“I decide my own destiny”: Taking ownership for a resilient Sindh

Source(s): World Bank, the

“Learning from past experience, I built my house [stronger and higher] to avoid future destruction,” explains Wazira confidently as she shows us how she has built the foundations of her new house strong enough for it to withstand the potential consequences of concerning/alarming levels of climate change in the region.

The summer of 2022 saw catastrophic floods sweep across Pakistan, inundating over a third of the country, affecting 33 million individuals, and causing almost $15 billion worth of damage. The province most affected by these floods was Sindh, with 70% of the total damages and losses caused by the floods being concentrated there.

Wazira Bibi, who hails from the village of Dur Muhammad Abro located in Dadu district, Sindh was one of many who lost their home during this catastrophe. The event also carried a tragic resonance for Wazira: It marked the second time that she was faced with the prospect of rebuilding her entire home, with the first instance having occurred during the floods of 2010.

In the wake of such devastation, the Sindh Government launched the Sindh Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project (SFEHRP), aimed at providing support for 2 million families like Wazira’s to rebuild their homes to make them more climate resilient. Of this monumental commitment, the World Bank has committed to support the resilient reconstruction of 350,000 houses each costing 300,000 PKR (approximately $1,000). The funds are being disbursed in multiple installments to ensure resilient owner-driven reconstruction (as per the minimum construction guidelines), transparency and inclusion of all deserving beneficiaries.

Building a resilient home for each of these beneficiary families is important since previously, their homes were ‘katcha’ (made of mud) thus making them acutely vulnerable to climatic disasters. These houses are now being reconstructed as ‘pukka’ (solid) houses, using resilient construction materials and pre-defined guidelines, able to withstand climatic challenges like heavy rains, flash flooding etc. While living in a house made of brick and mortar might sound like the most basic lifestyle requirement to most of us, to the flood affectees of Sindh, this is incredibly transformational in a number of ways, some of which are yet to manifest. For starters, most beneficiaries now have access to banking services for the first time through their own bank accounts. This is expected to lead to overall financial empowerment, especially for women. Once the housing reconstruction is in place, it also opens doors for further infrastructural development in the areas of the settlements, such as communal WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities, drainage, roads, etc.

Wazira already has a plan that spans generations, as it is not only her own wellbeing that she is concerned with, but that of her daughter and grandson as well.

“My own life may be close to its end, but I will make sure that my grandchildren can live in this new house that I am building,” she says proudly.

Wazira’s story also serves as an example of how putting reconstruction in the hands of beneficiaries plays a critical role in empowering individuals and communities to create self-sustainable lifestyles. Having learned from her experience with floods and being unwilling to subject her family to any future risks, she has ensured that her new house is located higher up along the same slope upon which her previous houses were built.

Furthermore, Wazira’s new home is being built on a much firmer plinth than before. Although the project’s standard reconstruction guidelines mandate that the plinth level of a new home must rise to a minimum of three feet, Wazira insists that in her specific case, three feet is not enough:

“I understand my own home and its requirements better than those coming with an outside perspective. My house is in the most low-lying area of our village. It has drowned twice, so I know that for me, the three-foot requirement is insufficient against protecting ourselves in the long run, and this is why my plinth level must reach a minimum of four feet.” 

She is also unafraid to take risks – despite the first tranche from the project amounting to 75 thousand rupees, she has already spent 150 thousand rupees towards the construction of her new home. To accomplish this, Wazira had to sell her cattle – one of the most precious resources for villagers from this region.

Following the release of the second tranche of SFEHRP funds disbursed in May 2023, Wazira bought even more building materials. Remarkably, in a span of almost 11 weeks, her home is now almost halfway built. She also intends to utilize solar panels to provide basic electric and heating needs.

One of the key challenges as the project progresses will involve dealing with inflationary pressures, especially those caused by constraints on the availability of building materials. Given the basic living standards in most of these settlements, this could potentially lead to a debt problem. Consequently, the Bank is actively working on helping with the procurement of sustainable building material incorporating lessons from similar projects in the past, and to ensure that the way forward is as optimally green and efficient as possible.

While the future of climate change and its lasting impact upon Pakistan’s future remains uncertain, individuals such as Wazira, remind us of the power in remaining – and building resilience – defiant in the face of disaster! But Wazira cannot fight alone. The Government of Sindh targets creating the same opportunities for 2.1 million families. The World Bank has committed to funding 350,000 of these households. Hence it is imperative that philanthropies, wealthy individuals, and most importantly international development partners, step up to help fill the financing gap for the successful completion of this program. Furthermore, it is important for the international community to understand that Wazira and her Pakistani counterparts are not responsible for causing climate change, they are merely victims. Delivering on commitments to mitigate carbon emissions and investing in clean practices will go a long way in preventing such extreme weather patterns from becoming the norm.

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