One engineer is using his experience working on pro bono projects in the Asia-Pacific to help communities closer to home.
When communities around the country were being engulfed by bushfires this past summer, flooding and stormwater engineer Ian Warren felt he had to do something.
“I was on Christmas holidays, and see all the news,” he told create.
“There was lots of immediate aid. But what I do know … is rebuilding takes ages — like years. And so I thought, ‘Oh, there’s a position here for someone to say, “You know what? We’re not in a hurry, and we’ve got a commitment for the long term”’.”
Warren was speaking from experience. As well as working as Director of Stellen Consulting, he is a Director on the board of Partner Housing Australasia, a pro-bono engineering, architectural and building services organisation that provides building services, financial assistance and affordable housing and village infrastructure for communities around Australia and the Asia-Pacific.
Warren’s involvement with the organisation began three years ago, and he has spent that time as Country Manager for the Solomon Islands, where he oversees the group’s activities helping villages recover from the 2007 earthquake and tsunami that struck the nation.
“The water was the biggest need,” he said.
“They kicked off this water program and it just grew from one village. Now we’ve touched almost every village on that whole island and our goal is to deliver clean water to every person within 50 minutes of every person’s home on this very remote island called Ranongga.”
He estimates that they can achieve that goal in the next three to four years. But working in such a remote part of the world creates challenges — from logistics to community engagement.
“You see how remote it is,” Warren explained.
“Getting the materials out to those places — even buying materials — can be quite difficult, and finding suppliers for certain parts. Thinking about maintenance, you can’t just import parts from Australia, because no one can get spares for them.”
Involving local people in the projects was also important, too, whether by developing skills or ensuring that the infrastructure could be incorporated into existing social structures.
“We developed our own little way of doing community consultation,” Warren said.
“Seeing people for where they are at [and] helping people figure out where they want to move to next as a community.”
So when it came time to apply this experience locally, Warren had some idea what to do — but he knew he would need more help than he had on hand.
“If you need a DA and it’s in six or 12 months’ time, and you’re underinsured, I bet you there’s some other engineers out there that would help,” he said.
So he set up a website and tapped into some networks to see how many engineers would provide pro-bono services to bushfire-affected communities.
“Within three days we had, I don’t know, 50 people, and we’ve got over 100 now,” he said.
One volunteer in Tasmania, he mentions, was prepared to travel anywhere in the country to help.
Engineers Australia is backing Warren’s efforts, too.
“Through initiatives such as this, and our participation in the National Bushfire Recovery Peak Bodies Forum, Engineers Australia stands ready to support our colleagues and communities, offering whatever assistance we can usefully provide,” said Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans.
“Engineers play a critical role in emergency management planning and supporting community safety at a local level and they will be vital in recovery over coming months and years.”
Warren said the group’s response is still in its early stages, but he wanted to get started now before the public’s attention shifts to other things.
“The problems are still there,” he said.
“In 12 months’ time, most of these people will still be without homes.”