Text: Mishaal Rozina Merchant
Visuals: Courtesy AKPBS,P
Living in the floodplains of river Indus on the southern side, are many small clusters of settlements of fishermen and agrarian communities. The monsoons bringing water downstream the river are sometimes a source of joy and misery at others. When bringing freshwater fish and alluvial soils it provides people with sustenance and when striking with its full fury it sweeps away their homes. Such was a disaster in August 2010; over 17 million people were directly affected by the floods having to go through the trauma of leaving their homes, land, and belongings behind and relocating to unknown places for indeterminate time periods. Thatta being the confluence of River Indus and the Arabian sea is prone to double disaster from the flooding of the river and the sea level rise.
“I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuity. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.”
Richard Buckminister Fuller
Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan (AKPBS,P) – an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) - partnered with The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (an organizational unit within USAID) to take on the challenge of post-disaster reconstruction in rural Sindh. With the unique methodology of using locally available materials to endure the local weather conditions, research, documentation, rigorous monitoring and evaluation, and encouraging continuous feedback from the local communities led to design enhancement as a continuous evolutionary process. This approach made the 2,800 shelters more durable and responsive to the traditional housing needs of the communities and changed the lives of almost 14,000 Internally Displaced Persons in 120 villages. These communities now have access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities through the 148 toilet blocks and 234 hand pumps installed in the region.
Deprived of toilet facilities and rainproof shelters, for many, the intervention was a life-changing enhancement - clean drinking water, proper toilets with privacy and soak pits are a luxury for many in this region. For the first time, these women in Sindh have access to private toilets giving them privacy and dignity.
“We had no proper toilets, we used to go to the bushes or on the plain ground…we had no option since there were no toilets, we had to go out in the open. These toilets are good. Women have privacy here. It’s a great facility. It’s a very good job by the Aga Khan people”
Amina Khudadino, Resident Khadari Bheel, Sindh
The villagers are thankful for the roof that they have over their heads and take pride and joy in enhancing the aesthetics of their new homes...
The intervention was holistic in addressing the issues of a housing prototype to health and sanitation facilities. The earlier prototype developed not only addressed the climatic issues but local vernacular technology and materials were also applied, and recycling of materials by users was encouraged.
The objective of the program was to provide the communities with transitional shelters; it is important to know the difference between emergency and transitional shelters. Emergency shelter is intended only to provide shelter for survival immediately following a disaster while a transitional shelter helps the displaced population carry out their day to day livelihood activities until they can return to permanent accommodation. The success of these shelters is due to the reason that it was a simple yet flexible and modifiable design consisting of a core structure (core structure being the foundation and roof elements of the basic shelter). Over the months, the users have given more permanent form by applying mud plaster to the exterior and introducing openings for ventilation as per their needs. Also as the communities resettled, covered verandahs were added in the front of the structures by the users for communal gatherings or sitting areas during the daytime.
Homeland for many, leaving their ancestral land was difficult and emotional, and to ease their trauma, the affectees were provided with shelters at their own lands.
The design for the shelter went through three iterations, developing as cost reduction with stability and fire safety elements were introduced. The first prototype was based simply on ease of erection and availability of materials. Initial Program included a living space of 264 sq ft; consisting of two rooms and a separate kitchen and one communal toilet per four shelters, with a basic framing of galvanized Iron pipes and bamboos with walls roofing of polythene sheet and straw mat. In the second iteration, chick mats were used instead of woven straw mats rendering stiffness to the cladding and making it easier to cut openings for ventilation. The third iteration made it possible to connect the kitchen with the living space by insulating it and making it fire safe with corrugated GI sheets. This also resulted in decreasing the cost of materials as shared walls reduced the structured wall and the need for bracing was also reduced due to the stiffness of GI sheets. The original chick mat roof was plastered by users to enhance the durability for long-term occupancy. However, the polythene sheet and chick mat with bamboo support deflected under the mud; and were replaced by the polythene sheet and straw mat with a galvanized iron sheet for strength enhancement.
Many beneficiaries have utilized salvaged material such as bamboo for adding shelving for storage, bamboo and fern matting for beds, wood and fern matting for adding verandah to the shelter.
Thatta’s weather is mostly hot and humid, temperatures ranging between 60C to 400c with a relative humidity of 70 percent and more during the summer. Enhanced ventilation was created by removing some part of the cladding from the uppermost stack at a high level. This results in lowering the temperature inside the shelter and counteracts the heat intake through the G.I. walls and roof.
Local material such as Pakha (Chick Mat) and Straw Mat were used which were easily available from close by towns; steel pipes and GI sheets were bought from Karachi via national highway taking approximately 3 hours (145 Km) to transport the material from Karachi to Sujawal and then approximately 1.5 hrs (average 40 Km) to the shelter sites. Some labour was hired locally and some from Karachi.
In line with AKDN’s philosophy of development, community participation and gender equity were at the core of AKPBS,P’s overall approach. To ensure a participatory and sustainable approach towards early recovery activities, the project mobilized communities during the first phase and community organizations (COs) was formed to create a platform for the mobilization and participation of the community ensuring equal male and female representation.
The community was encouraged to provide support to and participate in the project by utilizing the platform of the COs. Meetings were held with each CO to encourage members for contribution (in-kind) and participation as well as to ensure that each household participated in the project. The purpose of this activity was to involve communities in the process of development, foster the feeling of self-help and create a sense of ownership by encouraging them to carry out mud plastering and flooring on their shelters to increase the life of the shelter as well as to keep it cool during extremely hot weather conditions. As a result, the communities in Sindh contributed in-kind to the construction by carrying out the mud plastering and flooring in their respective shelters as the shelters were handed over to them.
A total of 2,800 shelters reaching out to thousands of households were constructed as part of this project - a successful project with a contextualized approach and working with the ground realities of the poverty and trauma stricken people of rural Sindh; reminds me of a quote by Architect Samuel Mockbee:
‘Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor...not only a warm dry room but a shelter for the soul.’