Building stronger homes and resilient communities

Published: 18 September 2012 16:19 CET

By Majda Shabbir in Sindh, Pakistan

As the annual monsoon rains return to Pakistan, Mohammad  Karim and his family settle into their new house in Sindh province.  The small dwelling, built with support from Pakistan Red Crescent Society, is beginning to feel like the family home they lost during the floods that hit Pakistan in 2010.

But for Karim, some of the most important parts of the single room dwelling lie beneath the surface. Designed to be more flood resistant, the foundations are deeper, a layer of tar prevents moisture from seeping through the floor, and an additional layer of plaster helps seal the house from the annual torrential downpours.

Karim’s family is one of many that were hit badly by floods almost two years ago, but they were  selected by the Red Crescent to be given a shelter as part of a cash grants program.

The Shelter Support Programme provides a one-room shelter with a latrine for each family. The owner-driven initiative is a flexible and cost effective solution, providing people with not just the necessary building tools, but also financial support through cash grants.

This cash grant support is divided in five instalments. Three of these – 400, 500 and 100 CHF – are used for the construction of the foundation, walls and the roof of the house respectively, while two instalments of 200 CHF and 100 CHF are used for constructing latrines.

Technical assistance is also central to the programme. Safe shelter awareness training has been conducted for flood-affected communities in Sindh and Punjab to promote quality control and good construction techniques.

Recently, the National Society completed and formally handed over 455 shelters in Shikarpur and Kambar Shahdad Kot districts in Sindh province. Karen Helene Bjornestad, Head of Delegation at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ country office, spent time with the communities and shared their excitement. “For someone who has lost everything, to get a roof above one’s head means feeling protected,” she said. “The smiling faces of the beneficiaries, their tears of joy and their grateful words tells the story which is so heart-warming.”

Villagers in the remote areas of Sindh and Punjab provinces are extremely vulnerable to floods, as their houses are traditionally made of mud that is easily washed away. The shelters built under the Pakistan Red Crescent Society programme use locally made bricks and cement, and are more flood resistant.

The shelter design is in accordance with the guidelines set by the National Disaster Management Authority, and every effort has been made to ensure the shelters meet the objective of ‘building back better’.

The one-room houses are 223 square feet, while the latrines are 22.5 square feet. Both the structures are made of burnt bricks, cement mortar, iron girders, and tiled roofs. The latrines also have a septic tank and soak pit to channel the waste.

“Life is better now that we have a concrete shelter instead of a mud house,” said Jamal Khatoon, a widow and a mother-of-six from village Haji Jangi Khan in District Shikarpur. “It was hard for me to give my family a proper place to live, as I earn for my young daughters by doing some labour. I have brought up my children alone, which was a great challenge. But now my hardships have lessened, as I have a pakka house for my kids,” she said.