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Habitat For Humanity To Help Build Quake-Resistant Homes In Pakistan

21,000 People Stand To Benefit From Assistance

BALAKOT, 15th February 2006: It’s more than three months after the October earthquake in Pakistan and Habitat for Humanity is working hard alongside the survivors who are struggling to rebuild their lives.

Help at hand: Habitat’s resource center staff in Balakot will be visiting five families a day to guide them in the construction of earthquake-resistant homes

Over 80,000 people are reported to have died and more than three million rendered homeless by the 7.6-magnitude quake. An estimated half a million homes were destroyed.

Although the winter has been less severe than many feared, the environment is still tough.

Habitat’s resource center in Balakot, 200 km. north of the capital Islamabad, is now starting to operate. And soon another 20,000 people could be benefiting from Habitat’s rebuilding program.

Eager to move on, the earthquake survivors have started to reconstruct their houses using the same materials and methods as before the quake.

To address the problem, trained personnel in the Habitat resource center’s mobile teams will help homeowners to modify the construction methods such as adding a specially designed angle iron to keep the joints intact.

Keeping the joints intact is important for Habitat has found that a lack of connection among the foundation, walls and roof makes a house prone to collapse. Foundations are absent in many houses in Pakistan.

Habitat staff will also carry out a fresh survey in the Balakot area looking at 20 villages that are some 4,500-8,000 ft above sea level. The survey, involving about 200 families, will reveal the construction practices of the villagers and differences in construction methods before and after the earthquake.

Villages at different altitudes will be selected for the survey as the temperature, the amount of rainfall and snow affect construction methods.

In early March, Habitat will start to send the mobile teams from the Balakot to train the homeowners and provide them with materials to strengthen their houses. Two teams will each visit five families a day. Each team is expected to assist 1,500 families in a year.

Looking ahead, Mall expects logistics to be an uphill task. He says of Pakistan: “This is a mountainous region and getting around is very difficult. Some of the villages are about five hours’ walk from the nearest track.”

And the use of helicopters for transporting staff and building material and construction machinery to the sites is costly – something that Pakistan could ill afford. In some cases, Habitat may even have to use mules to carry materials to the site, says Mall.

He adds: “Finding good staff is also a challenge because there are so many non-governmental organizations that have hired people from the development field and are paying them big money.”

The silver lining in the cloud is that through the assistance of the mobile teams, Habitat for Humanity will have a direct impact on the living conditions of 21,000 people (based on an estimate of seven members in each family visited). And the benefits will extend to another 10,000 people who learn from the homeowners whom Habitat has helped.