Sindh housing project for the flood affected

Laying the foundations of a new home. - Photo: Fr Liam O'CallaghanLaying the foundations of a new home. - Photo: Fr Liam O'Callaghan

“I have seen many humanitarian disasters in the world, but I have never seen climate carnage on this scale.” So said the UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, on 10 September 2022 as he visited areas in Pakistan worst affected by the unprecedented monsoon flooding. The rain continued relentlessly for over two months - from mid-June to the end of August. It was the worst monsoon in decades, with almost five times the usual rainfall in Sindh and Balochistan. The Pakistan Government declared a national emergency. The scale of the disaster is almost overwhelming – 33 million people out of a population of about 229 million affected, over 1,700 killed, more than 13,000 injured, and damage and economic loss estimated at $30 billion.

The damage to infrastructure in the affected areas was enormous - 13,115 kilometres of roads damaged, 439 bridges destroyed, crops damaged and destroyed, and over 1.1 million livestock lost. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 8 million flood-affected people needed health assistance, including essential medical supplies and access to essential health care. But probably the worst blow was the loss of about 2.2 million houses, either badly damaged or destroyed, 1.5 million in Sindh alone, leaving many poor people homeless and forced to live in temporary shelters provided by government and NGO agencies. As is often the case, it is the poor who are worst affected because their housing was so fragile to begin with.

As so many poor people we work with were affected by damaged housing, and many were left homeless, we set about trying to make a small contribution through a housing project made possible by a donation from Columbans in the Oceania Region through the Columban Overseas Aid Fund (COAF).

In choosing a house design, we were greatly helped by a construction guide jointly produced by the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) of the Pakistan Government, which provided scientifically tested guidance on low-cost solutions for Sindh that are flood resistant and compatible with vernacular architecture and indigenous construction techniques.

Columban Fr Liam O'Callaghan (left) visits one of the building sites. - Photo: Fr Liam O'CallaghanColumban Fr Liam O'Callaghan (left) visits one of the building sites. - Photo: Fr Liam O'Callaghan

The Construction Guide aims to provide the most vulnerable families with flood-resilient, low-cost, one-room shelters through using locally available materials that minimise adverse environmental impacts. The materials - mudbricks, clay, bamboo, timber windows and doors - are all sourced locally, with little or no carbon footprint, ideal and tailor-made for the situation we found ourselves in.

The location of the housing project is in the Mirpurkhas and Umerkot districts of interior Sindh, which were badly flooded and where it took several months for life to return to anything approaching normality. The families receiving the housing are from the Parkari Kohli indigenous community, among whom the Columbans have been working since 1983 in different areas of Sindh. As an indigenous and religious minority community, the Parkari Kohli face many problems - poverty, discrimination, lack of security as farm workers for landlords, lack of education opportunities, poor health facilities etc. The recipients are Christian or Hindu.

Building on the first house began on February 1, 2023. The weeks beforehand were spent identifying locations and communities affected, undertaking an assessment of the damaged houses and compiling a final list based on the assessment report.

Meetings with beneficiaries were held to ensure clarity of the process for demolishing the damaged houses and building the new houses on that site; also, to locate quality materials, such as mud bricks, straw, clay, bamboo, and timber, contract carpenters, and hire masons, labourers, carpenters and other support staff.

A Parkari Kohli family in front of their new one room house. - Photo: Fr Liam O'CallaghanA Parkari Kohli family in front of their new one room house. - Photo: Fr Liam O'Callaghan

The completion target for the 100-house project was set for July 2023, before the start of the monsoon rain. We are grateful for the support of donors whose generosity is helping the poorest of the poor to rebuild their lives. Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events such as the flooding of 2022 will most likely occur regularly in the future, but we hope those 100 families, at least, will live securely in their new homes for many years to come.

We are grateful for the support of donors whose generosity is helping the poorest of the poor to rebuild their lives.

Columban Fr Liam O'Callaghan is the Columban Mission Unit Coordinator and Coordinator for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation and Inter-Religious Dialogue in Pakistan.

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