Building Back Better

Feature | 7 June 2010

Victims of a devastating earthquake in Pakistan are rebuilding their homes with their own hands.

Abbottabad, Pakistan - "Our house, farm, livestock, we lost everything in the earthquake," says Shahida Maqsood.

Over 3.5 million others like Shahida and her family of five were left destitute by the massive earthquake that struck the North-West Frontier Province and surrounding areas on the morning of 8 October 2005, taking an estimated 80,000 lives.

ADB's response was multifaceted. First it pledged US$1 billion in bilateral grants and loans to the Pakistan Earthquake Fund and implemented the Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project, which supports the government's efforts to rehabilitate earthquake-hit areas. ADB provided assistance to reconstruct power grids, roads, schools, rural houses, and health facilities. Electricity is being restored in affected areas through rehabilitation of 9 hydropower stations and 10 grid stations.

ADB is also reconstructing 433 primary and middle schools using state-of-the-art light steel frame buildings that are easy to assemble and earthquake resistant.

These projects were designed not to restore communities to pre-quake conditions, but to build back better-to make affected neighborhoods more prosperous and more resilient than they were before 8 October 2005.

Innovative Rebuilding Scheme

One of the government's goals was to reconstruct and rehabilitate houses so that they would be earthquake resistant. In 2007, to support this goal, ADB made a second emergency assistance loan of US$400 million, the Earthquake Displaced People Livelihood Restoration Program. Funneled through the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority and its provincial branches, this loan provided displaced people with funds for materials to rebuild their own houses, and with construction training and subsidies. The authority specified standards and designs.

The subsidies were determined based on the market replacement value of a typical house (39 square meters), irrespective of the size of the original houses. The government disbursed graduated payments in accordance with the amount of damage-as determined by field inspectors from the army and from nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

For example, for a completely destroyed house, owners received 175,000 Pakistan rupees (PRs) (about US$2,061). For a home with minor damage, owners received PRs25,000 (about US$295). The reconstruction of infrastructure also created many jobs for skilled workers and benefited the local construction material industry, increasing the prices of key construction materials like cement.

New Responsibilities for Women

The earthquake has shifted gender roles of women and men due to the loss of male partners. Many women's responsibilities have increased as they cope with the additional burden of caring for orphaned children and persons with disabilities, while also emerging as heads of households.

This new reality requires rethinking social conditioning, as well as the type of contributions that members of the household and the community can make. In particular, stakeholders report that female-headed households, widows, and orphaned children (mostly girls) have had little access to supplies and services due to their limited mobility or absence of proper identity documents to support these claims. A gender and vulnerability action plan ensures that essential needs, constraints, and priorities voiced by women, and extremely vulnerable individuals and families, are heard.

The multisector program also supported gender equity and inclusive social development. Through these program components, Shahida and her neighbors were able to start raising chickens and selling the eggs at the local market. They also planted small wheat fields, making them self sufficient in bread for their families.

As head of her Women's Community Organization, once a week Shahida goes to the local branch of Habib Bank from her resettlement area near the village of Rara to deposit the money she and the other 22 women in her group have earned from their home-based ventures. They have saved PRs30,000 (about US$354) and use the money for expenses and also provide microcredit finance to other women to start their own businesses. They give priority to the many widows left without breadwinners by the earthquake, as their needs are greatest.

Funded by the ADB Livelihood Restoration Project, social organizer Salma Bano of the National Rural Support Programme helped the women set up their organization and learn everything from better farming techniques to how to keep a set of books.

"For the first time we are contributing to our family's income," says Shahida. "Without the help of this program we would still have nothing but our clothes."

Raising the Bar with Reconstruction

Last year, a 2-kilometer access road funded by the program and the villagers connected the village to the main road to allow construction material and trainers to reach the community.

Before the road went in, Abdul Latif's daughter Ruqiya fell and injured her head while working in their field, and because it took so long to get her out to the main road by donkey and to a clinic, she is now disabled. "That would never happen now; we are just 10 minutes away by car," says Abdul- another example of the reconstruction program's resolve to "build back better."

At the monthly meeting of the Rara Community Organization, Abdul reports on the rebuilding progress of the 700 villagers: 25 homeowners are installing roofs and four are still working on their walls, but all 135 homes have been rebuilt. About 25,000 master house-building trainers in the region, mainly drawn from the ranks of the army and NGOs, trained more than 200,000 affected house owners, who rebuilt with payments made at various stages of progress, which were verified by inspectors. About 71% of targeted destroyed houses have been reconstructed, and by June 2010, it is expected that 85% of 585,000 rural houses will be rebuilt.

Strolling around Rara today, one sees little sign of the devastating earthquake that decimated almost all the houses and killed 17 people. Thanks to the reconstruction, there are only homeowners finishing up their new dwellings.