Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Shelter after floods in Pakistan. Part 1. Sabina's story

This is Sabina, who I met during one of about 30 field trips I made in Sindh, Pakistan during my time working there, chatting with Mustafa from the local NGO, HANDS

Mustafa and Sabina.  I think they were talking abotu that solar light she's been using every night for over a year.  And the price of vegetables on the market if I remember rightly.  She said she can afford to buy veg only twice a month and grows none around her house.  She could absolutely grow food in raised beds outside her window.  That has to be (already is) the next addition to the way we work...

HANDS had found Sabina's family and community, displaced and in desperate need of help, after major flooding in September 2012. They brought it to the attention of DFID - the British agency for international development - for whom I was working as a humanitarian advisor.

Getting access to these communities is just invaluable.  It's so important, in fact vital to see if we’re supporting people with the right kind of thing.  I always learn so much from people like Sabina, when we take the time to just chat about things, outside of the scope of the project.  About life, like what kind of food they prepare – or rather how much food she can afford, which isn’t much; how life was like before the floods; what happens at night when there’s no power; the cost and distance from a functioning school or health clinic, stuff like that.  These conversations form the basis for my “advice” to DFID and eventually the design of how we spend humanitarian funds – which is basically tax from people like Sabina over in the UK: taxpayers who struggle to make ends meet. 

Taken by Joon, Norwegian Embassy (with the VIPs that managed to get a seat on the helicopter to view the extent of damage by air). Helps to understand how it was that almost 3m people lost their homes in this one flood, from 5 days rain in September 2012. 

Another of Joon's shots: see how easily those houses dissolve

These had been rebuilt after the 2010 floods by another agency / donor
(who will remain unamed!). Point is: by using bricks and cement these cost a lot of money
  and are not necessarily flood resistant, as we see right here. 

 Like about three million others Sabina lost all her stuff, half her animals and her entire house when the monsoon-heavy sky literally opened up for five days in mid-September 2012. 
Fired brick homes didn't necessarily stand up any better than
adobe / mud.  
We might refer to these days as torrential rain that goes on and on (it seems to be like this in Scotland for weeks in Spring!).  But this was different, it was referred to as  an “extreme cloud outburst” by climatologists and sounds very much like an extreme weather event brought on by global warming, a symptom of climate change.  I find it hard to imagine: rain that’s so intense it destroys your whole village, and thousands like it all around.  For hundreds of miles: about 3 million people’s villages.

Their whole village is down that road somewhere behind this guy.
No insurance company will give these people cover.
So all his savings... Gone. 

From Rajanpur, in Southern Punjab, which was also seriously affected in 2012.
This was taken in March - six months after the floods! Very few families
had the money to rebuild.  Now living in tents or makeshift shelters.
Much more vulnerable to future floods. And so the cycle goes.

Sabina told me that when they saw their houses crumbling and the waters rising they packed what little they could carry and made their way to safer, higher ground.  Sindh is pretty much a massive flat plain so there aren’t many raised areas, but there are quite a few rural roads, raised up to some degree.  They took refuge there where they met some of HANDS’ teams when they were reaching out to people devastated by this flood – the third major flood is as many years. 

The scale of these climate disasters is so massive that it’s impossible for NGOs, Government or UN agencies to reach everyone.  HANDS had been working with DFID funds in response to the 2011 floods a year earlier so like a couple of our other partners they were able to respond quickly, and we (DFID) provided a  “top up” of £2m to reach 26,000 families like Sabina’s with some basic emergency shelter and support. 

Having been down the whole emergency response road quite a few times before (and having spoken to folks like Sabina who’d been washed out of their homes in the previous floods we had a fair idea of what would be useful to give out.  If indeed you give anything out: there’s a big push globally to just go for cash: find some way to transfer a useful amount of cash, like $100, to the disaster affected and they’ll figure out the best thing to buy, be it food, medicines, a bus ticket for the whole family to go to the city? But I have spent years visiting hundreds of communities hit by floods in these areas and I always ask this question: would you prefer cash or the equivalent value of this cash in shelter materials and they almost always chose the latter (well, with a laugh they add that they’d really rather have both!).

Stuff it was to be then, £2m of shelter bits and some other items. That’s about £75 per family.  Let’s look at exactly what’s included and what difference it makes. 

This very orange photo shows more or less what’s included in this kit: a steel girder, 20 really long bamboo poles, a couple of big pieces of plastic, a water filter and a solar light.  This “roofing kit” as it came to be known was originally HANDS idea: give out an emergency kit that can be used upon return to build a reasonably permanent shelter as well. I have always liked this approach because it invests in lots of phases of return, it assumes that things can be re-used so demands good quality.  And it’s just so much better value than a tent costing three times more but providing less than half the flexibility and longevity. 

The solar lights are something  I’ve been encouraging with all our partners for years because before working in Pakistan my family and I were re-building a ruin in a small village in Portugal and I spent a lot of time wandering around at night stubbing toes and falling over rocks when I lost my torch.

picture courtesy of IOM - our other long term partner
in Pakistan, who have also done great work
with lights, communities, shelter.
I realised that most folk here had no light when they left their homes and were really vulnerable (not just to stubbed toes but to violence, intimidation, sexual abuse, the stuff of nightmares).  So lights were a must (and we’ve distributed way over 100,000 already..).  Also, people really value having light after sun-down and will spend between $3 and $10 a month on candles, kerosene or torches.  These Mandarin lights I found from Illumination cost about $8 and last for years, so again, better economics.  Other such solar lights that have been good and robust come from Toughstuff and D-Light, but both are just a little more expensive, so most partners have gone for the Mandarins.

The materials from the HANDS roofing kit, being used as
a temporary shelter ( you could call it transitional). How much
better is this than a tent!? And.. they will be used again for the fully
reconstructed house.  
By the time I met Sabina she had already moved home and had used these shelter materials to construct a fairly solid roof over the basic walls made from local earth.  This meant that she wouldn’t have to live in a tiny tent or an adapted cow shed, which is where most people live for years after these floods. In fact this is what happens in the absence of humanitarian aid: people just suffer – For Years!   Living out in the virtual open air, with temperatures over 50 degrees in summer and below 5 degrees in winter. 

By now we had received approval from London to initiate a post-emergency programme of recovery support for those people worst affected by the 2012 floods.  This is how humanitarian aid often works: emergency assistance quickly for the first 1 to 6 months, then separate funding for longer term recovery efforts that help people rebuild their lives to at least what they had before.   DFID / the UK responded amazingly to our pitch and agreed to support over 50,000 families to rebuild durable, flood-resistant homes. In addition to this, to reach a further 80,000 more families with agriculture and other livelihood inputs to help restart their incomes and overcome debt; support almost half a million people to rebuild broken water pumps and systems and to encourage them to build toilets and improve their hygiene and sanitation situation (long story, for another blog!).  Overall we received approval for just over £21m for this whole recovery programme which carries on through April 2015.

For Sabina, this meant that HANDS could now start supporting her and others to build homes that would not collapse under the heavy rains.  And so we enter the world of lime, clay and local materials.  More on that in the next episode…

OK to finish, a few more photos because I can't not share these! 

Too bright to forget. Despite the amazing levels of damage and poverty, I'm constantly amazed by how happy and bright and positive these people are.  I think of urban poverty in Scotland... Don't think I see such happy and friendly people... Yet behind these wonderful eyes and smiles there's serious malnutrition (around 23% severe / acute to be precise) and about 10% female literacy. Go figure...

Sabina and family - with Waqar DFID driver and long time friend, colleague, philosopher and political commentator making a guest showing!

This is from another village where IOM has completed this permanent shelter, on the left. I like this photo because you see the "before and after" - this shack on the left is basically how people live, for many years, if a shelter programme doesn't reach them.  This is the impact of our work.  

1 comment:

Rupert Wolfe-Murray said...

Inspiring report.

Did you see this Aljazeera report on a Pakistan architect using similar materials to what you recommend: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/rebelarchitecture/2014/06/pakistan-traditional-future-201462911924137552.html