Islamabad: The record-breaking rains and floods in Pakistan since mid-June have turned lives upside down for hundreds of thousands of people.
The flood waters consumed everything they owned: homes, cattle, crops and livelihoods.
Pakistan’s disastrous floods have affected 33 million people, killed more than 1,700 and displaced nearly 8 million people. Many are still seeking shelter as the floods destroyed as many as 2.1 million homes, according to official data.
To meet the urgent housing needs of the flood-affected communities, Pakistan’s first woman architect Yasmeen Lari and the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan team, have come up with a solution to build disaster-resistant shelters for the homeless and to create new livelihoods to make people self-sufficient.
The project aims to support people in disaster-affected areas by teaching them how to build their own homes and helping them generate income too. Instead of funding and charity, “we are giving the flood survivors the power of rebuilding their own homes and empowering them,” Yasmeen Lari said in an interview with Gulf News.
‘Treat communities as partners’
Though the scale of the disaster in Pakistan requires aid, Lari’s organization puts the focus on a participatory approach that “treats communities as partners, not victims.” Lari believes that empowerment is more effective than handouts, charity and aid. The enormity of the disaster requires a “paradigm shift toward solutions and from charity to empowerment” to benefit families.
“We need to restore safety, dignity and hope to flood survivors. The women whom we worked with say that they don’t want charity, they want to be helped and empowered” she shared. With an easy-to-follow process and by involving the locals in building their communities, Lari says the organization is “providing social and ecological justice to the disadvantaged people.”
Lari believes architecture is not just about constructing homes but building communities. Since the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, Yasmeen Lari, who co-founded the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan with her husband in 1980, has developed several methodologies for low-cost, affordable and climate-resilient housing and has built over 40,000 low-cost shelters using just mud, lime and bamboo.
To help the people affected by the 2022 floods, Lari and her team of architects and engineers have built simple, low-price, low-tech and eco-friendly instant and permanent shelters. The Karachi-based organization says these designs are zero carbon, zero waste and zero cost leading to zero poverty. Bamboo was chosen for its strength and resilience and because it is a cost-effective natural material that is also commonly grown throughout the country.
OctaGreen emergency shelters
Pakistan’s multi-award-winning architect Lari and her team are building two types of shelters in the flood-ravaged regions of Sindh and Balochistan. The emergency homes called Lari OctaGreen (LOG) can be built by six or seven people within a few hours. The one-room, 10×10-foot structures that cost about Rs25,000 ($114) each have enough room for five people. The walls are made from eight bamboo panels tied with rope and a pole in the middle holding up a bamboo-framed umbrella-like roof.
The structure is then covered with handwoven reed mats. Around 400 of these homes have been erected so far, mostly in Sindh, and enough fabricated to reach the goal to reach 1,200 by end of October.
“These temporary shelters can be easily turned into permanent homes and can be dismantled and transferred when the displaced families move back to their home villages” with step-by-step details available on YouTube, says Lari. These shelters are designed to reduce the risk to lives and properties.
Another low-cost shelter design includes instant shelters and eco-toilets. The 8×8-foot structures cost about Rs 2,500 ($11.4) and the 5x5-foot instant eco-toilet that can be shared by two families cost around Rs.3000. Both structures can be erected easily.
The organization also plans to train artisans from 10 villages in Southern Punjab with support from the Bank of Punjab to build shelters and toilets and other essential products. Everything is locally sourced and focused on teaching communities self-reliant skills.
Changing the concept of helping
Heritage Foundation of Pakistan is entirely changing the concept of rebuilding lives in rural regions of Pakistan by putting the focus on sharing knowledge and helping people get back on their feet. Besides providing shelters, the non-profit foundation is teaching people how to build climate-resilient homes, emergency toilets and solar water stands as well as income-generating projects such as fish farming, weaving mats, making mosquito nets and terra-cotta household products, green nurseries, raising chickens and goats.
In the disaster-stricken village of Pono, in Sindh’s Mirpur Khas district, Lari has brought together a team of collaborators to work on rainwater drainage with local people. About 1000 households in 13 villages of the district are being taught methods to make aquifer trenches, wells to absorb rainwater and ways to deal with future disasters. One of the key projects the foundation is working on is called the “Adopt-a-Village Programme” in which guardians take up a village or cluster of villages for rehabilitation and long-term development.
Barefoot social architecture
Lari, who has been a starchitect for 36 years working on glitzy commercial projects, has now shifted her focus to developing low-carbon projects for disaster-hit communities and poor people through her foundation since the 2005 earthquake. When international aid agencies were focused on building expensive prefab homes with concrete panels and iron sheets, Lari’s foundation developed low-cost yet strong houses made from mud, stone, lime and wood to rebuild homes by involving communities.
The philosophical basis of Lari’s work is ‘barefoot social architecture’ which advocates for zero carbon affordable architecture. Some other examples of this approach that her foundation is working on include smokeless stoves, bamboo community centres and terracotta tiling for streets. This approach, she says, is a sustainable, grassroots model for development.
The 81-year-old architect, who has won numerous prestigious awards for her buildings, humanitarian work and for raising women’s contribution to architecture, says foreign aid will not be enough to deal with disasters and sustainable recovery and development require a grassroots approach.
“Pakistan doesn’t need charity, it needs empowerment. The aid mindset makes people feel helpless. We need solutions that uplift and empower communities” she says. Lari also criticizes the traditional focus of the disaster response sector on rebuilding rather than preparing for floods. She hopes that her way of offering assistance through self-build, zero-carbon, affordable structures would help rebuild both homes and lives and also change mindsets on disaster resilience, and climate-smart approaches.