Survivors of Pakistan's flood lay foundations for new homes and lives

14 Dec 2010

Struggling to help her husband with a long-term respiratory illness when their wooden house was swept away by catastrophic flooding in the north of Pakistan, Gul Numa, over 80 years old, survived the initial weeks of August in a makeshift camp.

Numa and her husband, Sayed Qalandar Shah, 90, were among five families uprooted from Hassanabad village in the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, one of the areas worst affected by waters which spread across one fifth of the country starting in July.

The villagers’ wooden and bamboo thatched houses, agricultural lands, fruit orchards, and fields of cattle were submerged under a landscape of boulders, gravel and sand. The only bridge connecting the village to the main road was washed away.

With winter approaching, the impoverished families needed urgent assistance. But with few remaining resources they were staying in government-run camps, waiting for help to move into more permanent accommodation.

Agha Khan Planning and Building Services, a local partner of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), located Gul Numa’s son living in a nearby village and provided him with the materials to build a disaster-proof house.

The houses, made of poplar wood and stone masonry are 400 square feet and cost the equivalent of US$1,000. Their interior - living room, kitchen, storage space and washroom - is insulated from harsh winters and protected with a water-resistant roof.

Inhabitants able to take part in construction of the houses were involved in collecting stones and laying foundations for the low-cost structures whose materials and architecture are also designed to reduce wood fuel consumption by 40 to 60 percent.

The five Hassanabad families moved from their temporary shelters into new houses last week, and Gul Numa expressed gratitude for the rapid construction and facilities in her new home.

“I am happy,” she said. “My new home has an attached bathroom and will not collapse in an earthquake like an ordinary house. They are even installing a cooking stove for me. I pray for the long life of these people who have done so much for us.”

UNDP aims to expand the house-building project to other parts of the country, for example to the worst-affected areas of Sindh province. Plans are underway to construct 2,612 units in the province’s Thatta district that will benefit 10,028 poor households.

Proceeds from the Match Against Poverty will go towards meeting the housing needs of displaced people like those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Sindh, and at other flooded sites across the country.

The efforts are part of US$120 million early recovery programme launched by the Government of Pakistan and UNDP to create jobs, repair basic community infrastructure, and strengthen local government offices.

Overall, 18 million people were affected by the flooding with 1.8 million houses damaged or destroyed. The cost of rebuilding Pakistan is estimated at US$9 billion.