About me and my perspective: I've been the shelter advisor to the UK's Department of International Development (DFID) Pakistan since 2010. I have been deeply involved in the design and implementation of this programme so perhaps my view is somewhat biased. I'd like to use this blog (and other publications hopefully) to make this work more transparent - to let more people know and to challenge it. The work described here should help people cope with flooding for years to come; their homes should not collapse next time major floods occur.
A year later - 2012 - and another flood – this time a mind-boggling five days of incredibly intense rain (one year's rainfall in a day in some areas) brought down a further 400,000 houses.
|September 2012 - after the floods in Northern Sindh.|
(Picture: Joon / Norwegian Embassy who had the chance to survey these floods by helicopter).
Tharparkar, Sindh (Photojogi village), a home built by people themselves, following design and guidance from our partners covering that area - IOM, their local NGO and training advisors, Heritage Foundation. But the people did the work themselves. Cost : about $350
|Lime stabilised soil blocks:|
Various different mixes of soil and lime are tested underwater for
months before the correct ratio is selected.
Realising the inevitable link between these phases of recovery one of our local partner organisations, HANDS, developed a roofing kit that would provide ample accommodation in the emergency phase and be dismantled and brought home when return was possible. Here it could be re-used for semi-permanent transitional shelter and again a third time when the funds for durable, flood-resistant shelters were raised. Costing no more than £70 ($100) the kit included sufficient bamboo poles for a normal roof (and a good sized temporary shelter), plastic sheets and a steel beam that would become the central structure of the temporary and, later, the permanent dwelling. This may be the first time in Pakistan that building materials have been used across the “relief to development continuum”; it has also reduced the cost of providing shelter support to the same family twice. In fact it has enabled HANDS to become our largest shelter partner, reaching over 50,000 families over this period.
Sustained donor engagement: the fact that DFID approved the submissions from the humanitarian team at DFID Pakistan year after year, sustaining a focus on shelter (as well as livelihoods) has been critical to the success and continuity of the programme. Indeed DFID has been the leading donor in the shelter sector since the 2011 floods, contributing over £30m towards this effort. This enabled a British shelter adviser (er, me) to remain engaged with DFID-Pakistan, living in Islamabad through most of the project period, travelling extensively across every district and meeting beneficiaries in hundreds of villages.
|A home made with lime-stabilised earth blocks supported by ACTED (NGO). The large shading is to protect the render from|
sunlight while the lime render cures properly (it shouldn't dry too fast).
|Classic "Chora" house in Tharparkar district (SE Sindh) which the family rebuilt |
with support from Heritage Foundation, IOM and their local NGO partner.
This initiative shows that it's possible to take an alternative, low-cost, low-tech and low-carbon reconstruction programme to scale - that is: not limited to a few hundred houses as alternative projects often are. Our amazingly dedicated partners trained men and women in some really isolated places to build houses to a high standard. People who were mostly illiterate – but dilligent and committed. Now, as I move around other countries of the world I see how many other flood-prone communities could use some of these skills, so to start off I'm going to write about what we did in Pakistan, how and why, how much it cost, then you can decide if it's worth taking further.
|Made with wood and straw, covered in mud, with no roof eaves these houses are vulnerable to intense rainfall as the walls can collapse from the top down. |
Roofs provide scant protection from the rains; there are rarely protruding eaves, which leaves the entire house all too exposed to heavy downpours: water penetrates and softens the tops of the earthen walls until they cannot support the weight of the roof and the whole shelter collapses.
|Other types, these from Southern Sindh, with twin-pitch roofs, with better eaves over the walls. But the walls collapse when submerged for too long.|
|Ghulam Mustafa, from HANDS, who has also|
stayed the course over all these years. A really
dedicated humanitarian dude!
|Yasmeen Lari, founder of the Heritage Foundation, Pakistan's first|
lady architect and now one of its strongest and relentless advocate
for natural building, heritage conservation and preservation
of vernacular architecture.
|Manuel Pereira - unstoppable project manager of IOM an|
engineer from Lisbon whose energy and diligence was
unparalleled and an inspiration.
|Bee Rowan, founder of Strawbuild, one of the most passionate|
advocates for natural materials, with decades of training and
design experience in lime and other natural materials.
Project Ambition – what were the intended outcomes?
Ultimately, the point of all this effort has been two-fold: restore people's homes and to reduce the impact of future floods for people living in areas that are likely to be exposed to extreme weather events. By reducing the impact we'd also hope to reduce, to some extent, people's vulnerability to “natural hazards”, to increase their resilience to these predictable threats.
In terms of ambition, I think this is one of the largest shelter programmes in the world that has supported so many local people to build flood-resistant houses at such a low price, avoiding enormous atmospheric pollution, using lime and other natural, affordable, locally-available materials. So far the project has helped around 750,000 people across flood-prone areas in Sindh, Southern Punjab (Rajanpur specifically) and two districts of Eastern Baluchistan.
Environmental and Social factors - should we put a value on these?
Emissions and pollution from brick kilns, cement production, local deforestation all contribute to a more denuded and vulnerable ecological landscape that leave people much more at risk from floods or storms. Which in turn are more severe because of excessive global pollution and climate change. A viscous cycle.
Women were at the forefront of rebuilding their own homes. This example from Badin in Southern Sindh, following a Heritage Foundation design, which promoted massive foundations and "toes" and raised platforms to increase
- Link the response to emergency shelter needs to longer-term, durable housing. It makes more sense than investing twice for the same objectives. Think long term when you programme an initial response.
- Use lime in flood areas. There is ample evidence that lime resists water better than any modern material. This dates back from the Roman and Indus civilisations - whose structures, built over 5,000 years ago, are still standing in Northern Sindh.
- Lime is a complex material that requires training from experts with appropriate experience. It is not like cement that can be mixed in a simple ratio with sand or earth. It requires extensive local testing and research before it can be used at scale. Make sure you plan in at least 3 additional months for this research.
- Promote community mobilisation and engagement from the beginning. Reinforce beneficiary ownership by giving control of local expenditure to the community, rather than external agencies.
- Deal with other issues in the community while engaged in the housing. Can the low-cost building blocks be used to build latrines too? Why not address the health crisis sparked by the use of sub-standard cook-stoves by introducing better models?
- Involve local academia wherever possible. Local students are thrilled to be engaged in ongoing projects. This way more people observe, learn, practice and can disseminate the lessons that emerge. [We so need to do better in this regard...].
- Publish findings, encourage discussions and spark debates – make these projects widely known through journals, films and articles, so they don’t remain isolated cases closed to anyone who wasn’t directly involved in the project.