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Out of Disaster, Innovation
Averting Kashmir's second humanitarian tragedy.


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When Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, took the unprecedented step two weeks ago of suspending American F-16 fighter jet purchases for his country’s depleted air force until a long-term rehabilitation plan for Kashmir could be formulated and implemented, he set a transformational course for the people of Pakistan that will define his term in office for decades to come. It inspired a sense of pride in people of Pakistani origin everywhere to pitch in and do everything they could to resurrect the lives of millions left without even the basic necessities of everyday living–as I am painfully finding out on the ground here in touring earthquake-devastated areas and meeting firsthand the people whose lives have been turned upside down.

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That Musharraf had to temporarily nix perhaps the country’s penultimate defense program showed how much more people matter than the machinery of war purchased to protect them. It defined the magnitude of initial resources needed to rebuild Kashmir in the intermediate and long-term. Sadly, it also highlighted the lack of commitment from the world community to respond to this important antiterror ally’s calls for help.

Pakistanis are a proud and resourceful people. They are clearly humbled by the magnitude of the disaster they face, yet seem determined to rebuild the lives of those affected with their own resources. And much resource will be needed if Pakistan is to succeed in preventing the loss of a generation of children.

Look at the magnitude of the problem.

3.3 million people have been rendered homeless by the earthquake, about half of them children. Of the 73,000 who have died so far, at least half were children. Some 500,000 homes will need to be rebuilt if we are to provide more than a culture of tent cities for Kashmiris in the coming years.

6,000 schools are required to resume proper education and training for the children orphaned and still alive. An extraordinary opportunity presents itself therefore to rebuild these schools as modern centers for learning in a culture where Madrassah schools have earned global condemnation as exporters of extremist ideology.

Hospitals and clinical facilities will need to be built to deal with the ongoing medical needs of Kashmir’s residents. While there is no clear number on how many of these facilities are needed (more will be known later this week at a Donor Conference scheduled for November 19), or what will be required to equip them, the makeshift hospitals we toured here on Sunday demonstrate how urgent the need is and how non-trivial the numbers are. $2,000, for example, feeds 100 hospitalized patients for a month. Yes, just $2,000…

An initial 1,000 orphanages and homes for the handicapped will also be needed to cope with the most displaced of the earthquake victims. Even the coldest hearts cannot help but be moved emotionally when one sees beautiful, vibrant teenaged girls who are scarred for life with an amputated leg or arm, and who fear even the most basic medical treatments because they simply cannot comprehend what has happened to them.

New roads, water distribution facilities, electricity generation plants and food warehouses will also be needed. In short, Kashmir is devastated beyond recognition and requires everything that human beings require to live.

That’s the size and scope of the problem. Now let me tell you about an incredible example of hope in this disaster. One of our key site visits on Sunday was to a field near Pakistan’s Army General Headquarters where a California-based eco-friendly housing architect was constructing what could–and should–be the prototype housing structure for earthquake zones everywhere in the future.

Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili, head of the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal Earth), and engineer P.J. Vittore have literally transformed the earth under our feet into adobe-like housing structures that are weather resistant, virtually indestructible and eco-friendly (Eco-Domes). Deployed in Khalili’s native Iran after the Bam earthquake, Eco-Domes are rapidly gaining credence as a solution to short, intermediate and long-term housing needs for disaffected regions throughout the world. Pakistan’s efforts to erect Eco-Domes are being guided by Cal-Earth Pakistan under the guidance of Pakistani-Americans who have dropped their lives in America to come and help the earthquake relief effort.

The costs–ranging from $500 for a single-user hut to $3,000 for a two-bedroom fully equipped home–make Eco-Domes an eminently sensible economic solution for housing the teeming masses in Kashmir’s earthquake-devastated areas.

Cross-section of Eco-Dome Homes

Eco-Domes were conceived to deal with the potential for large-scale devastation in California’s earthquake zones in the early 1990s, and have passed stringent California building code standards as well as International Conference of Building Officials standards for safety and structural integrity. Constructed by layering earthen-filled, patented eco-bags in a geometric configuration lined with Velcro-like barbed wire that can withstand earthquake-like forces of over 27,000 ft-lbs–the equivalent of a concrete truck dangling off a cliff–Eco-Domes can take on a variety of attractive architectural configurations and neighborhood layouts that breathe new life into traumatized regions.

Artist’s rendition of a Kashmiri Eco-Dome community

Two-bedroom Eco-Dome under construction

Out of the rubble of earthquakes has risen hope that generations of people need not lose hope in their search to rebuild shattered lives. In Pakistan, I found one such example of the hope and promise that defines our human spirit, that binds us together across religious, economic, and social strata to be one as common inhabitants of our world. Kashmir’s devastation is a call to moral arms, to help our friends in Pakistan deal with this humanitarian crisis by supporting these types of innovative solutions.

Homes in Bam, Iran where an earthquake devastated the region in December 2003

Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management in New York and an American of Pakistani ancestry, co-authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities in Kashmir between Muslim militants and Indian security forces in the summer of 2000. He is presently touring earthquake-devastated areas in Pakistan and Kashmir.



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