Over the past decade, millions of people were uprooted from their homes due to extensive natural disasters. At present, additional millions around the world are struggling to remain alive as they battle intense heat and cold, thirst and hunger, and anxiety about the future and the fate of their relatives. Extreme natural phenomena occurred over the last decade in the United States, Brazil, Japan, Turkey, the Philippines, Nepal, the Middle East, and Italy, appearing in satellite or drone photographs as powerful images of entirely reconfigured areas. Local and international relief agencies continuously prepare for future disasters. Yet while garnering praise for the support and immediate assistance they provide, such humanitarian operations are sometimes criticized for the problematic aspects of their responses, which are not always compatible with the needs of specific populations.
The tension between conditions in the field and the minimum standard of 3.5 square meters per each person in a shelter (as determined by the Red Cross) is the main issue at stake. The shift from centralized decision-making to a more open, improvisational, adaptive approach, which empowers communities to define and care for their unique needs, makes use of a range of community skills. The flexibility, independence, and sometimes also sense of safety afforded by efficient functioning in extreme situations contributes to the development of new practices and tools, to "bottom-up" coping with extreme situations, and to successful long-term rehabilitation.
Geographical regions differ from one another, each community is unique, and responses to similar disasters are revealed as entirely different in different areas. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify several central themes that underlie a range of phenomena, pointing to several leading trends: sharing knowledge, social technology, expanded DIY operations, and a renewal of the archaic community practice of storytelling.
In the past, zones in the aftermath of disasters such as an earthquake would draw architecture, engineering, or construction firms that planned and built temporary housing. This process is currently changing thanks to the distribution of professional and technical knowledge, which can be independently used by the population at large.
The development of new media and communications technologies currently influences every aspect of our lives. When it comes to coping with natural disasters, the technology of social networks has resulted in a veritable revolution. Events once perceived as unfolding in distant and godforsaken places have drawn immeasurably closer to us due to mobile phone cameras and file sharing, which take us into the homes of survivors, transport us to isolated areas, and allow for new forms of interpersonal communication.
Smartphones have come to function as a relay station to which one connects to learn about worldwide developments and current events, and to distribute information through personal photographs, texts, emotional statements, and virtual friendships. Their built-in cameras and microphones have transformed them into omnipresent eyes– a means of personal and environmental documentation through photographs, videos, and sound files. This readily accessible tool has transformed many of us into experimental documentarians who capture the process of coping with natural disasters and revive the oral tradition of communal storytelling, which has the power to raise awareness and assist in coping with disaster.
DIY is perhaps the most widely assimilated strategy, having been incorporated in recent decades into the assembly of furniture items and accessories. Countless projects of this kind have recently entered the arena of humanitarian aid, exploiting the technical knowledge and manual skill of users, while reinforcing their sense of independence and connection to the product.
Maya Vinitsky, Exhibition Curator
Design and Architecture Department
Tel Aviv Museum of Art