Text & Photos: Amandin Richard
In July 2010, heavy monsoon rains flooded nearly 20% of Pakistan, producing a crisis later described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the worst disaster he had ever seen. The floods affected around 20 million people and claimed the lives of nearly 2,000. Ravaging infrastructure and agriculture, the total economic impact has been estimated to be as much as $43 billion. Pakistan is still far from recovering, in no small part because of a calamitous lack of relief funds and international aid.
In total, the floods left six million people homeless. Already in a precarious state afters decades of conflict and terrorist attacks, Pakistan’s infrastructure crumbled beneath the torrents of water. Then, in the fall of 2014, the strongest post-monsoon ever recorded in the country produced another round of disastrous floods in the Kashmir region of Pakistan and neighboring India. Affecting a total of more than 1.1 million people, the floods devastated an already-desperate population.
And, like with many other environmental disasters, the 2010 and 2014 floods disproportionately affected the country’s poorest. Inflated costs for building materials are now forcing many Pakistanis to take on life-long debts in order to provide basic shelter for their families. Created in direct response to this disaster, the Earth Home Project has conducted investigations in the region to try to understand the shortcomings of the houses destroyed by floodwaters and to seek out sustainable solutions to the massive housing crisis. Rather than sending in temporary structures, the group focuses on developing solutions and strategies that can be employed locally by the affected population themselves.
Started in 2011 by Irshad Balouch, the Earth Home Project seeks to “spread the necessary know-how required to build stable constructions, by involving residents of flood affected areas into the process of rebuilding their houses, accompanied by skilled craftsmen, employed by the project, and neighbors, there on a voluntary basis.” By utilizing locally-sourced materials – such as earth, straw, lime and bamboo – they are able to greatly reduce building expenses and don’t require access to heavy machinery. Through donations, Earth Home Project is able to cover unavoidable expenses and provide essentials like concrete, wood, and basic tools.
Currently, Earth Home Project has been able to get 121 new homes up in Multan, one of the most badly-affected regions in Pakistan. Last year, in Bastia Malana, a small village particularly damaged by the floods, they helped to construct eleven houses with sanitary installations. Noting the lack of an accessible school for the village’s many children, in just one week, the group was able to construct a large teaching space with an adjacent outdoor area sheltered by a bamboo roof. With the assistance of the village residents, Earth Home Project was able to create a durable space for around 20 students.
According to research by UN officials and climatologists, the 2010 floods in Pakistan likely constituted the worst natural disaster attributable to climate change to date. As global temperatures continue to rise, producing more unpredictable and dangerous weather events, the work of groups like Earth Home Project becomes increasingly urgent. And, as the disasters in Pakistan show, entire populations will likely not be able to depend on international relief. As the groups states, “Architecture plays a crucial role in finding new ways of designing by incorporating local materials and building techniques, thereby minimizing not only the cost but most importantly the reliance on the economic situation.”