A project that combines satellite images has won an international award on Thursday. It maps technologies and the local knowledge of villagers to help build climate-proof settlements in disaster-prone areas of Pakistan.
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) Pakistan project has served more than 1 million people. The project was a gold prize winner at the World Habitat Awards. The awards are organized with the United Nations housing agency (UN-Habitat).
AKAH has trained about 50,000 residents to better protect their villages from disasters. The mountainous northern areas are vulnerable to earthquakes, floods, and environmental degradation. These are home to some of the poorest communities.
“It’s not just responding to the effects of the climate emergency. But being proactive in protecting people from its effects, using technology and the knowledge of communities,” said David Ireland, chief executive of World Habitat, a charity.
“It provides communities with the knowledge of where and how to live in safety in a changing world. The potential for this approach to be adapted and used in similar areas in Pakistan and elsewhere is absolutely huge,” he said in a statement.
Pakistan & natural disasters
Since 1980, more than 2 million people have been killed by natural disasters, according to the World Bank. Worsening climate change impacts threaten to push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty within the next decade.
Pakistan is among the most disaster-prone countries in South Asia, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, the remoteness of the northern areas makes response efforts difficult.
Launched in 2006, the AKAH project includes mapping and monitoring hazards using satellite images and drones. It creates disaster risk management plans with the involvement of local residents.
Moreover, it enables communities to build in safer areas, and better prepare for and respond to disasters, AKAH said.
The project combines local knowledge, community involvement, and technology. It develops “resilient, sustainable communities capable of living in dignity” amidst the threat of climate-induced disasters, said Leilani Farha. Farha is a former UN expert on housing and one of the judges for the award.
AKAH plans to extend the model to other rural parts of Pakistan. While its projects in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Syria and India are also using this method. They have completed risk assessments in nearly 2,500 villages covering 3 million people.
AKAH Pakistan & women
A key focus for AKAH Pakistan is the involvement and importance of women. They make up about half the volunteers trained for disaster response. Women also help in weather monitoring. Moreover, they also find high-risk areas.
“This has given voice to women. This ensures their participation in village disaster risk management plans,” said Samra Siraj, a program coordinator at AKAH told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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