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Habitat Bring Hope to Mountainous Communities in Balakot, Pakistan

First Transitional Homes Go Up

BALAKOT, 18th April 2006: Twenty-nine year old Sakina lives with her husband and three children in the village of Lower Mitikot located high in the hills above Balakot.

As with nearly every family here in this village the early morning hours of 8th October will be remembered as a day when their world turned upside down.

The old: Sakina and her children outside the tent that has been their home for over five months since the earthquake. With her are daughters Nusrat (left) and Seema and son Yasir.

Start of a better life: Sakina’s daughter Nusrat and son Yasir inside the new Habitat transitional shelter

Preparing a new home: Habitat staff and volunteers assemble the new home for Sakina’s family

“We were very lucky none of us were injured,” said Sakina. “I was outside with the children, (daughters Nusrat, aged 11 and Seema, 6 and son Yasir, 9) when the quake happened, but Haroon, my husband, was still in the house. When the ground began to shake he rushed outside. A few seconds later the house collapsed.”

Haroon escaped unharmed.

For over six months, the family has lived in a simple tent not far from where their house once stood. All that remains of their homes and others in the village are piles of large stones, broken timber and discarded remnants of clothing.

In early April, staff from Habitat for Humanity Pakistan built a shelter for Sakina and her family that will eventually become a permanent home. They were helped by three solders from the Pakistan army who had deployed to assist with the disaster response in this and other communities affected by the quake.

Since starting the transitional shelter project in mid-February, Habitat has built over 80 shelters for affected families. Made of four iron pipes along with eight, 26-gauge, corrugated steel sheets, the shelters cover 12-ft. by 12ft. and are more than 6 ft. high. Each shelter is insulated with foam sheeting inside that provides an effective barrier against the cold and wind.

“We are very happy to have this shelter,” says Sakina. “The rainy season is coming soon so we are confident that this shelter will keep us protected against the rains and the cold.”

“The tent we had been living in for all these months was very stuffy in the day and extremely cold at night, and leaked when it rains, so we are very happy to have this shelter for the family,” she said.

The massive earthquake killed over 80,000 people, injured over 140,000 and left over 3.5 million people homeless in northern sections of Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

HFH Pakistan’s resource center in Balakot, 200 km. north of the Pakistan capital Islamabad, is the main storage and distribution point for materials. Habitat has plans to continue to build such shelters for many of the affected families who continue to live in tent communities inside the ruins of the city and the surrounding hillside communities.

Habitat transitional shelters can be taken apart or used as the core for more permanent homes. Material for these homes is likely to include timber that has been pulled out the rubble and reshaped for recycling — a move that has the added benefit of meaning fewer trees need to be felled in local forests.

In the coming months, Habitat plans to purchase tractors along with portable saw mills that can be transported to remote areas so homeowners can cut wood for rebuilding their homes.

In the early months of Habitat’s response, the Pakistan team provided winter survival kits to some 700 families. The 80 families, including Sakina’s, who received transitional shelters had earlier received winter kits.

In and around Balakot over 30,000 people were killed, including thousands of people who lived in remote mountainous areas high in the hills. Access to these areas is only possible using 4 x 4 vehicles along narrow winding dirt roads that are constantly under threat of daily landslides.

The local government plans to rebuild Balakot in a new location although an exact date and location have yet to be announced. Tent communities have been told they must relocate by the end of April but this may be extended to a future date.