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HFH Pakistan Helps Over 200 Earthquake-Affected Families To Resettle In Their Villages

HFH Japan helps save forests by providing sawmill services for housing reconstruction

BALAKOT Pakistan, 28th June 2006: More than six months after the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, Habitat for Humanity continues to take an active role in recovery efforts by helping families who were staying in relief camps to resettle in their own villages.

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Teamwork: Kyle Scott, Habitat’s regional programs manager for South Asia, working alongside Habitat staff to set up a shelter for Pakistan earthquake survivors in Balakot.

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Every effort counts: Kyle Scott, Habitat’s regional programs manager for South Asia, helping to set up shelters for earthquake-affected families in Balakot, Pakistan

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Steady now: Pakistani villagers in Balakot utilising Habitat’s sawmill services to cut wood for roof beams

At the request of the local people, the Habitat Resource Center (HRC) in Balakot, about 200 km. north of the capital Islamabad, is providing shelters for 226 families stricken by the earthquake. This will enable more than 1,300 survivors living in tents to be housed in more adequate shelter before the onset of the monsoon rains in a few weeks’ time.

The shelters provided are similar to those in HFH Pakistan’s first 100-shelter project that started in mid-February 2006. Made of corrugated steel sheets and iron pipes, the shelters cover 12 ft. by 12 ft. 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. The components can be re-used in the construction of permanent shelters.

The new shelter project is funded by donations through national Habitat offices in Great Britain, Hungary and the Netherlands, with the bulk of the contribution coming from money raised at the 2005 Gala Benefit by HFH China’s Hong Kong office.

HFH Pakistan is one of the official partners of the Pakistan government’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) and UN-HABITAT which are co-ordinating reconstruction efforts.

Farhan Mall, Habitat’s representative in Pakistan, said the shelter assistance “is critical in protecting inhabitants from the rain and cold, and to protect their limited remaining possessions after the devastating earthquake”.

New projects

In addition, the HRC in Balakot has also started a new sawmill services project with funding from Japan Platform through HFH Japan. The Japan Platform is a non-profit organization that pools government funds and private donations to provide emergency relief and reconstruction assistance for victims of natural disasters and conflicts. HFH Pakistan surveys found that many local people used wood beams for the roofs of their houses and a lot of these beams were broken in the earthquake.

Using the Japanese-supported sawmills, villagers are able to reshape slightly damaged wooden beams or cut new beams from abundant wood in the forests for use in house construction. The sawmills are transported to various villages by tractors and tractor engines are used to run the machines. The portable sawmills save people the time and energy in traveling long distance to other villages or nearby cities to cut the wood.

The sawmill services also help to prevent deforestation through more economical use of wood. In the past, local people often used unnecessarily large wooden beams and uncut logs because they had no means of cutting the wood. A total of 650 families, or 3,900 people, stand to benefit from the sawmill services project.

Habitat works in and around Balakot which is among the worst-hit districts in the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that ripped through Pakistan on 8th October 2005. Over 30,000 people were killed in Balakot while nationwide, more than 80,000 people died in the earthquake. More than 3.5 million people were left homeless in north Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Initial response

In the aftermath of the earthquake, a Habitat representative was sent to visit the disaster-stricken area around Balakot. After the representative’s preliminary report, Habitat sent a team of disaster management experts to assess the damage and propose a comprehensive action plan. Weeks after the earthquake, HFH Pakistan strategically re-located its office from Karachi to Islamabad to enhance responsiveness to the disaster

In January 2006, Chuck Watkins, a Habitat disaster response expert and construction specialist, stayed in Balakot to show the villagers how to set up transitional shelters

While Habitat’s focus is on reconstruction work, it provided the 100 transitional shelters in its first shelter project in view of the homeless people’s needs at that time. The transitional shelters are made of materials that can be recycled for permanent shelters, thus saving costs in rebuilding.

Partnerships

For the successful distribution and setting up of the transitional shelters, HFH Pakistan has the Pakistan army to thank. Due to landslides and inaccessible roads, Habitat’s vehicles were sometimes stuck and the Pakistan army helped out by providing manpower and equipment to aid shelter distribution. The Habitat-Pakistan army co-operation extended to the construction of winter shelters for widows high in the mountains.

To help survivors cope with the expected harsh winter conditions, Habitat also distributed 500 winter kits to 100 families living in the transitional shelters. The winter kits, provided by the non-governmental organization International Organization for Migration (IOM), include plastic sheeting, blankets and rope

In addition to the Pakistan army and IOM, HFH Pakistan’s partners include US-based Morning Star. A non-profit community and economic development organization, Morning Star provides food packages to those living in Habitat shelters and is committed to supply blankets in the communities where HFH Pakistan is working.

HFH Pakistan is exploring future partnerships with organizations such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency as well as World Vision to develop joint projects in housing and livelihood. As Habitat envisions the future transition to a more regular program in Pakistan, the combination of livelihood projects with housing will boost the ability of the communities to repay mortgage loans received from Habitat under more conventional programs.

Reconstruction housing

As part of its rural housing reconstruction program, the Pakistan government has provided housing grants to affected families to rebuild an estimated 400,000 houses using earthquake-resistant techniques.

As of 26th June 2006, the government’s ERRA had released a total of 16.8 billion Pakistan rupees (about US$279.3 million) in housing grants. For each house that was completely destroyed, a family receives a grant of 175,000 rupees, paid out in installments. This helps provide for immediate shelter needs and for building a permanent home. For a partially damaged house, the grant is 75,000 rupees.

The Pakistan government is assigning each non-governmental organization (NGO) involved in reconstruction efforts to one or more Union Councils that are geographical divisions for administrative purposes.

Trainers from UN-HABITAT and the Nepal-based National Society for Earthquake Technology are imparting earthquake-resistant building techniques to NGO staff, including those from HFH Pakistan. The trained staff will in turn train villagers, certify trainees and provide technical assistance in earthquake-resistant building techniques.

Three HFH Pakistan staff members who have undergone the training believed that the techniques they learnt will greatly reduce the devastating effect on buildings if another earthquake of such a scale should occur.

Looking ahead

With the establishment of a HRC in Balakot, Habitat plans to set up more of such centers in other earthquake-affected areas in Pakistan. The HRCs will have the capacity to host volunteer builds and feature training facilities for HFH Pakistan’s mobile teams that will be working in the field.

For now, Habitat’s priority is to help the more than 200 affected families in tent communities move to durable shelters before the monsoon season arrives. “The opportunity to provide additional shelters will help more communities in more remote areas, build more relationships and strengthen trust. This is the essence of Habitat for Humanity,” said Habitat’s representative Mall.