How Villagers Are Rising Above Severe Flooding in Pakistan

Using this homemade construction technique, 80 percent of thatched houses in the village were saved from floodwater last summer.
An aerial view of houses inundated with floodwater in the Layyah district of Pakistan. (Photo: Usman Khan/Getty Images)
Dec 1, 2015· 2 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

In the flood-plagued Layyah district of Pakistan, an adaptive construction technique developed by local villagers to save their homes is being adopted throughout the region.

Every summer, severe floods in the Layyah district, which lies between the Indus and Chenab Rivers about 470 miles from the capital city of Islamabad, cause enormous damage. Last year, 226,000 people were displaced, and 100,000 acres of crops were destroyed, according to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority.

Habibullah Sehar, a 40-year-old farmer from a village in the district, told Reuters that his house had collapsed five times in floods between 2000 and 2010, forcing him to rebuild each time. But in 2010, he decided to do something different.

Sehar was the first to rebuild his house on a five- to six-foot raised dirt platform with eucalyptus trees surrounding it to keep the dirt from eroding. Other villagers became curious and then did the same. This past summer, 80 percent of the thatched houses in the village were saved from floodwaters.

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"I haven't had to rebuild my home again after the 2010 floods, though the village has suffered four heavy summer floods since 2011," said Sehar.

"Even though floods still strike our areas in a more intense and frequent manner, we remain safe," said Zulekha Hussain, another villager who built his house on a platform.

Among 164 countries studied by the World Resources Institute, Pakistan was ranked the fifth most affected by river flooding, a situation that is growing increasingly worse because of climate change, according to environmental experts.

Today, more than 200 families in the village have homes on these raised platforms, and the effort has begun attracting wider attention.

According to the Khushal Foundation, a local community-based development organization, more than 890 families in the Layyah district have now built their homes on such platforms. While foundation officials applaud the communities for self-adapting to their situation, they believe it's time for government organizations to step in and embrace the idea, both to address the larger issue of the effects of climate change on the country and to help people afford the new construction.

It cost Sehar about $950 to rebuild his house, 10 times the average monthly income in the village. Farmers have had to sell their cattle and even portions of their land just to rebuild their house in the platform style.

"Such indigenous knowledge-based measures show how people are already adapting to impacts of climate change to protect their lives," says Amjad Mehmood, a risk reduction expert at the Doaba Foundation. "Local disaster management authorities should scale up these community-based adaptation practices through Local Adaptation Plans of Action."

Flooding in Pakistan is a large-scale national problem. According to the World Resources Institute, 715,000 people are affected by flooding every year at a cost of $1.7 billion. By 2030, that number could rise to 2 million people.

For now, on a small scale, adaptive-construction techniques developed by villagers just trying to survive are making a difference.

"While a big number of people are forced to migrate to safer places in the event of extreme weather events like floods," said Shafqat Aziz, a climate migration and food security specialist, "sustainable homes resilient to floods can help cut post-disaster spending for arranging shelter for displaced flood victims."