Pakistan earthquake reconstruction: Resolve in rebuilding for a better future

Rebuilding for a better future goes from strategy to beneficiaries' resolve

In the earthquake devastated northern region of Pakistan, a culture of seismic resistant construction is gradually but surely taking root. Nearly 300,000 of nearly 575,000 people affected by the earthquake are benefiting from housing reconstruction grants from the Pakistan government, which is partly financed by the World Bank through the Emergency Recovery Project (ERP).

Most of the beneficiaries are now reconstructing in accordance with seismic resistant construction standards. Achieving this success required reaching out to the affected communities to convince and train them to construct differently from the ways they have been constructing their homes for centuries.

The Bank project leader Raja Rehan Arshad said that, "the real challenge ... is to successfully utilize the owner-driven reconstruction approach, not only to reconstruct houses to seismic resistant construction standards in the immediate run, but, in the longer term, to promote a culture of voluntary seismic compliance in an extremely high seismic risk zone."

Pakistan Emergency Earthquake Recovery Project

The Challenge:

The October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan destroyed or damaged approximately 600,000 houses leaving more than 73,000 dead and rendering more than 3 million people without shelter. The consensus after relief work was that poor quality buildings killed more people than the earth quake - a natural hazard converted into a man-made disaster.

An easy solution would have been to provide visible and immediate relief in the face of unrelenting public demand to see results. However, past experiences with disasters of this nature shown that a housing reconstruction program executed with traditional methods would have resulted in more damage. This process would provide for little beneficiary ownership and involvement in the reconstruction process.

The Impact

More than half (300,000) of the rural housing program beneficiaries have started to reconstruct. The number is unprecedented 6-8 times more than the first year responses in other recent post-disaster housing programs.

Present trend indicates that more than 80% of such beneficiaries are adhering to the seismic resistant construction standards developed by the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority. This is manifested by the fact around 200,000 such beneficiaries have or would very soon be passing the first plinth-level inspections of their houses, and more than 20,000 are nearing completion of their houses to seismic resistant construction standards.

The Approach

The Government of Pakistan, with financing from the World Bank and other sources, is executing the rural housing program. The approach to this program centered on 5 main strategic pillars including:

- Owner-driven housing reconstruction: homeowners made in charge of rebuilding their own homes

- Environmental Sustainability: training and sensitization of more than 100,000 beneficiaries and construction artisans on impacts on environment

- Uniformity and Outreach: ensuring uniform assistance packages across the earthquake affected region and maximizing program outreach

- Inequities and Conflicts: ensuring judicious use of grants - avoiding socio-economic inequities; managing conflicts & grievances

- Safety: maximizing seismic safety by providing many design options for additional safety through thinner walls, lighter roofing, and connected structural systems.

The Remaining Challenges

At a program level the two major challenges that are being gradually met include:

- Maximizing the judicious use of housing grants -reducing program drop-outs

- Further increasing rate of seismic compliance, especially in problematic areas

The long term challenges of promoting and sustaining a culture of voluntary seismic compliance in construction in areas those are susceptible to future seismic activities still remains.