The most major impact on any affected of any kind of a natural disaster is psychological displacement. This is equally true for the victims of the Pakistan Floods of 2010. Their houses have been washed away or damaged beyond repair; their sources of incomes have been destroyed (in the form of crop or livestock); their lives have been put on a sudden hold. Any kind of rehabilitative work that is carried out for them needs to address the psychological impacts on their lives. Displacement, in physical form or even culturally, may not affect them in the short term; as a matter of fact, they might welcome any kind of rehabilitative work that is ‘offered’ to them as a privilege. In the long run, however, it will cause an unforeseen shift in their lifestyles to which they may or may not be able to cope with.
Architecturally speaking, people who have lived in mud houses for generations will be satisfied to be living in a brick or concrete house, but in the long run, will they have the resources to maintain these houses? Who will pay for the maintenance of these houses? ‘Aid’ will be not always be flowing in for them. They need to be given solutions that they can sustain, long after the aid is gone. Mud (or any other local material) is readily available in these areas, and will always be. Why give them an infrastructure, which they will not be able to afford? Why give them an infrastructure that they are not used to culturally, socially and financially?
It is utterly impractical, and insensitive, for any organization to pick up a project that promises more and delivers less. The approach to this disaster should be delivering more by promising them less – in a way that requires the participation of the local population in the reconstruction process.
This might seem like an unsympathetic approach to their vows, but one that understands the overall implications. It is imperative, in our view, that the people affected by this natural disaster are involved in the process of rehabilitation, so that they are a vital part of putting their own lives and their communities back together again. This will not only instill a sense of ownership in them, it will give them a chance to be a part of rebuilding their own lives. Maybe the only opportunity in this disaster is to help these people rise beyond their current states of mind about not being ‘able’ enough and actually be able to be agents of change in their own lives.
The flood affected should not be treated like victims; they need to be told what needs to get done in order to put their lives back on track. Put them responsible for reconstructing their own lives. Educate them in ways of building, community management, their basic rights, the benefits of being able to restart earning their own livelihood as soon as possible. Give them technical education; give them the basic resources to construct houses that are financially affordable and maintained. Give them opportunities of earning during the rehabilitative phase through cash-for-work programs. This is the only way we will not make chronic beggars out of them, to put it in harsh words.
Help the flood-affected people rebuild their own houses in a way that is culturally, socially and financially relevant.
1. Involve them in the cleaning up process.
While it seems obvious that they will have already initiated the clean up process, but if they are guided into systematically doing this, we are already halfway through in organizing them as a community that will later help in the reconstruction phase.
2. Give them resources and technical guidance to help them build themselves.
Nearly all of the affected areas of the 2010 Floods in Pakistan are rural in nature. Their solutions cannot, and should not, be extracted from urban case-studies. The relationship of a rural inhabitant to his/her built environment is far more natural than that of an urban inhabitant. A rural inhabitant builds his life around the infrastructure of his village and home. He is a part of the process of building a home. Any proposal for rehabilitation should keep these factors in mind.
- Let them ‘design’ their villages and homes. The most we can do, as ‘advisors’, is to assist them in finding a better way of building; rather than present them with a prototype to be repeated on and on. In our view, pre-fabricated and assembly line production shelters may be a viable solution for temporary shelters, but not for long term. Studies show that all similar experiments, in which the inhabitants of the community are left to design the places for themselves or are involved extensively in the designing process, have performed better than those that have been presented with a model plan – examples being the New Gourna Village by Hassan Fathy and the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi. Traditional ways of building are the result of a long chain of trial and error sequences that were applied from generation to generation. While they can be assisted in solving technical issues beyond their scope, the spatial planning should be mostly left to them.
- Give them better alternatives to the ‘method’ of construction. Promulgate lightweight roofing solutions, such as bamboo or mud brick vaulting, rather than commonly employed (and usually expensive) materials like timber or steel. Educate them in ways of constructing stronger structures.
3. Building Back Better only needs common sense.
For any system of construction to become much more resilient than it currently is, not many radical steps need to be taken. It is usually very simple to reinforce a system of construction for it to be able to respond better to any natural disaster, such as floods or earthquakes. The reason it became a generally applied way of constructing is because it works under ‘usual’ circumstances. But what to do in a world that is becoming increasingly prone to unusual circumstances, such as natural disasters?
Taking the example of most rural cases in Punjab, the reasons of failure in most structures can easily be established. Walls have collapsed where there has been much greater load than a mud wall can hold – the culprit usually being heavy wooden beam or steel I-sections. In other cases, a water channel has cut through the lower portions of the walls, which then resulted in complete collapse of the structure.
So what does this imply? This implies that while the mud structures have been sustainable for living for centuries, there are some alterations that can be made without radically modifying the elements of local architecture, and without making it financially and culturally impractical for them to live in.
These modifications can be achieved through common sense:
- For the issue of stronger structures, a column-supported structure can be introduced, in which the load is held by, say four columns, if it’s a single room structure. These columns can be constructed out of the strongest materials available, so that the structural strength of the house is not compromised.
- A similar modification can be made in terms of foundations of the structure. By using a stronger material, such as concrete, stone or burnt brick, the foundations of the structure can be made much more resilient to any kind of force acting upon it. The effectiveness of the foundations can be further expanded by raising these ‘foundation’ walls upto 3’ above ground level.
- In order to solve the problem of roofing, alternative materials can be employed. Bamboo has been successfully used all over the world as a roofing material. In the subcontinent, bamboo is the mostly commonly used material to set up scaffoldings during construction. If bamboo has been so successful in being the backbone of construction for so long, there is no reason it cannot be employed as a roofing alternative.
A similar alternative, in areas where bamboo will be impossible to get, is using mud bricks as the roofing material too, through the construction of vaults. Not only does this drastically cut costs when compared to timber, steel or even bamboo, it is perhaps structurally a more feasible solution too.
- In terms of cost cutting while improving efficiency of locally available materials, alternatives to simple mud adobe bricks can be used, for example, Interlocking Stabilised Soil Bricks, which have been extensively applied in numerous projects by UN-Habitat and other similar organizations. Not only to do they possess much greater strength than normal mud bricks, they also reduce the cost of construction through eliminating the need of mortar.
Our aim is to build back better, but not at the cost of uprooting rural lifestyles. It is extremely important to continue with the reconstruction process as a ‘community initiative’, so that the transition back to their normal lives is as smooth as possible. Working without involvement of the community, will not construct a community, nor will it be easy to ‘hand over’ a village to the locals after it’s ‘completed’. The only way to rehabilitation of these communities is to let them take over the responsibility, while providing them with assistance in whichever way is required by them – and our assistance should keeping in mind that all our solutions be culturally and socially relevant; rely on available resources and systems; enhance, not negate, traditional knowledge of locals and finally, be cost-effective.
(Note: This introductory article was written for the purpose of presenting the idea behind Resettling The Indus to UN-Habitat and UN-OCHA, by ADRA in October 2010.)
The next headache of a villager, after the homes are rebuilt… maybe there is a way to eliminate that headache for them while they rebuild their houses…
- build the schools, mosques, clinics, shops, craft workshops and assure proper street and drainage!
I think, any good idea that isn’t done in time, doesn’t remain such a good idea… so while our higher authorities remain theorizing about how to provide shelter, we have already developed a methodology by which all affected citizens have begun rebuilding ‘resettling’ themselves. Since a step-by-step process of self-help is being adapted in villages along the Indus, we have begun taking on the next most immediate challenge to resettling the people along the Indus. While the local villagers are mobilized in a process to rebuild their individual homes, we can begin taking the responsibility to rebuild, for them, the civil buildings and sensible infrastructure of paths and drainage systems for all villages where the works of rehabilitation have already begun by the local population. By keeping the villagers involved in the rehabilitation process as much as possible, they will inevitable learn the processes to take on the larger tasks in developing their village.
These civil buildings would be: Primary schools, Mosques, Medical Clinic, Local Shops and a small cottage industry to teach crafts to villagers.
In doing so, we will be able to stay in direct exposure to the rehabilitation of houses that get done by the local villagers, helping us to maintain a presence to help them along the process. A prototype for each category of building will soon be developed (planned). The prototype will help us determine rough cost of each building. We can then experiment with usage of materials to make cost-effective buildings. This information will then be made available to any donor, NGO, student university/organization who is willing to take initiative in building for these villages the next set of things required once their homes are built: a. Primary school, b. Mosque, c. Medical Centre, d. Shops, e. Cottage industries, d. Clean/clear roads, e. Proper drainage systems.
In reference to the previous post, the location map of Hasara Yaseen Zai (courtesy: UNOSAT) has been uploaded. It is located in the patch of land right before the Swat and Kabul River merge.
On returning to Lahore, we sat down to revise our proposals that were forwarded to SRSP. Opening Google Earth to locate Hasara Yaseen Zai turned out to be much more beneficial than expected. Google has not yet updated its maps in the affected regions of the Indus. So we have deployed a team of students to download hi-res Google Earth images of all affected regions. To avoid later on disputes of land divisions, these maps can be forwarded to local organizations alongwith the proposal of rehabilitation. In conclusion, it is possible that we can redevelop the villages to resemble what was there prior to the floods.
Below is the Google Earth image of Hasara Yaseen Zai village before it was affected by the flood water.
Selected pictures from photographic survey of Hasara Yaseen Zai after the 2010 floods:
The idea for ‘Resettling the Indus’ was the result of a meeting of architects, engineers, social workers and students, held in Lahore on the 17th of August, 2010 in response to the floods of 2010. After the meeting, a draft survey was prepared, which is constantly being dispatched with any relief team going out from Lahore, in order to get as much documentation of the flood affected areas as possible. As for ourselves, we set out for Nowshera, Charsadda and Peshawar districts to review the on-ground situation at these places.
Received by SRSP, to whom we are very grateful for their support and guidance, we arrived in Peshawar the night of 21st August, 2010. Our schedule was ready – Nowshera region in the first half of the morning, Charsadda in the second. It was a day long tour of these two districts, with detailed briefing from the SRSP managers of each district.
Nowshera and Charsadda districts are one of the worst hit districts in Pakistan. Thankfully, since they were one of the first to be affected and due to international presence of organizations already in that area, immediate attention was drawn towards them in terms of relief and aid. In that regard, it was comforting to see that a lot of aid was getting to the people of this region, which makes it all the more important to now think of the next step.
During our review of these areas, SRSP took us to villages/towns that were completely destroyed by the floods. We identified two villages in Charsadda, with the help of Mr. Khalid Jan, Chief Manager of SRSP (Charsadda District), which could be used as model villages for development. Mr. Khalid Jan was very eager to get the reconstruction phase started as soon as possible, echoing sentiments of a lot of analysts that free aid for too long will make the affectees dependent on it, and slow down the process of them returning to their villages.
One village was a katcha construction village, just off the Kabul River, named Hasara Yaseen Zai. The other was a pakka construction locality, on the outskirts of main Charsadda city.
We surveyed the village Hasara Yaseen Zai (HYZ) in detail, and expressed our interest in using it as a model village, to which Mr. Khalid Jan responded quite positively. Most of the people from villages, such as HYZ, moved to the nearest high grounds and have pitched up their tents there. They are stationed right across from their village, and as such any rehabilitative work will not require them to travel much. Like many other villages, the foundations of the houses in HYZ were in stone, while the rest of the structure was made in mud and straw.
Our initial proposals made for this village recognized this system of construction, and were designed accordingly. Some sketches for these proposals can be found below.
Before returning to Lahore, we forwarded an initial proposal to SRSP in the form of sketches, as to how this process can be set up. This step by step process will serve as guidelines that can be implemented throughout the flood-affected regions (altered to fit the requirement of each region). The support from local organizations, already working in different areas, is highly necessary in order to avoid delays in the rehabilitation process. The proposal was divided up into six steps, which are as such:
Step I – Development of proposal for village
- Physical planning and detail specifications of proposed development
- Mobilization of affected people
- Usage of rubble material + resources to other materials necessary to begin development
Step II – Forwarding proposal to SRSP for ground breaking of development
- Explaining procedure of development of locals to each village.
Step III – Beginning of on-ground development
- Getting locals to begin a chain of operations in resettling their villages.
- Appointing tasks to male and female member of the village:
- Clean-up of rubble/Following the development of pathway connections between clusters of homes
- Assembly of roof trusses, made near the tents by females (bamboo + rope)
- Prototype of homes (guided by drawings) begin construction, under management of SRSP + RtIndus.
- Piles of rubble material are made on-site of BRICK, STONE, BAMBOO, and MUD, which are later distributed to each plot for construction of the house.
- Easily constructed homes + civil buildings from rubble materials by the locals of the village, in a systemized chain of operations.
Step IV – Detailed documentation of the process to record the time and scale of construction, so to use as a model that can be followed for resettling villages all around the affected areas of 2010 floods.
Step V – Since the process of development will be clear to the villagers of the model village by the end of it, SRSP can employ them to further guide villages around the Sarhad areas. This way, instead of giving them free aid, we can use these resources to make sure the local people are once again mobilized in resettling themselves.
Step VI – Begin resettling the affected towns and cities now that the villages will be given complete responsibility to their villagers.
In doing so, the current problem of displaced villages, in tents, waiting for aid will no longer be. The people of the land will again be mobilized.
This is the drafted survey we’re handing out to teams leaving for the flood affected areas. It the first draft, but should be able to convey a lot of data. Please forward it to whoever is interested in helping us out with this. If the team is carrying a camera, photographic documentation (in context of the survey) would be an added benefit.
The current flood crisis of Pakistan, which has displaced 12 million people and killed more than 2000, has highlighted the incompetence of the government in dealing with disasters, and more importantly, in being equipped enough to avert such a disaster. It is time that we get together and come up with solutions practical enough to be implemented in these areas without having to rely on the government solely to take some initiative.
As discussed in our first meeting on the 17th of August, we have decided to take the length of River Indus as a project, in which the objective would to formulate an organization, which could be broken up into task-force teams. By treating this as a project, we hope to be able to focus on the issues that need to be addressed in a chronological manner. For this we will need surveys of affected areas, documenting them on a map for reference in the future, photographic documentation, infrastructural assessment, etc.
First task at hand, it was established, was to create a network of people/organizations/NGO’s working/living in the flood affected areas in order to assess the kind of rehabilitation efforts that would need to be initiated. To this end, a survey has been drafted that has been dispatched to multiple organizations/NGO’s and private charity drives. The survey covers basic information of the area being documented; analysis of current situation of infrastructure, sanitation, water, hygiene, housing, etc.; and finally, contact details of local representatives of NGO’s and residents who are willing to partake in long term rehabilitation efforts.
Keep visiting this page for more updates.