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Love in a cold climate

Pakistan earthquake - One year on from the devastating earthquake that left 80,000 dead, aid agency GOAL is finally wrapping up operations in Kashmir, Pakistan.

Largely forgotten by the international media, the people of the Bagh region of Pakistani Kashmir celebrated a sombre anniversary on Sunday. On 8 October 2005 a devastating earthquake left 80,000 dead and 4M people without shelter.

While international aid fell short of the vast sums pledged to help the victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, aid agency Goal has worked tirelessly, ensuring that basic shelter and food were provided in a region with one of the harshest climates of all and where 90% of infrastructure was destroyed.

Engineer Andy Cox as among those at the forefront of the long and difficult relief operation, working as Goal's shelter engineer.

'We saved lives by creating one warm room for the vulnerable, ' he says. 'The people wanted to remain on or near their homesteads for the duration of the winter, and we facilitated this. Otherwise we would have faced a situation where families streamed downhill when the extreme cold set in.

'They would have been crammed into camps and settlements, where the potential for disease epidemics and protection issues would be extremely difficult to counteract.' 'When I heard about the earthquake I wanted to do something to help. RedR put me in touch with Goal and it took me on, ' he says. 'With other organisations there seemed to be delays getting going but with Goal things happened quickly, which made a big difference.

'I had previous experience putting teams together with minimum interference and Goal knew that, so it gave me free rein to get the work done, which I appreciated.' With winter approaching speed was vital. Since last October, Goalies (Goal volunteers) have spent £5M constructing 20 sample shelters for the vulnerable and providing material in the form of corrugated iron sheeting, washers and nails.

Locals constructed their own temporary winter shelter using materials supplied and recycled timber and tin from fallen homes.

Beneficiaries - over 10,000 families in all - received plastic sheeting for use as insulation material and flooring. These complemented winter tents and blankets as part of an overall shelter survival package for Kashmiris during the cold winter.

Sample shelters were placed in visible and accessible locations in advance of Goal's distribution of shelter materials.

After the immediate shelter effort, Goal stayed on, funding a series of four-day workshops aimed at training masons and carpenters in safe building practices. Arup earthquake engineer Kubilay Hicyilmaz, was there to show them how.

'The disaster in Pakistan had roots in the lack of earthquake engineering - earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do, ' says Hicyilmaz. 'The disaster was due to a failure in the structure of the housing, but Goal gave me money to set up a training course and nearly 300 craftsmen across six union councils have been trained thus far in earthquake resistant design.'

As reconstruction continues, increasing awareness of earthquake-resistant building practices grows ever more critical.

Before the earthquake struck Bagh, few residents knew that their homes sat on unsafe ground. They rarely included structural bracing for walls and roofs, and often erected walls from round, uncut stones packed with mud. These structures tumbled easily when the earth shook.

Masons rarely reinforced stone structures and carpenters did not fortify timber joints.

Large concrete buildings employed inadequate steel support. This lack of awareness of sound building practices contributed to more than 8,100 deaths in the district alone.

'We went to each union council where Goal is operational as well as Bagh and Islamabad, ' says Kubilay. 'We told them we were coming and that we needed masons and carpenters, as well as steel fixers for more urban areas.

'Craftsmen first learned the causes of earthquakes, then how to select the proper site for a home and how to safely align a structure on that site.

'The second day of the workshop was devoted to timber construction, the third to masonry and the fourth to reinforced concrete construction.

This ensured that workers developed a well-rounded understanding of safe practices.

Those who completed all four days received a certicate and 1,000 rupees (£8.80), slightly above the prevailing daily wage, ' says Kubilay.

The workshops were later offered to the wider nongovernmental organisation (NGO) community.

'I don't think any of the agencies, excluding Goal and a Nepalese NGO, the National Society for Earthquake Technology, had a single engineer in Pakistan, ' says Kubilay. 'There were only two NGOs that addressed the cause of the problem rather than just dealing with the fallout. All in all, there were eight weeks of training before I left Pakistan and the team has been training further since I left.' Kubilay remains frustrated at the approach of most NGOs.

'There is a lot of good work being done but often NGOs don't have the technological skills to implement it properly.

'A lot of NGOs are acting as construction companies so need to insist on correct specications and materials to be used in the reconstruction process, ' he says. 'The main challenge for me in Pakistan was to get through to the decision-makers that they need to spend some money on engineering, ' Kubilay says.

'For example, after the earthquake a doctor might know that 3% of the people will have a broken arm or leg, but doesn't know which ones. He therefore has to examine each individual. It's the same with the construction sector.

'Among the damaged buildings we don't know which ones are safe, repairable, should be rebuilt or have little damage done to them. There was a reluctance to spend money on this kind of assessment; there were instances of buildings without a crack in them not being used because people were afraid.

Cox, who runs Ascend (Cymru), a London-based consultancy, would like to go back. 'I love Pakistan, ' he says.

'It's my favourite place to visit and I would love to take my kids back there. This kind of humanitarian work opens your mind to so many possibilities and puts the world in context; it's about doing a normal job in an abnormal place.'

Goal UK is holding an information evening for engineers in central London on 19 October. Places have been limited to 40. To book your place email Laura Byrne 1byrne@goal-uk. org, call (020) 7631 3196 or visit www. goal-uk. org.

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