HFH Pakistan Completes Four-Year Post-Earthquake Rebuilding Work in Northwest Frontier

Successful End of Canadian-Backed Training Project Wraps Up Habitat’s Current Activities in Pakistan

BANGKOK 30TH MARCH 2010: Habitat for Humanity Pakistan has completed a highly successful project to assist families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck northwestern Pakistan and neighboring counties in October 2005.

Successful program: Korean volunteers mobile saw mills helped create lighter, safer, more earthquake-resilient homes in the rugged terrain of northwestern Pakisatan

Resilient: A safe lintel and roof band for a two-room house that could support a winter-proof roof meant protection from the winter cold for The widow and four young children of Muhammad Ayub of Baddan village near Balakot.

Funded through donations from HFH Canada and CIDA, the Canadian government’s international development agency, the Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction Initiative was the centerpiece of Habitat’s work in Pakistan.

“With the completion of the two-year Canadian initiative and earlier post-earthquake rebuilding work projects, more than 10,000 families now have access to a much safer living environment than they had prior to the earthquake of 2005,” said Habitat for Humanity International’s Kyle Scott.

“As for future plans, Habitat will now operate in Pakistan through partnerships. These are being developed and will be monitored from Habitat for Humanity International’s Asia-Pacific office in Bangkok, Thailand.”

The Canadian project primarily involved training in mountainous and hard-to-access communities in Pakistan’s rugged Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction Initiative involved establishing and working with village reconstruction committees – 111 of them eventually.

Door-to-door visits in each village assessed what villagers needed to do to make their homes stronger and more capable of surviving future earthquakes.

Habitat engineers and staff provided on-the-spot advice to hundreds of families on how to strengthen or retrofit their homes. That allowed family homes to comply with Pakistan government rebuilding standards and lessened the risks from any possible future disaster. Though villagers did much of the work themselves, one part of the project saw Habitat teams of technical staff bringing mobile saw mills to remote communities. There were follow-up visits a few months to provide addition advice and support to ensure repairs were completed.

A typical intervention, for example, allowed the widow and four young children of Muhammad Ayub of Baddan village near Balakot to build a safe lintel and roof band for a two-room house which could support a winter-proof roof. The family had been living on a single room with galvanized iron sheets for roofing.

Altogether, 5,694 earthquake-affected households in Mansehra district benefited from the initiative.

“We were delighted that the Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction Initiative was officially completed at the end of 2009 as scheduled with all stated goals met,” said Scott who oversaw Habitat’s operations in Pakistan.

“Thanks to the generosity of donors such as the Canadian government and HFH Canada, we were able to make a difference in the lives of many more families than we originally expected when we first started rebuilding.”

The Canadian partnership was the largest project during Habitat’s four year post-earthquake rebuilding program. The initial response involved distribution of winter survival kits, blankets and tents. This was followed by the provision of dome-shaped transitional shelters using galvanized sheet metal roofing in communities around Balakot. When times allowed and the weather improved, the shelters could be dismantled and the materials reused in building permanent housing.

In the second phase, HFH Pakistan focused on more permanent housing solutions in areas further away from Balakot. Habitat established community-based resource centers in Mansehra and Balakot as bases for local Habitat teams to store construction materials. They were also places for members of the communities to come together and decide about their rebuilding programs, and places for people to receive training and advice especially on new government building codes and construction techniques. The centers acted as distribution points for materials.

The more permanent seismically strengthened homes were built using locally available resources such as wood, stone and mud.

Many communities were very remote: approximately eighty percent of the villages where Habitat worked were at high elevations where the roads were either bad or non-existent. It was easier to take the equipment to the villages. HFH Pakistan used three mobile sawmills, paid for by Japanese donors, which moved from place to place. At each stop, villagers brought salvaged timber for cutting into boards and trusses for using in building lighter roofs. Families needed less wood to make stronger homes. And reusing existing materials had another environmental benefit: fewer trees had to be cut down for construction.

At one stage, a 16-member team of university student volunteers organized by HFH Korea spent a week building homes in areas around Balakot.

“What is striking about the success of the numerous disaster response projects over the last 4 years is the environment in which the Habitat teams worked,” said Scott. “The perilous terrain and increasing threat of terrorist attacks showed the true character of the 73 staff members who worked tirelessly to change the lives of thousands of earthquake victims.”

“At times staff members had to walk for miles to deliver materials and assistance to the homeowners.”

The innovation and energy was recognized when HFH Pakistan was awarded the Clarence Jordan Award at the 1st Asia-Pacific Housing Forum in Singapore in 2007. “It’s an award that was cherished by the program staff,” said Scott.

As the program wound down, the two Habitat Resource centers were closed, in January 2010.

Scott attributed much of the success of Habitat’s work to the close rapport and cooperation with local communities, including the ability to make necessary adjustments in keeping with the local cultural milieu, particularly with regard to sensitive gender issues. He added: “The early relationship we established with the military, the Pakistan government and UN Habitat was also instrumental in the success of HFH Pakistan’s earthquake response projects.”

Details and photographs of Habitat Pakistan’s early shelter interventions and achievements from January 2006 through 2008 can be found in Pakistan Earthquake: Challenges & Innovations after the 2005 Earthquake.