It’s clear the CRS (a Caritas member in the USA) office in Mardan in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province has just been opened. There is no furniture at all and staff members are sitting on the ground, concentrating away on their laptops.
CRS relocated about 55 Pakistani staff from their offices in Muzaffarabad, Mansehra and Besham, where they’d been working on reconstruction programmes following the 2005 earthquake. Together with new recruitments and employees from partners the staff number should rise up to 140
Sometimes people gather together in one of the five rooms of the ground floor building. There are also some international staff members. They are technical support staff on shelter and water sanitation from the CRS emergency response team in Nairobi, Kenya.
Catholic Relief Services has been distributing non-food aid items for some weeks now to people who’ve lost their homes in the conflict in Pakistan. Now CRS is focusing its efforts on providing extra shelter for people living with host communities.
With the area manager, Sherzada, I visit a demonstration shelter on a plot of land. Its looks a bit like a square hut, 14×18 feet.
‘It’s adapted from a UN Habitat design. We built it last week and asked feed back from both people who’ve left their homes as well as hosts. The responses were great. Rooms that people are living in are overcrowded, extra space is most welcome. It’s better than a tent, people say, much cooler,’ said Sherzada.
We drive to one of four spots where construction is taking place. We enter the courtyard of a Hujra, the Pashtun name of a separated part of the house used for housing guests. Many people living in host communities are in Hujras.
Skilled laborers are putting up the bamboo sticks forming the skeleton of the shelter. And a combined toilet and bathing space with a septic tank is constructed close by.
“Building the shelter is not that difficult, but one trained skilled labourer is necessary. Here they are trained them under supervision of a CRS engineer. Selected hosts and families of people forced to flee will be given shelter material and means for transportation”, said Sherzada.
On a second spot, I talk to Mr Shafi, an electrician and head of an family who’ve fled from form Swat. He came with his wife, 5 sons and 3 daughters. They used to live in Saidu Shari, a town of normally 200,000 inhabitants.
“Pamphlets dropped out of an army helicopter warned us to flee”, he says. “There were around 600 Taliban in our town”, but he is reluctant to say more on this topic.
“Yes we will for sure use the shelter”, he says. “We are living with 25 people in two rooms’.
They will be provided with three shelters in the courtyard. His 5 sons are all present, two of them married and with small children. “No, our women are not going outside here’, one of the sons, Tahir, replies when I ask about the women, “But at home they do. We don’t know this place, even the men feel restricted in their movement”.
Back at CRS’s office, deputy emergency coordinator Shah explains that the focus for now is constructing shelters within host communities. ‘But at the same time we are planning to target schools, especially in repairing or constructing latrines, water facilities and so on,” he said.
“In a few days we expect clearance from the ministry of Education. Our overall goal is to provide shelter and sanitation facilities including sessions on hygiene to 10.000 families.”