Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

The reconstruction process

To some degree, the reconstruction process exhibits predictable characteristics. These include the tendency for damaged cities and industries to be rebuilt on the same sites, continuation of pre-war trends in population growth and urban expansion, continuation of predominance of certain industries, and continuation of previous social stratification patterns (Haas, Kates, and Bowden 1977). The tendency for a society to return to the status quo ante after war can be explained by two powerful forces - fear of change (particularly in a society that has already seen so much negative transformation) and the desire of those who control existing institutions to hold onto power. If market mechanisms are relied upon too heavily during post-war reconstruction, class cleavages may become even more pronounced than before the war. Underprivileged members of society are the most vulnerable in a disaster: they are the least likely to live in well-constructed shelters that may survive attacks, and the least likely to have savings to fall back on for the replacement of destroyed possessions. Some owners and merchants, on the other hand, are able to benefit from the business booms generated by the flood of resources into the reconstruction effort. These circumstances must be borne in mind at every stage of the planning process.

An acceptable reconstruction process - much like an appropriate reconstruction strategy - will, of course, vary from case to case. Further research into the critically important properties of post-war reconstruction will provide societies with better information for decision-making. The following set of hypotheses is based on existing literature and the author's experience with disaster planning and post-war reconstruction, and is offered as a framework for further analysis.

1. Reconstruction tends to become politicized and factionalism tends to delay the reconstruction of war-damaged areas. War simultaneously places demands on a country's resources and increases public expectations of post-war economic improvements. The shortages that occur generate societal tension and intensify pressure on the state to implement immediate corrective measures. Factions struggle over reconstruction strategy (planned versus market approach) and there is reduced political will for reconstruction of war-damaged areas. Although there is general agreement about the need to resolve economic crises, political factionalism may prevent specific measures from being implemented. Environmental disasters - including those that are connected with industries - are, however, a more serious matter that cannot long be ignored. As a result, they tend to require expenditure of national resources in the post-war period.

2. Reconstruction is essential therapy for a wounded society. Social therapy centres on people rebuilding their communities, both physically and emotionally, and this process can succeed only if there is a national commitment to healing. Long-term habitability must become a priority and the guiding goal of the reconstruction.

3. Enforcement of legal safety codes and provision of social insurance are essential to reconstruction. This is particularly true when industrial hazards are pervasive and environmental degradation has become threatening. The immediate post-war period generates high emotions and pressures for rapid response, and there is an understandable tendency toward quick fixes. However, quick fixes may ultimately be much more costly than more comprehensive repairs. Unsafe industrial sites and poorly reconstructed buildings pose dangerous hazards for reconstruction workers and residents, with both moral and material consequences.

4. Just as reconstruction after natural disaster must be used to prepare for or mitigate the effects of the next disaster, so must postwar reconstruction be used to reduce the risk of another war and its consequent industrial hazards by incorporating the causes of the war into the strategy itself. In addition to war-reduction strategies, a nation must also adopt preventive strategies that reduce industrial hazard. Therefore, national and industrial security schemes, and defensive and preventive measures, become major components of the post-war reconstruction. These measures are best achieved by emphasizing peace and by renouncing war as a means to settle dispute. Several strategies can be used to operationalize this goal. First, there must be wide recognition of the fact that a good defence policy must be based on diplomacy, as well as on the fact that maintaining an offensive force at the expense of economic development does little toward increasing a nation's share of the international balance of power. Second, people's attitudes toward the enemy as well as toward the war and environmental safety must be transformed. This may prove difficult, particularly after a defeat, but reconstructionists can play an important role as peace activists, as well as environmentalists, and education can be targeted toward reducing the country's zeal for war and increasing its appreciation of ecological safety. Realistic defensive measures that are designed to improve a nation's perception of security can be built into the reconstruction process, as can preventive measures that improve industrial security. Border areas must be repopulated and physically reconstructed with the explicit goal of security, while strategic economic activities and industrial plants can be relocated to safer places. Regional government and military installations must be reforged with an eye to territorial balance and cultural integration.

5. War damage, industrial hazards, and reconstruction needs must be carefully determined and assessed. An assessment of war damage and industrial hazards requires an interdisciplinary approach, for damage and hazard situations differ in terms of their physical and chemical nature, the social consequences they generate, and the economic feasibility of their repair and clean-ups. Skilled professionals in all disciplines, as well as the population at large, must join together to form a consensus on rebuilding priorities. Record keeping of damage and hazards is essential. Among other things, carefully kept records of damage avoid confusion over ownership and provide help in determining compensation for war victims, targeting priority reconstruction projects, and locating resources.

6. Existing and potential resources for reconstruction and cleanups must be quickly identified and mobilized. The mobilization of resources must begin with an identification of their type, quality, amount, distribution, costs, function, ease of use, and impact. Indigenous resources must be distinguished from external resources, and these resources must be weighed in terms of their potential to cause dependency, unwanted control over development, and uneven development. After resources are identified and analysed, they must be mobilized. Mobilization will depend largely on government action, but can effectively be augmented through the utilization of grass-roots organizations such as self-help projects, women's groups, and cooperatives designed to train people and provide materials for rebuilding. Military personnel can become clean-up crews and rebuilders. Public and private initiatives, such as the selling of war bonds and self-financing, will help the government tap personal wealth for mobilization. Material resources can be mobilized by expanding mineral exploration and by relying on local materials for building. Effective communication and transportation systems are vital for resource mobilization.

7. Successful reconstruction and hazard reduction depend on accurate timing. Speed is essential in harnessing political will and public enthusiasm before allocation of dwindling resources induces pessimism. The first step in post-disaster planning is an analysis to determine the cause and consequences of the disaster. The optimal time for reconstruction and clean-ups is after the war, when people are returning to war-damaged areas and can be involved in the process. The best time to plan, however, is during the war so that the nation is ready to rebuild as soon as the war is over. It is doubtful if the existing industrial disaster response plans (like a US Superfund-style programme) intended for peacetime use will work during or after a war.

8. Reconstruction should be defined, planned, and implemented in stages. According to existing literature about disaster planning, the main stages are emergency, restoration, replacement, and developmental reconstruction (Amirahmadi 1990b: 268). These stages are not necessarily chronological, nor are they mutually exclusive. The duration of each stage will vary according to the scale of the disaster, the level of commitment to clean-up and reconstruction, and the ability of a society to cope with the disaster and to formulate strategies. Other factors include availability of resources and the government's ability to mobilize them, quality of leadership, the speed at which decisions are made and implemented, existence of popular and humanitarian organizations, and international cooperation.

The goal of the emergency stage is to cope with the disaster and to help victims survive. The urgency of this stage precludes any real planning; in this case the planning must come before the disaster. It includes such activities as search, rescue, mass feeding, clearance of debris, paramedical help, and provision of shelter and other basic needs for the victim. The primary resources for the emergency stage are community emergency services and self-help, although international relief agencies often may provide assistance. The emergency stage overlaps with the restoration, or recovery, stage, in which the goal is to make the community at least partially functional. Damaged structures are patched up or retrofitted and made usable again. This stage obviously involves more comprehensive planning, as well as greater need for resources, particularly construction materials. Investments and expenditures during this stage are by nature temporary, and repairs generally require a second, more permanent investment.

The goal of the replacement stage is to return the community to its predisaster state through the creation of permanent housing, the return of displaced persons, resumption of public services, revival of industries, and the creation of jobs. This stage requires substantial comprehensive planning as well as massive resources. It should be followed - or even accompanied - by a fourth stage, developmental reconstruction, in which the goal is to develop the community beyond the pre-disaster level. Combining policy and resources for the replacement and development stages may mitigate the tendency to patch things quickly, which often leads to double investment and waste. The development reconstruction stage is very difficult in a war-torn society, for wars do not simply destroy part of what exists: they also prevent society from making new investments, from utilizing production capacity and resources, and from developing skills and technical capabilities.

9. Reconstruction and hazard removal must be properly and efficiently managed. The government must, of course, assume ultimate responsibility for management, yet certain local functions could be assumed by grass-roots organizations. A comprehensive management system can be embodied in one of three forms of government bureaucracy - establishment of a specialized new ministry for reconstruction and disaster planning, creation of reconstruction and disaster-management offices within the existing ministries, or formation of a headquarters within the executive office for the jobs.

10. Progress made toward reconstruction and clean-up must be documented and evaluated. Results should be periodically published in academic and professional, as well as popular, media. Evaluation of reconstruction and hazard-removal activities should be undertaken by independent agencies that have access to key governmental data and policies but remain outside the government's sphere of direct influence.

Improving recovery and policy implications

This chapter has analysed the relationship of war, community destruction, and industrial disaster in terms of Iran's experience. It has shown how particular issues of recovery from industrial disasters became caught up in broader concerns of recovery from more encompassing damage to the community, and it has highlighted the role of macroeconomic planning issues. Further, the chapter has explored interconnections among local-level reconstruction priorities and national-level goals, demonstrating how - in Iran's case - the latter became dominant in the course of post-war reconstruction. This trend, in turn, led to a lower priority for hazard clean-up and for rebuilding industries with low value-added attributes. Intervention by the international community in the post-war peace and reconstruction efforts was shown to have been minimal because of Iran's fractured image in the West. This may not, however, be the case in other situations where the national leadership maintains good contacts with the international community.

Iran's experience suggests that the process of planning for industrial hazards must take into consideration the context of wartime economic damage. After a war, the knowledge that destruction was the intent of an aggressor puts recovery and reconstruction initiatives in a special light. Perceptions of military and diplomatic security become crucial to the process of national rehabilitation. Demoralization that accompanies war has the potential to thwart the industrial rebuilding process, particularly if such efforts are already hampered by an absence of sufficient resources, or if the frontier of impact is subject to possible repeated attacks. In cases such as these, the disaster cycle of emergency relief, restoration, replacement, and reconstruction is undertaken again and again, each time progressively eroding the resilience and resources of the affected population.

Moreover, because the impact of war is more complex and pervasive than that of natural disasters or peacetime industrial disasters, post-war reconstruction is an especially challenging task. For example, after an industrial disaster, affected facilities are usually either repaired and reopened with or without improvements - or are closed down, abandoned, or removed. In either case, explicit and swift decisions about the future of these facilities are generally taken by owners and governments. During wars, the same facilities may continue to operate in an impaired state for long periods, after partial and temporary repairs have been made, or they may remain inoperable until such times as formal decisions about their future can be taken at the conclusion of hostilities. In short, the course of recovery from a war-induced industrial disaster is likely to differ from that which occurs in peacetime.

The process of maintaining a war effort and the process of post-war reconstruction are links in the same chain, and that chain is forged of materials and money. Wars cost phenomenal amounts of money, while war damage is precisely calculated to reduce an enemy's capacity to finance a war. The war effort often absorbs so much government revenue that there are few reserves left for reconstruction or clean-up work. Lack of funding for relief, hazard reduction, and reconstruction becomes particularly severe if the nations engaged in war continue to feel threatened and subsequently feel compelled to channel the few remaining funds into the military. A government's time and labour may be spent in evaluating the future potential of its own armed forces, instead of first analysing the impact of war destruction and associated industrial hazards and then determining the best plan for healing society and reinvigorating economic productivity.

Iran's experience provides insights about the components of a model of disaster-impact assessment and recovery for war-damaged societies, helps to specify possible obstacles to reconstruction, and suggests ways of improving implementation. However, if the conceptual framework developed in this chapter were to be applied to Iran, it would force the government to become more concerned with industrial hazards and ways of recovering from them than has been the case so far. Unfortunately, Iran's relative neglect of industrial hazards in the larger recovery process is not at all unique. In most developing nations, where resources are scarce and macroeconomic distortions tend to destabilize regimes, economic matters take precedence over environmental concerns. This is as true of nations that have gone through a war as it is of nations that have been at peace for decades. Therefore, the model proposed in this chapter may be considered equally applicable to many developing nations that face economic decline and recovery from man-made or natural disasters.


1. Some overviews of the war provide sketchy information about the war's impact on Iraq's population and environment. See, for example, Kubba (1993).

2. That treaty had been based on principles of "territorial integrity, the inviolability of borders, and noninterference in internal affairs." It was intended to settle political and territorial disputes between the two governments and to ensure shared sovereignty over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, which provides both countries with vital access to the Persian Gulf. President Hussein proclaimed that he had ample justification for annulling the treaty because Iran had allegedly broken it by refusing to relinquish territorial rights and by interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. In retrospect, evidence suggests that President Hussein was also motivated by other interests including the prospect of gaining full sovereignty over the Shatt-al-Arab, control of Khuzestan province (where over 90 per cent of Iran's oil reserves are located), the possibility of installing a pro-lraq government in Iran, and the prospect of securing a new regional leadership role for Iraq in the aftermath of the Shah's overthrow.

3. The Persian Gulf is a long, shallow, relatively narrow, semi-enclosed sea that receives only limited freshwater inputs from rivers and possesses weak flushing currents. The entire system is readily disrupted by pollutants. The weak tidal currents prevent rapid dissipation of contaminants, which remain in the water - the non-volatile components of oil falling to the bottom and continuing to cause damage for many years. The food chain, which normally sustains 250 species of fish and approximately 140 species of migrating birds, is severely threatened. High temperatures, shallow waters, and high winds, which characterize the Gulf, cause rapid evaporation, increasing the salinity of the water and contributing to the stress of organisms living there. Contamination by oil and heavy metals stresses the ecosystem even further. Crude oil contains such heavy metals as mercury, cadmium, and vanadium, as well as other carcinogenic chemical agents. Commercial fishing in the area is severely restricted, and replenishment of Gulf stocks from the ocean will be very slow. For Iran, as well as for other countries that depend on Gulf fish for daily protein requirements, the destruction of the fishing industry means increased food imports, further exacerbating foreign currency reserves and fostering dependencies on other countries for basic foodstuffs.

4. The tally of direct economic damage may be slightly inflated because the government's Immediate concern was to provide compensation. Any inflation attributable to this cause is likely to be offset by the absence of some types of real economic costs, such as environmental consequences, concessions given to regional allies, increased insurance costs, and the psychological and socio-cultural costs of the war (Amirahmadi 1992a: 69).

5. The World Bank responded by giving a few small loans to Iran for reconstruction of earthquakedamaged areas ($250 million) and for improving urban infrastructure ($67 million). In 1993, another loan for $162 million was approved for the expansion of a power-generating plant in Qum city. IMF and the Bank have helped the Iranian government to formulate an economic stabilization programme but have not as yet responded to requests for a major loan. Regional authorities, such as the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, have largely remained inactive (Amirahmadi 1992a: 277). By identifying Iraq as the aggressor state, the United Nations Security Council has provided an implicit basis for restitution by the Iraqi government. It is likely that Iran would have regained international respectability among the community of nations and been the beneficiary of increased international assistance if it was not for continued opposition by the United States.

6. Ecological restoration should guide the other goals and take priority because it underpins human health; in other words, restoration of human health and long-term environmental habitability are preconditions for the general revival of society. Plans and projects must be drawn up for environmental clean-up and removal of hazardous situations in various economic sectors, industries in particular, where such hazards tend to pose health problems and create obstacles for rebuilding. Achieving economic vitality is a two-part process which hinges, first, on making the most of available resources and removing supply bottlenecks (e.g. in foreign exchange and skilled labour) and, second, on achieving economic growth.


Amirahmadi, Hooshang. 1987. "Destruction and reconstruction: A strategy for the war damaged areas of Iran." International Journal of Disaster Studies and Practice 11(2): 134-147.

Amirahmadi, Hooshang. 1990a. "Economic reconstruction of Iran: Costing the war damage." Third World Quarterly 12(1): 26-47.

Amirahmadi, Hooshang. 1990b. Revolution and Economic Transition. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Amirahmadi, Hooshang. 1992a. "Economic costs of the war and the reconstruction in Iran." In: Cyrus Bina and Hamid Zangeneh, eds. Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Amirahmadi, Hooshang. 1992b. "Economic destruction and imbalances in post-revolutionary Iran." In: H. Amirahmadi and N. Entessar, eds. Reconstruction and Regional Diplomacy in the Persian Gulf. London: Routledge.

Athari, Djamal. 1991. "Revolutionary changes and post-war reconstruction in Iran." In: Reviving War Damaged Settlements. A Report and Charter prepared in connection with the Third International York Workshop on Settlement Reconstruction Post-War, 22-24 July 1991. York: University of York, Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit, p. 14.

Cordesman, Anthony H. 1990. The Lessons of Modern War. Boulder: Westview Press.

El-Baz, Farouk, and R.M. Makharita. 1994. The Gulf War and the Environment. New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers.

Haas, J. Eugene, Robert W. Kates, and Martyn J. Bowden (eds.). 1977. Reconstruction Following Disaster. Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Hawley, T.M. 1992. Against the Fires of Hell: The Environmental Disaster of the Gulf War. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Jochnick, Chris A.F., and Roger Normand. "A critical look at the law of war: Lessons from the Persian Gulf war." Unpublished paper in file with the author. Authors of the article are Co-Editor in Chief and Executive Editor of the Harvard Human Rights Journal.

Kubba, Laith. 1993. "The war's impact on Iraq." In: Farhang Rajaee, ed. The Iran - Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, pp. 47-54.

Mofid, Kamran. 1990. "Iran: War, destruction and reconstruction." In: Charles Davies, ed. After the War: Iran, Iraq and the Arab Gulf. Chichester: Carden Publications, pp. 117-141.

Plan and Budget Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran. 1991. Final Report on the Assessment of the Economic Damages of the War Imposed by Iraq on the Islamic Republic of Iran (1980-1988). Teheran: Centre for Socio-Economic Documentation and Publications.

Shemirani, Taheri. 1993. "The war of the cities." In: Farhang Rajaee, ed. The Iran-lraq War: The Politics of Aggression. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, pp. 32-40.

SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). 1977. Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Environment. New York: Crane, Russak, and Company.

SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). 1980. Warfare in a Fragile World: Military Impact on the Human Environment. London: Taylor and Francis.

United Nations Secretary-General. 1991a. "Report on Iran's reconstruction efforts in the wake of the conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq." 24 December.

United Nations Secretary-General. 1991b. "Report on the scope and nature of damage inflicted on the Kuwaiti infrastructure during the Iraqi occupation." 26 April.

Walker, A.R. 1989. "Recessional and Gulf War impacts on port development and shipping in the Gulf states in the 1980s." GeoJournal 18(3): 273-284.

Winnefeld, James A., and Mary E. Morris. 1994. Where Environmental Concerns and Security Strategies Meet: Green Conflict in Asia and the Middle East. Santa Monica: Rand.

Zargar, Akbar, and Mohsen Poor. 1991. "City reconstruction: The case of Khoramshar, Iran." In: Reviving War Damaged Settlements. A Report and Charter prepared in connection with the Third International York Workshop on Settlement Reconstruction Post-War, 22-24 July 1991. York: University of York, Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit, p. 10.

Contents - Previous - Next