In millions of years of mankind’s history on planet earth, the human habitat has never been such vulnerable as it is today. With the changing climatic conditions, natural disasters continue to worsen the quality of life of millions of people globally especially in the underdeveloped and developing countries that in many cases has the least to do with the cause of climate change.
The world war II’s industrial revolution brought prosperity particularly to the industrial world and the rest in general however soon mankind started realizing that the model of growth chosen for this prosperity had major flaws in it and was causing damages to the very existence of the planet itself by causing global warming. Today the world has become a more unsafe place not only for human beings alone but all kinds of living species and their habitats.
Pakistan is amongst the top 10 countries that receive the worst impacts of climate change whereas its contribution to the Green House Gas Emissions is less than one percent of the total global emissions. Heavy rain, increasing glacial melt, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods and avalanches are becoming a permanent phenomenon. Over a decade almost every year, Pakistan has faced medium to large scale flood situations. 2010 and 2015 being the worst years when millions of people became homeless. Billions worth of properties were lost worsening the already fragile economy of the country and increasing poverty.
This situation is forcing people to migrate from areas where they lived for generations. Climate refugees are increasing, people moving from rural areas to urban centers ending up living in slums, escaping one hazard and entering another.
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) has the mandate to help communities create a safe and resilient human habitat with improved services where communities could see a future for themselves. AKAH has a major focus on programs related to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Under adaptation, Habitat planning is a key activity where the agency, through hazard risk vulnerability assessments (HVRAs), identifies safe locations in its program areas as living zones. So far it has assessed about 800 settlements in Pakistan, majority in the mountain areas of Northern Pakistan, and has identified areas that are exposed to single or multiple natural hazards and areas that are safer from natural disasters.
AKAH through its community-based disaster management programs, using these maps, educates communities to build in safer areas and uses at-risk areas for community forestry or agriculture purposes that in some cases will work as a mitigation measure. It has identified several settlements where a major part of the settlement and population are exposed to high risk and there is hardly any safe space available. AKAH is working with the communities on options for relocation of these communities to safer areas with future growth opportunities.
As a first case, 50 such communities have been identified from the mountain communities of Northern Pakistan. AKAH intends to work with the local governments, civil society and communities to invest in services infrastructure in the safer zones creating areas of opportunities for the at-risk population. Areas that are exposed to low and medium risk AKAH build mitigation infrastructure mainly against floods, debris flow, and river erosion.
AKAH is working currently on a test project to reduce the risk of a snow avalanche. Over the past three years, it worked with about 100 communities to build mitigation infrastructure and make settlements safer. AKAH also works with hundreds of communities throughout Pakistan to build their coping capacities in disaster situations by awareness-raising, development of community emergency response teams (CERT), the establishment of stockpiles, training of search and rescue teams (SART), community based and mechanized early warning systems and establishing fail-safe communications with isolated communities.
The CERTs are the first responders in any disaster situations and have responded to hundreds of emergency situations saving thousands of lives. In 2017 in an event of floods in the Ishkoman valley triggered by a GLOF event from Badswat glacier upon early warning the CERTS evacuated 200 houses and within 12 hours the flood-hit over 40 houses, but no life was lost. There are dozens of such stories where the CERTS saved lives.
AKAH under its school safety program has worked with over 1000 schools throughout the country and has educated hundreds of teachers and thousands of students on the approaches of disaster risk reduction.
The mountain communities of Northern Pakistan are highly dependent on the natural forest which is only 9% of the total land area. Studies show that 95% of households in Gilgit-Baltistan use timber as main material for housing constructions. On average six to eight matured trees are used for each new house and approximately over 3,000 new housing units are built each year. Similarly, 86% of households use biomass as fuel for heating and cooking. This situation is causing a great pressure on the already scarce forest resources.
AKAH under its Building and Construction Improvement Program, through action research, developed over 60 different housing improvement solutions around thermal efficiency and improved cookstoves that reduce the fuelwood consumption by up to 60%. It also introduced innovative solutions for the reinforcement of walls reducing the use of timber. Over 100,000 BACIP products have been installed in over 40,000 houses benefitting slightly less than half a million people of the mountain communities. In the last two years over 1000 homes were provided access to solar products for lighting purposes.
The efficient management of water resources is a key international issue of climate change. AKAH through its Water and Sanitation Extension Program (WASEP) successfully demonstrated a community-based water management system for the mountain communities. Through its six components program (infrastructure, operation and maintenance, community endowment, health and hygiene, and water quality system) it provides a package solution to the community for the provision of clean drinking water around the year. So far WASEP has reached 600 communities benefiting over half a million people by providing WHO standard clean drinking water. The schemes are owned, operated and maintained by the communities.
Climate-resilient construction is a key consideration under AKAH’s building construction program. AKAH adopts climate-friendly designs for the development of AKDN’s construction projects. The recently completed Bamyan Hospital in Afghanistan covers 60% of its total energy requirement from solar power. AKAH has so far constructed over 1.3M sft of buildings where climate-friendly and seismic-resistant design principles have been adopted.
AKAH won several international awards including the Ashden Award, UN Habitat Award, Aluminum Canada award and the British Social Housing Foundation Award. AKAH has, directly and indirectly, benefit millions of people through its programs and approaches which are being replicated at the regional level in similar geographies.
Commenting on the success of AKAH the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Nawab Ali Khan said
“The successes of AKAH are a result of its community-centric approach and the strong partnerships with the government, donors and other national and international partners. AKAH believes that through partnerships and synergies with government and other partners, the community being at the center, a better habitat can be created where life is safe, and communities see a future for themselves. Our partnerships bring hope and we see a spark in the eyes of people.”
AKAH partners with KIU for Programs of Scientific and Technical Collaboration
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat partners with the Karakoram
International University, Gilgit, for programs of scientific and technical collaborations to advance the state of living conditions and reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities.
This partnership will encourage and facilitate young researchers and development practitioners in the field of disaster management and related disciplines such as hazard identification and assessment, mitigation, preparedness socioeconomic vulnerability assessment, climate change
induced disasters, Glacier and Glacier lakes, radiation hazards in the built environment and area focused structural design.
A high-level meeting held between Aga Khan Agency for Habitat and Karakoram International University, at Gilgit on 29 May 2019 to discuss technical aspects of the partnership for information sharing, exchange of resources and provision of opportunities. The meeting followed by the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to advance the state of living conditions and reduces the vulnerability of mountain communities to natural disasters. The MoU was signed by the Vice Chancellor of KIU and the CEO of AKAH.
In his remarks Engr. Prof. Dr. Attaullah Shah, Vice Chancellor, Karakoram International University shared that “KIU is committed to making social development and evolution of peaceful and pluralistic societies in the mountainous areas of Pakistan. This formal linkage between the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat and KIU will be considered vital to boost research
and technical cooperation by sharing knowledge, expertise, and resources”.
“Dealing with the issues of climate change and ensuring a safe and sustainable human habitat in the mountain areas is a key challenge of our times. We believe this challenge can only be addressed through strong cooperation and synergy between public and private sector organizations including academia and the civil society through generation and sharing of
knowledge, experience and technical cooperation” emphasized by Mr. Nawab Ali Khan, CEO of AKAH while speaking to the occasion. He further added that “this partnership will provide KIU researchers the opportunity of a field laboratory in AKDN projects for applied research in areas of disaster management and climate change adaptation and mitigation which will ultimately contribute to improvement in the quality of life of the communities. He appreciated the support that the public sector organizations have extended to AKDN and termed this partnership another key step for the development of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
In the past AKAH (AKPBS) jointly with KIU has worked on the development of skilled craftsmanship in Gilgit-Baltistan through joint programs.
Hundreds of craftspeople have benefited from the joint program and are benefitting communities with their learned skills.
Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Raises Awareness on National School Safety Day in Pakistan
To protect school children from natural disasters and other insecurities, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) convened government education departments, academia, district disaster management authorities and the media in Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab.
Mr. Hafiz Noorullah, Education Development Officer, Chitral, said on a radio talk show:
“A lack of awareness and knowledge makes the disaster happen. So there is a need to have more and more information sharing through different media platforms and involvement of young people in interactive discussions to sensitize them on the topics of safety and security.”
Mr. Nawab Ali Khan, Chief Executive Officer, AKAH Pakistan said:
“In the 2005 earthquake, Pakistan lost around 20,000 children due to vulnerable structures and lack of awareness and preparedness, which cannot be repeated. We need our schools to be resilient and better prepared
for similar situations. We are thankful to our public and private-sector partners for joining hands with us to achieve this objective.”
For the last 20 years, AKAH has been designing and implementing programmes on Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation in some of Pakistan’s most vulnerable areas. More than 1,000 schools in disaster-prone areas have benefitted from the development of hazard and risk maps, school safety plans, provision of school safety kits, and awareness raising and capacity building of individuals.
School-level awareness raising sessions have been part of the work of the Aga Khan Agency since the Islamabad Conference on School Safety held in 2008. AKAH’s School Safety Programme will contribute towards the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s one million safe schools and hospitals global campaign, and contribute towards the achievement of Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) and the practical implementation of the Pakistan School Safety Framework.
For further information, please contact:
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), which merges the capabilities of Focus Humanitarian Assistance, the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, and the Aga Khan Development Network’s Disaster Risk Management Initiative focuses on preparing for both sudden and slow-onset disasters. AKAH works to ensure that people live in physical settings that are as safe as possible from the effects of natural disasters; that residents who do live in high- risk areas are able to cope with disasters in terms of preparedness and response; and that these settings provide access to social and financial services that lead to greater opportunity and a
better quality of life. Initially, priority areas of AKAH will include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and India.
Read more about the agency at: http://www.akdn.org/our-agencies/aga-khan-agency-habitat
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