurricanes that battered the country in 2008 and plans to continue that effort when rebuilding begins this time. The USGBC is working with the Clinton Foundation in these efforts and they will look to, and learn from, the experiences of other communities that are rebuilding green after being crippled by natural disasters. Communities such as Greensburg Kansas which was virtually demolished by a tornado in 2007. The town decided to rebuild as a model green community. Check out the Greensburg Green Town website to learn more. A significant portion of the recovery effort in New Orleans has also looked toward green building principles and practices as they rebuild.

We think it is of crucial importance to build social sustainability into the recovery efforts in Haiti--as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, much of the current devastation can be linked directly to poverty and injustice. Without building codes or adequate infrastructures, with a public health crisis in existence even before the earthquake, the damage is much greater than it might have been had this disaster struck somewhere else. And in order to answer the promise of building back better, economic and social injustices will have to be addressed along with environmental ones. As we write about the rebuilding of communities in our book, we will continue to look for lessons about how incorporating social sustainability into rebuilding can help heal the wounds wrought by natural disasters.

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