Transitional houses and long-term homes: a Pakistan case study -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Transitional houses and long-term homes: a Pakistan case study

By Wong Hiew Peng

The 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Pakistan and neighboring India and Afghanistan in October 2005 dealt a harsh blow to remote poor communities. Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Indian-administered Kashmir and the eastern districts of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province bore the full brunt of the earthquake.

Habitat for Humanity International responded to the earthquake with an initial commitment of US$250,000 to provide technical assistance and support to HFH Pakistan and partner organizations. In the immediate aftermath, HFH Pakistan helped the Swiss-based International Organization for Migration distribute waterproof tents, blankets and winter survival kits.

Habitat’s goal, however, was to build earthquake-resilient permanent homes.

Some families required transitional housing. These families had either chosen to stay on their land instead of relocating to tent camps or had been in tent camps but wanted to return to their villages as winter approached.

HFH Pakistan looked at the available shelter solutions, including a dome-shaped shelter design offered by Partner Aid International, a Swiss-based development and relief agency. The design was adapted to create transitional homes that could be assembled by a trained team in 30 minutes and featured materials that could be reused later in permanent houses.

A transitional shelter costs about the same as a tent—US$200 to $250—but it had the advantages of lasting longer, being more secure and providing better protection in harsh weather conditions.

Materials used in the transitional shelter included 12 pieces of steel rebar, six semicircular pieces of tubular pipes, eight galvanized corrugated iron sheets, insulation material that could be unblown foam and metal ties similar to those for tying cotton bales.

The first transitional house was assembled in the village of Thanda Katha on Feb. 20, 2006. Within a year of responding to the earthquake, Habitat had moved forward with establishing a long-term program. In the second phase, HFH Pakistan wanted to create more permanent housing solutions in areas farther away from Balakot, the epicenter of the earthquake.

At that time, Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority announced a US$3.5 billion, three-year recovery plan for earthquake-affected areas. Families building their homes to new earthquake-resilient designs were eligible for government grants.

To ensure that houses would be rebuilt successfully, HFH Pakistan established community-based resource centers in Mansehra and Balakot. The centers continue to serve three important functions: as bases for local Habitat teams to store construction materials; as places for members of the communities to come together and decide about their rebuilding programs; and as places for people to receive training and advice.

HFH Pakistan adopted the idea of sawing and processing many of the salvaged but heavy timbers into lighter pieces for the new earthquake-resilient house design. To reach people living in remote communities, HFH Pakistan made constant use of three mobile sawmills that were paid for by the Japan Platform, a multi-body funding agency, through HFH Japan.

Wherever the sawmills were located, villagers would bring their salvaged timber for cutting into boards and trusses for lighter roofs. Reusing existing materials meant fewer trees needed to be felled for home construction, and the use of less wood actually made stronger homes.

One of the goals of HFH Pakistan was to turn the dome-shaped transitional shelters into larger, more permanent homes that could be built from existing materials. Conforming to government standards, Habitat produced a house design that involved a 3-foot-high rock-and-wood wall, with an upper section of lighter corrugated iron roof sheets, metal side sheeting, and insulation.

The estimated cost of a new home that was built with commercially bought materials was US$2,500. By dismantling and reusing materials from the transitional shelters and salvaged timber and wood, the cost was just US$500.

In rebuilding their homes, the families’ efforts were boosted by Habitat volunteers. In late January 2007, a 16-strong team of university student volunteers organized by HFH Korea helped build 25 transitional shelters and 15 permanent homes in Batsanger, Ghanool and Kanshian.

They also used the sawmill facilities at the Balakot HRC to cut wood and timber for 56 families to use in their new homes. HFH Korea raised US$35,000 from KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency) for rebuilding homes for earthquake survivors.

In late 2007, HFH Pakistan entered a new phase in post-earthquake reconstruction. Through HFH Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency began funding a continuation of HFH Pakistan’s work in four affected Union Council areas.

The two-year, US$900,000 project will see an extension of the mobile sawmill services as well as training out of the HRCs at Balakot and Mansehra.

An estimated 6,000 families are expected to benefit from the training, which includes full-day sessions on introduction to earthquake-resilient home designs and construction techniques for building safely.

Wong Hiew Peng is a writer/editor for HFH in Asia and the Pacific