Flood relief efforts in Pakistan must be remodelled says award winning Pakistan architect

Published on 16 November 2022

Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect and pioneer of self-build design for the poorest communities has said that an expansion of her framework of community architecture is necessary to build disaster resilient communities in Pakistan, while speaking at the the IDS 2022 Annual Lecture.

Yasmeen L:ari delivers IDS's Annual Lecture 2022
Yasmeen Lari delivers IDS’s Annual Lecture 2022. Credits: Lance Bellers

As the COP27 climate conference in Egypt draws to a close, Yasmeen Lari shared her experiences of responding to the urgent need for shelter following the devastating Pakistan floods that left one third of Pakistan under water and 33 million people displaced. Scientists have since confirmed that the extreme rainfall that caused the floods was likely made worse by climate change.

Yasmeen described using her model of social architecture in relief efforts in the aftermath of the floods, training women in affected communities to build their own huts from earth, lime, and bamboo, at a cost of just £60 per shelter. Her prefabricated, self-build structures are climate resilient and zero-carbon, and women are put at the forefront of the community construction efforts. Lari’s is a community model of architecture that provides people with well-being and self-esteem, giving women agency, pride and identity through co creation of their own housing. Her work is transforming women’s lives by utilizing their own skills and training, and engaging them in local planning and decision making for service delivery by local vendors.

Three photos of the shelter being built in Pakistan flood emergency relief efforts
Three stages of shelter built by BASA in Pakistan flood relief efforts Photo credits: Yasmeen Lari

Yasmeen Lari, while delivering the IDS Annual Lecture, said:

“It’s been three months since the Pakistan floods, and neither the government nor the World Bank nor the UN system has any idea yet as to what they must too. They can’t decide whether they’re still in an emergency phase or they have moved to a recovery phase. The answer I’m hearing from World Bank sources is that they would like to lead relief efforts using contractors, using concrete structures, or prefabricated units flown from God knows where. With five million families needing housing, this won’t work.

“It’s the time to enforce a new model of recovery, one which would also create a framework for community participation, that would foster dignity and respect for women, and define their role in development.”

Yasmeen Lari and IDS Director Melissa LEach at the IDS Annual Lecture 2022
Yasmeen Lari receives questions after the IDS Annual Lecture 2022. Credits: Lance Bellers

Winner of the prestigious Jane Drew architecture prize in 2020 and founder of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, Yasmeen Lari developed her Barefoot Social Architecture initiative after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan that claimed over 70,000 lives. The initiative supports the pursuit of zero poverty through a rights-based, climate-smart approach, with a focus on the empowerment of women and the poorest households. She discussed how she and her team have worked to scale up training for villagers displaced by the floods to build sustainable bamboo shelters, which are easily dismantled and can be re-used in their villages when they return home.

Melissa Leach, Director of the Institute of Development Studies, said at the IDS Annual Lecture:

“Yasmeen’s barefoot model of social architecture shows us how community-led architectural design can support dignity and help people reconstruct their lives when they’ve undergone tragic disasters and unexpected deluges.

“The Pakistan floods have been an immense crisis which is in turn an outcome of major intersecting crises of climate, economy, poverty, and inequality. What Yasmeen has shown us today is that disruption itself provides a space for revolution and an opportunity to rethink entrenched models of design and emergency response. Her revolution at the grassroots is pointing to a transformation of lives that can begin to give us some hope at a time when it’s very easy to despair. An enormous amount of creativity can happen as part of linking design and development.”

The recording of Yasmeen Lari’s IDS Annual Lecture ‘The Pakistan floods – re-building though women’s empowerment and sustainable design’ is available to watch below.

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