What do earthquake survivors really need? - Acumen

What do earthquake survivors really need?

By Acumen on December 05, 2005

Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz has been visiting earthquake-affected areas of Pakistan, and documenting her travels in a journal. Excerpts of each day’s entry will be posted.

December 4 – Islamabad to Bagh

Frame.jpgWe have been driving for six hours and have traveled about a hundred miles. Most of the debris has been cleared from the roads, although gravel and stones stand in patches on the sides. We join a convoy of a half-dozen magnificent Pakistani trucks carrying tents and corrugated tin sheets, mattresses and other provisions, and head straight to the valley where you can see a number of distinct tent cities.

Our destination is the area where the National Rural Support Program (NRSP) is working. The organization is a public-private partnership that works with government to provide assistance and community development to rural areas of Pakistan. An entire infrastructure of tents for living, tents for training, latrines, offices and demonstration areas has been established, and aid workers have been living here for six weeks now. We were greeted by Ahmed Saeed, a dynamic architect with a degree in environmental studies and urban planning.

Hundreds of thousands of tents have been distributed to the people, but very few are winterized to the degree that they will do much at all to get people through the season. Although some groups are now distributing metal sheeting to cover the tents and others are giving more blankets, few approaches are either cost effective or sustainable in any way whatsoever. Worse, fewer approaches will make much difference.

Ahmed is working on metal structures that can be constructed throughout the winter from materials available in Rawalpindi and at local markets, so he’s hoping to make them available and see whether and how quickly the solution will scale. I wonder how many others like Ahmed are building prototypes and whether anyone is comparing them and seeing which ones are preferred by local people. Since no one is paying for the structures, it will be hard to know which ones meet local needs more effectively.

We’re sitting in the valley soaking in the clean air and warm sun. The rain has chased away all signs of fog and the air feels as clear as the crystal sky above. A few NGOs have set up operations together in a depot-like area. Here, people are being trained to build homes, to become tailors too. A school is housed in a huge white tent. Large blue plastic containers hold clean water, and a few satellite dishes are scattered along with piles of UNICEF sanitation kits and shovels to be distributed in village areas. The quiet buzz of the valley is interrupted every half-hour with another helicopter landing with supplies and aid workers. In another part of the valley, a massive tent city houses thousands. The tents are mainly white canvas, and have yet to be winterized. Apparently, a combination of people has come to live here – some who have lost everything, others, who want the services provided. Knowing the difference is a skill the best aid workers learn quickly.

Ahmed shows us a model frame he has constructed of metal rods. The rods are cut uniformly with pre-drilled holes for connecting them. Nails, screws and bolts will be issued along with clear instructions for assembly so that people can put these frames up themselves in a few hours. Metal sheeting will then go on the roof, and most any materials can cover the sides for a solid temporary shelter that will enable people to survive the winter at low cost and without contributing to deforestation, which is a growing and already critical problem in these areas. The cost is $200-300, much less than a tent. The next step is moving it out and scaling it before winter hits with its full force. The best designers like Ahmed are constantly thinking about how to reduce cost and provide a socially acceptable design that will be used and implemented by local communities. With little real market information, getting this right is the challenge.

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