Reconstruction of Earthquake Affected Areas

According to the 1998 Housing Census, there were 807,605 housing units in the twelve earthquake effected districts of Azad Kashmir and the NWFP. It is estimated that fifty per cent of this housing stock has collapsed and another twenty per cent has been badly damaged. This means that over 500,000 housing units will have to be rebuilt or repaired in a manner that can withstand future earthquakes. It is also estimated that about 12,000 formal and/or informal schools have collapsed or have been irreparably damaged. The scale of this disaster is far too large to be dealt with by the building of model villages, pre-fabricated houses and contractor delivered construction mechanisms that are being proposed by some quarters in officialdom. In addition, the corn crop in many areas will not be harvested this year and nor will the wheat crop be sown. Livestock has also perished and pasture land fodder for livestock that have survived will not be available once winter sets in. In this situation, rehabilitation can only be done by supporting village communities to rehabilitate themselves. Such a process will also be a rehabilitation therapy for individuals and families and they will also own a development in which they have been the main actors.

The areas affected by the earthquake consist for the most part of small villages. The communities in these villages usually consist of an extended family or belong to the same clan. They have a long tradition of collective work and of helping each other. Almost all villages have masons, carpenters, electricians and other related building skills who have built the existing housing stock without any external help or assistance. Village communities have also participated actively with local government in the building of their water supply schemes which are perhaps the most successful examples of participatory development in Pakistan. It is this enormous community potential backed by a substantial remittance economy that has to be galvanized and supported if the earthquake affected areas are to be rehabilitated.

A proper re-building of homes is not possible before winter ends. It is not possible either before the rubble of the collapsed buildings and houses. This is because people understandably wish to build on their old sites rather than be moved to sites that they do now own. Buried in this rubble are the future building materials such as GI sheets, timber beams, doors and windows, millions of cubic feet of hammer dressed or chizzled stone and mud mixed with straw. The removal of this rubble can take place during the winter months. It is suggested that a rubble-removing cash-for-work programme should be introduced and tools such as sledge hammers, pick axes, wheel barrows, gloves and dynamite should be provided to house owners and hired labour from within the community.

Rubble removal has to be followed by a programme that provides technical, financial and managerial guidance to communities for the building of their homes. Earthquakes cause fissures in the earth and destabilise building sites. To advise on the suitability of sites for rebuilding or for carrying out earth works to stabilise sites, mobile teams of structural engineers will have to be formed. Communities working with these engineers will learn the principles for assessing building sites and for consolidating them. NGOs can turn this knowledge into posters, handbills and/or manuals. Thus, this knowledge can become a part of the community rebuilding process. This work can also be carried out during the winter months in areas where winter is not too severe.

The next step is to popularise earthquake resistant technology, using local materials. This technology is well-known. It is simple and economical. It has been used extensively in Yemen, Iran, and in Maharashtara in India. It has also been used by the Self-help School Building Programme of the Aga Khan Foundation in the Northern Areas. For use in the affected areas, it needs to be further simplified and manuals that local communities can use need to be prepared. The Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute and the Urban Resource Centre Karachi are currently working with senior structural engineers to prepare such a manual. Initially, NGOs will have to supervise a few houses using the new technologies. Masons who build these houses can then be turned into mobile teams and become the trainers of other masons. This technology can also be used for future health and education buildings once the passion for high tech solutions subsides – and it will. If properly managed, a new community based culture of building will develop in the affected areas. However, the state will have to provide the communities with tin sheets, industrially manufactured insulation materials (to be placed under tin sheets) and wire mesh and mild steel rods which are important materials for earthquake resistant technologies. In addition, loans for the rehabilitation of agricultural and pastoral activity will have to be provided so that the devastated subsistence economy can be revived. These loans can be provided through the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, the National Rural Support Programme, the Orangi Pilot Project and other micro credit organisations who know how to assess needs and to manage and monitor these loans.

Making a plan is easy. Organising its elements centrally is also not too complex a task. The question is how a cash for work programme can be implemented at the grass root level and how can materials and building knowledge can be transferred to the local population? For this it is suggested that at each union council level (average population 35,000) a civilian administrator should be appointed and supported by a committee of local people and NGOs who are active in the area. They should collectively help in organising communities, negotiate with a central authority and manage the programme locally.

The architects and engineers of Pakistan can learn a lot from the earthquake devastated buildings. There are concrete houses that have collapsed. There are mud houses that have survived. There are timber columns, beams and roofs that are standing while the rubble walls around them have collapsed. The poultry houses and palaces are intact in many areas for some strange reasons. Analysis of these damaged structures can lead us to develop cheap and new earthquake resistance building technologies rather than relying on imported literature.

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