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Habitat for Humanity Continues To Provide Shelters And Sawmill Services To Pakistan Earthquake Victims

Shelter is still a priority with approaching winter; rebuilding gets boost with sawmill services project’s extension

BALAKOT 31th August, 2006: With the recent flooding caused by heavy rains, survivors of last year’s earthquake in Pakistan are facing greater woes. Some families have barely any protection from the elements in their tattered tents while others have seen their tents collapsed under the force of the rains.

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Contrast: a Habitat shelter next to the tents which many of the Pakistan earthquake victims are still living in.

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Supportive: a Pakistani villager with the iron pipes used to put up the shelters that Habitat provided.

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Strength: Mahboob was among the Serian villagers who availed themselves of Habitat’s sawmill services. He made eight trips, each time carrying a 150 kg. log over his shoulder.

Habitat for Humanity Pakistan continues to provide shelters as another winter approaches. It is also extending its sawmill services for those rebuilding their lives after last year’s deadly earthquake.

Since February 2006, HFH Pakistan has handed out over 220 shelters to families in Balakot, about 200 km. north of the capital Islamabad. The Habitat Resource Center (HRC) in Balakot has a stock of 80 units on hand.

Staff from the HRC usually carry out field surveys to assess the shelter needs of the earthquake survivors. Thereafter, staff riding in two jeeps will bring the shelters to some remote villages in the mountains. There, the shelters can be assembled in less than an hour. Made of four iron pipes along with seven corrugated steel sheets, each 2 m. high shelter measures 3.7 m. by 3.7 m. The shelters are insulated with foam sheeting inside that provides warmth against the cold and wind. These components can be re-used in the construction of permanent shelters.

Waris Masih, field coordinator with HFH Pakistan, said: “Following recent flooding, Habitat has targeted the areas where families have lost their shelters. In one community in Balakot, we built 10 shelters for the families who lost all their possessions.”

“It is very satisfying to know we can continue to provide a service to the families who are in great need.”

Among the needy is 92-year-old Abdul Ghani who was sitting by the road near one of these tent communities. Like many earthquake survivors, Abdul lives amid the ruins of Balakot.

The effects of the earthquake are still evident though 10 months have passed since the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck on 8th October last year.

More than 70,000 people were killed in Balakot alone and over 3.5 million people were left homeless in northern parts of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. In the once picturesque Balakot, piles of rubble, remnants of clothing, children toys, discarded shoes and twisted metal lay alongside the gutted dirt roads.

When asked about his home by Habitat staff Shoaib Malik and photojournalist Mikel Flamm, Abdul pointed to a makeshift shelter amid a cluster of tents and shelters. Several plastic sheets tied together provided some form of privacy from curious passersby but many shelters that were behind the plastic screen were held up by broken pieces of wood and metal poles. Abdul’s home was no exception – he has been living with his 85-year-old wife Wahab Noor in a dark, one-room shelter made of wood, metal and plastic.

Habitat also provides tangible help through its sawmill services project. In September, Habitat will begin the second phase of this project which first started in June. More than 350 families – approximately 1,900 individuals – were helped in their reconstruction efforts through the free sawmill services.

The sawmill project is a collaboration between HFH Japan and HFH Pakistan. Funding comes from the non-profit organization, Japan Platform that pools private and government funds in Japan to provide emergency relief and reconstruction assistance.

With an additional machine making a total of three sawmills, Habitat can reach out to even more families in the project’s second phase. Each sawmill is mounted on a special platform with removable wheels that allowed transportation to a particular site. The portable sawmills save people the time and energy in traveling long distance to other villages or nearby cities to cut wood needed for reconstruction. When the earthquake occurred, one of the major causes of injury was due to heavy timber falling down on inhabitants. The 3.7 m. long timber, usually measuring 10 cm. by 15 cm, was used for roof support.

“The sawmill project comes at a time when the families most need it,” says HRC staff member Shoaib. “If the families had to pay for this type of service, it would cost at least 3,000 Pakistan rupees for 25 sheets to be cut (about US$50).”

Each family per household is entitled to cut 25 sheets of wood. With the heavy rains and possibility of landslides, the sawmills were brought down to the lowlands to provide services in areas surrounding the city.

The saws operated form early morning to dusk each day as residents of the tent communities brought their timber for cutting after which they will mostly store the wood until the time when they will rebuild their homes.

Recently, one of these sawmills, carried and powered by a tractor, made its 15 km. journey uphill to the remote village of Serian. Although the sawmill had made a previous appearance in the village, the sight of it still astounded villagers such as Mahboob Ur-Rehman. “I have never seen a saw like this before,” he said. “No one has ever provided us with the chance to cut our timber. In the past, we used heavy logs for roof support. But after the earthquake destroyed our homes, we know that it is not safe to use such timber.”

Each time the 65-year-old Mahboob came to the site to use the sawmill services, he had a 150 kg. log over his shoulder with his slender cane for support. He made a total of eight trips carrying these logs.

“I plan to rebuild my house but with a safer design using a stone wall less than 0.9 m. high with a metal sheet roof. This wood will be used for framing the walls and roof,” he added.

A grateful Mahboob said: “Last month Habitat provided my family with a shelter…We thank God for your assistance to this village.”