• Great Earthquake 2005
• Community Regeneration Through Heritage
To promote heritage and culture as a basis for income generation and development among Earthquake affected communities
In earthquake area, rebuilding confidence, pride and ownership of the communities by restoring and rejuvenating heritage assets and intangible heritage, along with capacity building and enhancement of economic opportunities.
Map of area affected by the Great Earthquake 2005. Courtesy DFID.
When the earthquake hit Northern Pakistan on 8 October 2005, it devastated whole communities in the North West Frontier province and Azad Kashmir. The 7.6 Richter Scale earthquake brought enormous havoc and misery to 400,000 families when 80,000 people lost their lives. 90% of the affected population lived in rural areas, in difficult-to-access mountainous environment.
Pakistan had never seen such extensive devastation and was hardly prepared to handle such a disaster. The nation witnessed an unprecedented surge of sympathy for the affected communities when people from all over the country and indeed across the world rushed to provide sustenance and assistance.
The first months were extremely difficult, not least because of the approaching winter. In the early days doctors were providing succor to the injured, and other aid workers provided emergency needs of tent shelters, food and water, it was difficult to find a role for organizations such as Heritage Foundation.
But as we pondered how to provide assistance, it was clear that as a heritage organization and with preservation and conservation expertise, we had to be there to help people build improved shelters using their age-old construction techniques and materials. Thus, it was that the Karavan Programme for Indigenous Technology was devised in October 2005. It resulted in the construction of guided self-built KaravanGhar in over 75 villages of the Siran Valley in District Mansehra during the emergency phase. From April 2006 the work of rehabilitation has been taken up us.
Massive destruction as a result of Earthquake 2005..
As we began our work during the early days of the earthquake, we were aware that a great danger to the terraced mountainous environment was being posed due to the zealousness of aid entities operating in the area. Each one was keen to begin its reconstruction activities, but perhaps insufficient consideration for local cultural norms and traditions. We were apprehensive of the vast danger through the imposition of, what could be considered culturally inappropriate interventions, which were likely to further destroy the cultural cohesiveness among the post-disaster vulnerable population. Of course, it is possible that in the long term the communities would be persuaded to accept new and alien solutions but which are likely to result in loss of their own cultural traditions. Two years after the earthquake we can see that most of the buildings that are being built appear to be alien to the environment, and are likely to negatively impact the cultural landscape in the area.
There was a danger, even in the early days and was so expressed by us that the authorities’ promise to provide new, modern structures to replace the traditional habitat was sending negative signals – as if what had been practiced for centuries by people themselves was unworthy. What was really required was to rebuild confidence among the people in their own traditions and culture by restoring pride in vernacular construction, in the importance to continue using traditional techniques and materials, with built-in safety factors that will result in safer buildings.
Yasmeen Lari in discussion with Karavan volunteers. Camp in Nawazabad, NWFP, Nov. 2005.
Karavan volunteers in discussion with community (left) and in the camp, Nawazabad (right).
The policies during emergency and recovery period have relied heavily on providing daily dole to once, extremely proud people. The degradation of communities through their transformation from independent people to supplicants could be witnessed throughout the last few months, as day after day, they stood in lines to receive one small satchel, a blanket or a bag of wheat. The communities were trapped in a cycle of dependency, and became susceptible to replacement of their own cultural traditions, accepting a new, alien way of life. Among the most challenging tasks has been to once again make them into productive citizens by lifting them from their apathetic state, at the same time restoring pride in their own capabilities and traditions.
From the beginning our attempt was to restore pride of the communities through protection of heritage assets as well as traditional ways of doing, and skills and techniques practiced by the local community. Above all, we had been propagating steps to utilize cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible heritage, to re-knit the social cohesion and revitalize the cultural identity of the affected communities.
The vulnerable aspects include natural, tangible and intangible heritage. Based on the Catalogue of Heritage Assets of the Siran Valley developed during early 2006, it is essential to carry out further research and documentation of heritage for devising long term strategies for protection, promotion and economic returns for the benefit of the populace.