ISLAMABAD: Rural housing reconstruction is proceeding well in northern Pakistan, the World Bank believes, more than two years after a devastating earthquake struck the area. In addition to seismic-resistant construction now taking root in the mountainous region, owner-driven reconstruction and rehabilitation of some 560,000 damaged or destroyed homes has begun and is now in various stages of completion.
“The progress has been really remarkable,” Shabnaz Arshad, team leader for the Bank’s rural housing reconstruction programme said. “It has been a very challenging task,” she said, citing the costs, the sheer scale of the destruction, and the difficult terrain across the 30,000sqkm affected area.
Despite those challenges, progress has proved far better than earlier perceived, the Bank official said, referring to similar housing reconstruction schemes in tsunami-stricken Indonesia and Sri Lanka, as well as in post-earthquake Turkey and Gujarat (India) – some of which have been only partially successful.
Her comments follow a one month Bank mission to the quake-affected area to assess the government’s rural housing reconstruction efforts, progress and implementation. The mission, which ended on 15 January, deemed the government project “highly satisfactory”; the highest rating the bank can give for a given project – and a significant achievement given the quake’s magnitude.
More than 75,000 people were killed and 3.5 million rendered homeless when the 7.6 magnitude quake struck the country’s North West Frontier Province and Pakistani-administered Kashmir on 8 October 2005. In response, the government created the Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA) and launched an ambitious US$1.5 billion owner-driven rebuilding programme – largely suited to the mainly rural affected population.
Using their own labour or craftsmen of their choice, beneficiaries are also provided with technical advice and assistance to follow construction standards needed for a high seismic-risk zone. Under ERRA’s Rural Housing and Reconstruction Programme (RHRP), partially funded by the World Bank, homeowners are given over US$3,000 in instalments to build quake-resistant homes – with routine visits by inspection teams to ensure compliance to agreed seismic-resistant standards.
At the outset of the programme, over 450 three-person teams conducted the Damage and Eligibility Verification Survey – constituting a house-to-house visit to assess the extent of damage against technical criteria and verify beneficiary eligibility.
According to Arshad, of the initial 463,000 homes to be reconstructed under the plan, significant progress has already been made: The RHRP has disbursed over $1.1 billion to programme beneficiaries or 75 percent of the overall $1.5 billion estimated cost, she said. As of December 2007, 99 percent of beneficiaries had received the second grant tranches; 67 percent the third; and 23 percent the fourth and final tranches, she said.
Those who have received the full grant have completed 70,000-75,000 homes so far. According to the Bank’s latest formal assessment, the fourth in the past two years, 42 percent of the houses to be reconstructed were now certified at the lintel level, and 80 percent at the plinth level.
Moreover, ERRA expects to complete – either through reconstruction or retrofitting – around 550,000 homes by the quake’s third anniversary in 2008, with full completion by late 2009. Evidence is also emerging that a culture of seismic-resistant construction is gradually taking hold: The aggregate seismic compliance rates are 93 percent for plinth level and 77 percent for lintel level.
“Compliance rates are good and impressive, but there is certainly room for improvement,” Arshad said, stressing the need to promote and sustain a culture of voluntary seismic compliance in housing reconstruction in the quake-affected area. Experts agree that poor quality building construction killed more people than the quake itself – a natural hazard converted into a man-made disaster, she added.-SANA