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    Understanding the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH)………By: Shah Karez



    Established in 2017the AKAH includes the legacy programs and initiatives of the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS) including Water Sanitation Extension Program (WASEP), FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, the Disaster Risk Management Initiative (DRMI), the Portfolio Management Office (PMO), and the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment (PSAKFE). It also includes the habitat related activities of Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) and the Mountain Societies’ Development Support Program (MSDSP). The latter is operating in Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan Oblast.

    The Purpose and logic of AKAH

    The aim of AKAH is to develop a holistic approach to ensure a safe and sustainable living environment; one that provides possible safety against the effects of natural disasters such as floods, land erosions, earthquakes, debris flows and the like. AKAH is mandated to enhance the capacity of the communities in the disaster prone areas so that they could be able to cope with extreme events. In its first five year strategy (2018-2022) AKAH propounds the idea that despite being safe, a habitat should also have access to social and financial services thereby creating conducive environment for economic opportunities and growth.

    AKAH, in short, is a collaborative response of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) to the increasing trend of natural and manmade disasters particularly in the mountain regions. AKAH is also in line with the resolve of the member nations of the UN to reduce disaster risks. The UN Wolrd Conference in Sendai Japan in March 8, 2015 under its Office for Disaster Risk Reduction prepared what has come to be known as Sendai Framework.“The Sendai Framework is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. The HFA was conceived to give further impetus to the global work under the International Framework for Action for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction of 1989, and the Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World: Guidelines for Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation and its Plan of Action, adopted in 1994 and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction of 1999.” (Sendai Framework, 2015).

    AKAH is closely collaborating and in line with the disaster risk management efforts of the government of Pakistan carried out by the respective authorities at the national, provincials and the district levels.

    AKAH’s Role in Chitral

    Creating an agency of the ilk of AKAH does not come out of the blue. It goes to the credit of the Aga Khan Development Networks’ legacy programs that have gained valuable lessons and expertise through their decades’ practice in their respective specialized fields. The AKPBSP has gained deep knowledge in designing safe, environment-friendly and energy-efficient buildings, especially across the mountainous cold regions of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. Building codes are strictly adhered to in addition tothe use of environment-friendly and appropriate technology. The AKPBSP model of building construction while adhering to the principles of quality and safety is expected to be replicated by other organizations and individuals particularly across the mountainous regions. Chitral including other parts of the Hindukush   lying on the fault line call for adopting of extra care to improve safety measures around built-environment.

    The FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance carrying out disaster relief operations in both rural and urban settings for a long time has been further strengthened and renamed as The Department of Emergency Management.A team of Geologists carries out Hazard and Vulnerability Risk Assessment (HVRA) in all villages. The HVRAs include Hazard and Risk Mapping of villages and valleys, Monitoring of High Risk Glaciers and Landslides. Weather Monitoring Posts have been established in 33 locations of avalanche prone villages. 16 highly trained Search and Rescue Team (SART) members remain alert to the call of

    Time. SART goes through monthly exercises to keep fresh and active. To save a life, every member of this team is ready to put his life at risk.Be it Kashmir earthquake 2005, Chitral earthquake  2015, or flood disasters in Brep 2005 and 2015, Sonoghur 2007, Buni 2010, Reshun 2010, 2015, Avalanche in Susoom Karimabad or drowning of Jeep accident victims in Chitral River near Chew bridge,  this team has performed wonders by reaching like an electric current at each of the disaster scenes and rescuing several lives.

    AKAH gained capacity and expertise in designing and delivering well-articulated community based training programs to volunteers selected by the communities to carry out first aid and rescue operations during disasters. A bottom up hierarchy of skilled volunteers is created. Starting from Hazard Specific Household Education (SHSE) to preparing Risk Management Plan (RMP) to training of Village Emergency Response Teams (VERTs) to skill enhancement of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) at cluster level, each individual is imbibed with the spirit of volunteerism. These trainings include a variety of skills in first-aid, search and rescue (Firefighting, Rope management, Evacuation), Incident Command System, Triage and Community Stockpile Management. 2969 office bearers of CERTs have received training in Leadership skills. Master Trainers have been prepared and they are given refreshers. 4593 School Safety Plans (SSPs) have been prepared. To refresh participants SSPs are reviewed on regular basis. Joint Simulation Exercise of all trained teams is a regular feature. Shake out drills have become annual features. These drills not only give skills but keep participants active. There are programmes currently underway for giving the CERTs the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group of UK (INSARAG-UK)’s  standard first response capability at the grass-root levels.

    What is more Winter preparedness sessions are conducted with notables and activists in 150 high avalanche prone villages across Chitral region.

    Stockpiles are maintained at appropriate locations across the regions, so as to provide immediate rescue and relief to affected people in case of disasters.There are 50 full-fledged CERT stockpiles each having 20 winterized tents, 200 blankets, chain pulleys, First aid kit, fire beaters, shovels, hammer, ropes, torches, generators, Axe, D-ring, gloves, masks and other response equipment . Keeping high risk prone areas in view three school buildings in Madaklasht, Susoom and Hasanabad have been selected as Community Emergency Shelters (CES).

    Under the Disaster Risk Management Initiative valuable data on the structure and status of houses in Chitral has been collected. This information will be used in preparing the long term house safety plan for the region.

    A Disaster Assessment and Response Team (DART) consisting of trained professionals from the Government, Local Councils, notables and community person carry out surveys in the aftermath of a disaster.

    First-aid                                    Hazard mapping exercise


    Government functionaries observing equipment used by trained volunteers during disasters-venue University of Chitral



    Note: Please see also ‘WASEP reaches Lashkargaz Broghol’ by the same writer.

    Shah Karez is an experienced development professional


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