Sindh Launches World's Largest Housing Rehabilitation Project

Some 2.1 million houses will be built over three years to resettle flood-affected residents of the province

Sindh Launches World's Largest Housing Rehabilitation Project

Sindh was ravaged by the super floods of 2022. Now, almost two years after that catastrophic event, the world's largest housing rehabilitation project has been launched in the province to resettle the millions of people displaced by the floods. 

In the monsoon season of 2022 (which lasts from July to September), Sindh recorded some 703.2 mm of rainfall or 426% above the normal rainfall, smashing all previous records. In the other provinces, Balochistan recorded 450% of its normal rainfall, Punjab over 70%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over 33%, and Gilgit-Baltistan 104%.

Sindh received the rains in phases. The first phase of rain and floods hit southern and central Sindh in July, inundating urban centres including Karachi and Hyderabad. However, the situation was largely controlled, except in some southern and coastal areas. But consecutive heavy rain spells in August, combined with a medium flood in the River Indus and large volumes of water entering Sindh from Balochistan, flooded large swathes of Sindh, prompting a declaration of emergency in 24 of the 30 districts of the province. 

The floods caused 823 fatalities while another 8,422 were injured, and some 436,435 heads of livestock were lost. They impacted some 12.36 million residents—displacing 7.38 million, affecting some 2.087 million homes, and damaging infrastructure such as 8,463 kilometres of roads and 165 bridges. 

This meant that Sindh would have to rebuild at least 2.1 million homes across 24 districts to house some 12 million people—a staggering figure that surpasses the population of some 154 countries. The initiative marks the largest global housing rehabilitation programme, surpassing the previous effort in Nepal following the 2017 earthquake, where 0.8 million houses were constructed. 

Financially and technically supported by the World Bank — which provided an initial $500 million in financing and assistance for the reconstruction programme's design and implementation, the Sindh government has started rebuilding some 2.1 million flood-resistant houses. The provincial government is putting in $227 million, while the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will be chipping in with $400 million, and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is providing another $200 million. The entire project, however, is due to cost around $2 billion. 

For this purpose, the Sindh government set up a public sector company in November 2022 comprising private board members called the Sindh People's Housing for Flood-Affectees (SPHF) with a financing envelope of $1.5 billion to build the 2.1 million homes in 32 months by June 2025.  

There are a few features in the programme that the SPHF has been tasked with completing. The first is to validate claims of damaged houses through independent validators and the support that will be disbursed. The second is to adopt a beneficiary-driven approach whereby registered beneficiaries would directly receive housing grants into their bank accounts to ensure transparency. 

Moreover, SPHF will provide guidelines for building flood-resistant houses and monitor their construction to ensure they meet specifications and consider environmental aspects.  

Further, they have been tasked with ensuring that women are not left out and that beneficiaries are provided the title of the lands on which their new houses are being built. 

Flood resilient houses 

The guidelines call for developing a 200-square-foot, single-room, flood-resilient house. 

These houses are stipulated to be built by June 2025 with specific materials and dimensions. For example, it calls for laying a foundation that is at least two feet deep with a three—to four-inch lean concrete pour for the base, using burnt bricks or cement blocks to construct the foundation. The plinth will rise a minimum of three feet above average ground level.  

The walls should be about a foot wide, while its base must include layers of polythene sheets and bitumen to waterproof the floor. 

The walls must include ventilation openings, allowing air to pass through but maintaining privacy.  

The roof must be built over iron girders for support and to prevent cave-ins, while it must also include layers of stabilised mud plaster and compacted mud mortar over polythene sheets to keep the overall weight of the roof manageable and one which can help regulate the heat experienced in Sindh during the hot summer months. 

The process 

Backed by a robust management information system (MIS), the SPHF first registers beneficiaries. It then assesses the damage caused to the beneficiary's home and re-verifies the house.  

Under the programme, each registered beneficiary can get up to Rs300,000 to build a one-room, flood-resistant house. This money is provided to the beneficiary in four installments. The first installment of Rs75,000 is released as work on setting the plinth level begins and the location is initially inspected. 

Once the plinth has been built, its quality is inspected, and construction work is verified. The second installment, worth Rs100,000, is released to build the walls up to the roof level atop the plinth.  

After inspecting the construction progress, a third installment of Rs. 100,000 will follow to complete the house, including roofing and securing the upper structure with overhangs and drainpipes on the roof.  

The construction is again inspected to check for adherence to guidelines, and a fourth and final installment of Rs25,000 is released. 

In just over a year, the SPHF has completed some two million validations and extended financial inclusion to 764,785 through bank accounts.

No contractor is involved, and beneficiaries are free to purchase materials and independently construct houses. However, they must comply with guidelines, supervise construction, and pass periodic inspections. 

Some 550,000 housing grants will be disbursed, while funds for some 125,000 houses have been disbursed thus far, with 525,648 disbursements transferred. An Employment Impact Assessment Report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates that this programme will create a million jobs over two years. 

So far, some 296,176 post-plinth constructions have been completed, and around 50,000 houses are set to be completed monthly. 

At a news conference, held earlier this month at the SPHF headquarters in Karachi, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced: "The construction of 125,000 houses has been completed."

"Our estimate is that by the coming (fiscal) year, starting June-July, we will reach 1.2 to 1.5 million. This is a fast-track programme. Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 houses are being completed daily. Every month, we have the capability to complete 40,000 to 50,000 houses," said SPHF CEO Khalid Mehmood Shaikh on a television programme, Live With Mujahid on GTV

Empowering women 

Beyond helping affected locals rebuild their houses, the SPHF is focusing on empowering women, with 800,000 of the 2.1 million beneficiaries being women. 

Among these, some 157,000 women have started construction of their houses.  

However, the biggest impact point is the government's policy to award land titles—a significant asset transfer—to flood victims. SPHF said that millions of households in Sindh lack access to documents for property ownership, a situation exacerbated by the current crisis.  

"The government of Sindh / SPHF has also taken a policy decision to transfer (where feasible) ownership rights to the beneficiaries in the land on which their houses are being built/rebuilt. Some of the beneficiaries are located on land owned by the government of Sindh (around 70% of beneficiaries) while others are on land owned by private parties," read a policy brief. 

However, for this purpose, a new unencumbered, inexpensive, and secure regulatory framework will be built through a Digital Land Title Registration System (DLTRS). It is hoped that this system will eventually act as a digital blueprint to model a province-wide digital land title recording and transfer system. 

In the event private land needs to be transferred to beneficiaries, the private landowner may transfer it as a gift or donation to the flood-stricken beneficiary, or the SPHF could acquire it at fair market valuation under specific legislation.  

Moreover, proposals suggested limiting the further transfer of such titles for at least ten years to prevent abuse. 

The government believes that transferring land titles to women will greatly empower them. SPHF believes that alongside the rebuilding of homes, ownership rights should be provided to the beneficiaries, specifically prioritised for matriarchal and other vulnerable households such as single women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. 

However, it is anticipated that such transfers could lead to succession disputes upon the death of the female title holders where the title can, more likely than not, transfer to their husband/son.