Asbestos Hazard in Post-Disaster Reconstruction 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



An Australian academic is calling for new guidelines for emergency reconstruction efforts to avoid mistakes, such as using asbestos and neglecting the cultural needs of affected communities. Dr. David O'Brien from the University of Melbourne is overseeing a research project Transformation of Post-Disaster Housing: The Case of Aceh, Indonesia, which aims to evaluate the performance of humanitarian agencies involved in post-disaster housing:

“Some of the houses that were made in Banda Aceh were made from asbestos. Now you really hope they won't make that kind of mistake again. The people are aware that they are living in asbestos houses. They're not happy about living in asbestos houses.”1

Two years ago, anti-asbestos demonstrators set fire to some of the 204 asbestos-cement houses in Banda Aceh donated by the Bakrie Family Institution (BFI) as part of the tsunami reconstruction effort. The 36 square meter houses had been built along the Deah Raya beach with roofing, ceiling and walls containing up to 20% chrysotile asbestos. The Chairman of the BFI is industrialist Aburizal Bakrie, at that time Indonesia's Minister for Public Welfare and, according to Forbes Magazine, the richest man in the country. One of his holdings, Bakrie Building Industries, uses asbestos to manufacture building materials such as asbestos-cement roofing, ceiling tiles, wall panels and fencing.2

In September 2009, two more earthquakes struck Indonesia, one in West Java followed by a second that hit West Sumatra. Combined, they left over 150,000 houses destroyed and at least that number again damaged.3 In an email received on October 7 from Dave Hodgkin, a technical advisor to the post-earthquake shelter relief coordination team in West Java, he expressed intense frustration at the lack of “instant tools” – such as radio, print and television ads – and funding “to roll out a mass public outreach campaign” warning of the dangers of use and reuse of asbestos. He wrote of 50,000-60,000 homeless families in West Java alone “desperate to rebuild in a rush with what threatens to be an intense rainy season fast approaching.”


Considering the synergy between asbestos exposure and smoking, a popular habit in Asia, and aggressive marketing techniques used by asbestos companies in the region, the lack of attention paid to asbestos in post-disaster emergencies will, he fears, have catastrophic effects in the decades to come.

October 26, 2009


1 Bowling D. No asbestos for Sumatra academic. October 9, 2009.

2 Kazan-Allen L. Indonesian Villagers Destroy Asbestos Houses. January 28, 2008.

3 2009 Sumatra Earthquakes.
Email received October 26, 2009.



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