Land Tenure: Issues in Housing Reconstruction and Income Poverty Case study of Earthquake-affected Areas in Hazara (W-113)

Land Tenure: Issues in Housing Reconstruction and Income Poverty Case study of Earthquake-affected Areas in Hazara (W-113)

Publication details

  • Monday | 01 Feb, 2010
  • Kaiser Bengali
  • Working Papers
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Kaiser Bengali

Working February  2010  

The massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit a 27,000 square kilometer area in nine districts of North West Frontier Province[1] and Azad Kashmir on 8 October 2005 caused an estimated 80,000 deaths, an equal number of injured, over 400,000 houses destroyed or structurally damaged, 3 million people rendered homeless, thousands of livestock killed, farms lost due to landslides, irrigation systems ruined, and roads and communications shattered.


The widespread devastation evoked a massive relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation response. There is universal acknowledgement among the affected people of assistance arriving within a day or two of the disaster; except in some remote parts where it took as long as a week for relief to arrive. Individual groups, NGOs, and religious organizations from as far as Karachi are said to have appeared almost overnight with relief goods and medical supplies. The Government of Pakistan was slower to respond, but once mobilized, it set its relief machinery in motion. The distribution of tents and, subsequently, CGI sheets was extensive. There was not a single family in the survey sample that did not at least possess a tent. Relatively more resourceful families that received winterized tents passed on the ordinary tents to tenants, servants and homeless persons. Many built shelters with a combination of tent, CGI sheets, bricks, wooden planks, and stones; some of these retrieved from destroyed homes. Tented and CGI sheet shelters, and combinations thereof, are still visible.


The Pakistan Army’s airdrop of tents, blankets, food and medical supplies constituted a significant contribution to the relief effort, particularly in areas rendered inaccessible by the collapse of the road network. In Allai (Batagram district) for example, the survivors first lived off food in the market stores and roasted maize obtained from the then standing crop for a full week, before army helicopters began to drop tents, blankets, food and medical supplies.[2] The Army opened the road to Allai after about 20 days to enable other organizations to bring in relief goods. The Army’s role in restoring road communications and establishing air bridges throughout the earthquake-affected areas is accepted as critical.[3] Also mentioned with gratitude and admiration are the roles of rescue and relief missions from Turkey, Cuba, Europe, USA, and other countries and the pervasive roles of UN organizations in the relief operations. Airlifts of heavy road construction equipment by US Chinook helicopters were critical to the Pakistan Army’s task of opening the road network.

One of the key response measures on the part of the Government of Pakistan was the creation of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), with responsibility for a range of issues. Of these, housing reconstruction tops the list. ERRA’s mandate on housing reconstruction includes: help in reconstruction of houses, recommending architectural designs, specifications, and construction materials for housing and so on.


There are many commendable successes with respect to relief, recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation tasks. The same, however, cannot be said unambiguously about housing reconstruction. Partly, the obstacles are rooted in ERRA’s rigid procedures. In many areas, though, housing reconstruction has also become mired in the traditional land tenure regime.


This paper deals primarily with issues of land tenure, its impact on housing compensation benefit incidence and ERRA’s handling of the matter. It also looks at the income implications of land tenure patterns and compares the situation in Hazara with that in Azad Kashmir. The study is based on a survey of two affected districts in Hazara: Mansehra and Batagram. The lessons that emerge with respect to land tenure, rural housing construction and incomes can perhaps be of indicative relevance to the rest of the country as well.


Section 1 provides a background to the situation, profiles the main features of the area, and presents an account of data collection and information gathering. Section 2 outlines the immediate relief measures undertaken in the wake of the earthquake and the efforts at housing reconstruction. Section 3 looks at the issue of land tenure in terms of the conflict it generates and its impact on incomes.


It is appropriate, herewith, to place upfront the limitations of the paper. The study was conducted over a brief period of four weeks, two of which were devoted to gathering information from the field. The interviews – using a checklist type questionnaire – were carefully structured and an attempt was made to record information in a uniform and systematic manner. Respondents were cross-examined and responses based on hearsay were discarded. Given that the sites and the respondents were not selected randomly, no claim is made as to the statistical representativeness of the data. As such, the statistics presented herein need to be regarded as indicative and the conclusions drawn read with due qualifications.

[1] Given that the earthquake had almost exclusively affected the former Hazara Division of NWFP (a part of Shangla district was also affected, though not as seriously), the area is referred to in the paper as Hazara. This appears appropriate, as the land tenure patterns in the rest of NWFP are not the same as in Hazara.

[2] However, the importance of the weeklong delay for the Army to begin airdropping relief supplies in Allai is not lost upon the affected people of the area.

[3] The casualties that the Army (and UN personnel) suffered in opening the roads and providing relief in difficult and dangerous terrain have not been adequately recognized.