House builiding brings hope to quake-hit Pakistan

By staff writers
January 2, 2007

Pakistan earthquake survivors are learning new skills to rebuild their homes as part of a steady process of community reconstruction, say church-based aid organisations involved in relief and long-term redevelopment.

Under the watchful eye of his supervisor, Abdul Azeem erects metal bars that will form the roof of a new earthquake-resistant school in a remote area of Pakistan.

Azeem is a graduate of the Construction Trades Training Centre set up by American ecumenical aid agency Church World Service (CWS) following last year’s (2006) earthquake, which killed more than 75,000 people and left at least three million homeless.

Rebuilding more than 400,000 houses in mountainous areas of North West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir has been and continues to be a huge task, with only 17 per cent completed so far.

One problem has been the lack of skilled builders, so CWS decided last winter to start to train people living in relief camps to rebuild their own houses – giving them new job skills.

So far 432 young men have been trained as carpenters, electricians, masons and plumbers in three CWS centres.

The Pakistani government has not allowed aid agencies to construct houses so, instead the authorities have given grants to each affected family to do it themselves.

The newly trained artisans are also helping to rebuild schools, like the one in the remote Kund Valley that Azeem is working on.

It will be earthquake resistant and the design has been approved by the Pakistani authorities.

"I am very proud to help with the reconstruction of the earthquake-struck areas, especially since I was affected myself," said Azeem, whose own house was damaged by the quake.

He continued: "That is the passion behind my work. I want to construct buildings that can resist an earthquake, so this tragedy will never happen again."

The walls of the school are stuffed with insulation material so they can still be used during the cold winter months.

Another graduate, Farhat Hussein, 21, has opened an electrical shop in the town of Balakot and is training seven other men to become electricians.

"Before I was unskilled, I dropped out of school and was just playing cricket all day long," he said. "Now people call me the electrician and look up to me. I am making a good living and hope to be able to rebuild my destroyed house with the money I am starting to save."

The UK-based international development agency Christian Aid has also given £3 million for shelter, water, food, clothing, training and counselling for people whose lives were devastated by the earthquake.

More than £2 million went to is partner Church World Service, which provided relief supplies, shelter and clean water and sent female doctors and counsellors to remote rural areas as well as setting up and staffing health clinics.

Christian Aid also gave more than £500,000 to Islamic Relief which has built sturdy transitional shelters, that are insulated to withstand the harsh winter weather, and provided household items such as food, blankets and clothes.

Further money will be given to help people during the winter months, says the agency.

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