Page B1.2 . 26 April 2006                     
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  • Transitional Shelter
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  • Sacramental Restoration

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    Transitional Shelter


    "The scheme is owner-driven," Saunders says. "The aim is to enable individual homeowners to work up a design with a local carpenter based on their needs, the materials they can salvage from their original home, and the tool sets we provide."

    Just as important, each beneficiary family is educated on how to build a safer structure to reduce the impact of future earthquakes. Through demonstration projects which Saunders calls "construction theater" families are taught safe and effective building practices. They learn to use lightweight roofing materials and to brace their heavy stone walls against collapse, the main cause of death for the estimated 75,000 people who were killed in the October 2005 quake.

    One of those watching a demonstration in the village of Sachan Khurd in the Mansehra District was Saeed Yehman, whose mother and sister had died when a stone wall collapsed. He used only CRS-provided materials in his new construction, explaining: "we will not build with heavy stones because we are afraid."

    Building the Shelters

    Barrel vault structures distributed by CRS are made of iron metal bars, waterproof plastic sheeting, insulated lining, and flexible plastic tubes used as a frame. The structures cover 240 square feet (22 square meters) adequate to accommodate the large families typical in this region and provide a safe and durable shelter against the severe winter weather.

    The shelters are made by stretching the sheeting and insulation over the tubing, which is anchored at ten points by iron bars. The kits also include a small wood-burning stove, which is vented through a concrete tube used as a chimney.

    Before distributing the kits, CRS sets up demonstration models in the target areas and trains locals in how to use them so construction can begin immediately after the kits are distributed.

    Because CRS targets earthquake-affected communities above 5,000 feet (1500 meters) in elevation as priority cases, the recipients are reimbursed for transportation costs to get to the lower-elevation distribution sites. The recipients then transport their kits from the valleys up to the sites of their original homes and assemble the barrel vaults on their own, with oversight by trained local carpenters.

    Some beneficiaries of CRS transitional shelter kits add salvaged wood and stone to make their transitional homes more durable and weather-proof. CRS also provides galvanized roofing sheets and insulation material. Because the beneficiaries themselves build the shelter, each is designed differently, based on the needs of the individual family.

    Going beyond the Emergency

    The CRS approach to shelter focuses not only on construction but also on related factors: engaging the affected communities in the design of structures, mitigating the effects of future disasters through shelter and settlement design, promoting minority land rights, access to assistance by vulnerable or marginalized groups, and the promotion of trades and livelihoods.

    The key, Saunders says, is to preserve the villagers' dignity. "We do that by enabling people to make their own choices about their transitional shelter," he said. "We provide materials and a model for how to build it, but it's up to the people to build it for themselves, in the way that they want."

    In addition, CRS adheres to a principle of "duty of care," meaning that once a humanitarian agency starts assisting someone with shelter or other needs, it is obligated to continue assistance until the person or family is able to provide for their needs on their own.

    "We have a duty to move that person from the beginning of the difficulty until the end," said Provash Budden, CRS deputy regional director for South Asia, who has worked closely with Saunders in providing shelter in Pakistan. "An example of that is the earthquake in Gujarat, India in 2001. We started working with families on transitional shelter immediately after the earthquake, and we worked with them for the next three years until they had permanent housing."

    Returning to Pakistan in December to follow up on the progress of the shelter program, Saunders experienced a magnitude 6.7 earthquake. His thoughts turned immediately to those living in transitional shelters, many of them traumatized by the earthquake they had survived just two months earlier.

    The next day, Saunders traveled to a nearby community to speak with some of those living in the shelters they built with his kits. He found that the shelters had fared well. "Many [people] said they ran outside, but then they went back inside and went back to sleep," Saunders said. "That was one of those little moments that tells you it's working, that it's worth carrying on."

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    David Snyder is a freelance writer and photographer based in Baltimore. He traveled to Pakistan on behalf of Catholic Relief Services.



    ArchWeek Image

    An earthquake survivor stands amid the debris of his former home in the village of Sachan Khurd, Pakistan.
    Photo: David Snyder, CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    Villagers in Dat, Pakistan gather to learn how to assemble a CRS-provided barrel-vault transitional shelter.
    Photo: David Snyder, CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    Graham Saunders, shelter and settlement advisor of the CRS Emergency Response Team, and Provash Budden, CRS deputy regional director for South Asia construct a demonstration barrel-vault shelter.
    Photo: CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    Graham Saunders and Provash Budden construct a demonstration barrel-vault shelter.
    Photo: CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    Inside a barrel-vault shelter in Dat, Pakistan.
    Photo: David Snyder, CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    A transitional shelter being built in the village of Sachan Khurd. This family opted to build alongside another family to maximize the enclosed space with the available materials.
    Photo: David Snyder, CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    A typical transitional shelter using the shelter kits that Saunders helped design for the Pakistan earthquake response.
    Photo: Shannon Oliver, CRS

    ArchWeek Image

    Saeed Yehman stands in the transitional shelter he built in five days, with help from local carpenters paid by CRS.
    Photo: David Snyder, CRS


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