The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) works to reduce vulnerability, takes a proactive approach to disaster preparedness and response, and recognises the role of climate change on disaster risk.
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat takes an integrated and proactive approach to disaster preparedness and response, helping communities to monitor and manage the multiple natural hazards they face, prepare and respond in case disaster strikes, and build back better. We address all phases of emergency management from preparedness to response, mitigation and recovery. Recognising the impact of climate change on disaster risk, AKAH employs ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction strategies and local solutions to help protect people and the environment.
AKAH’s approach brings together scientific analysis and international best practice with deep community engagement. Our trained local volunteers and technical staff work in over 2,500 communities to make sure people have the knowledge, capacity and solutions to cope with the risks they face. We promote community-based disaster risk management informed by the best available data, helping communities implement plans and countermeasures adapted to their local context. We apply international standards including the Core Humanitarian Standards and Sphere Standards to build professionalised and standardised preparedness and response capacity amongst our staff and the communities and local authorities with whom we work.
Risk Anticipation and Planning
We start by helping communities understand the risks and plan accordingly. Combining local knowledge and field surveys with geographic information system (GIS) data, satellite imagery and other remote sensing and geospatial data, AKAH works with communities to complete a detailed Hazard, Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (HVRA) for their village or settlement. The HVRA maps risks and determines safe residential and economic zones, safe evacuation sites and high-risk areas based on a calculation of exposure and vulnerability to multiple types of hazards. We then work with communities to use this data to develop disaster management and habitat plans. To date we have assessed nearly 2,500 settlements and helped nearly 1,800 communities develop village disaster management plans. These HVRAs are updated every three years or after any disaster incident with community participation to ensure that the plans are current and adapted to local communities.
We are expanding our assessment and monitoring capacity to address remote, valley-level and watershed level risks and have completed 13 valley level and 100 watershed assessments. We have mapped and actively monitor 37 remote hazards including glaciers and 15 high-altitude glacial lakes in the Baghlan and Badakhshan provinces of Afghanistan; in GBAO, Tajikistan; and in Gilgit, Chitral and Hunza in Pakistan.
Community and Institutional Preparedness and Response
Through community-based disaster management AKAH aims to strengthen the local capabilities of populations to be better prepared and more resilient against the natural hazards they face. We maintain a network of nearly 40,000 local volunteers whom we train regularly in community emergency response, search and rescue, and disaster assessment and response. This includes nine Search and Rescue Teams trained to International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) standards. We also provide these volunteers with the tools and training to operate as first-responders during emergencies, capitalising on their local knowledge of the terrain, language and culture. Quickly and effectively mobilising and distributing relief supplies and installing temporary shelters in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is critical to saving lives and supporting recovery. AKAH has pre-positioned stockpiles, managed by community volunteers, to provide more than 2,200 villages quick access to emergency relief supplies without having to wait for external aid to arrive in remote areas. For those whose homes are damaged or lost, AKAH provides emergency winterised tents and transitional shelters as well as support for more permanent housing.
Nearly 40 percent of AKAH’s local emergency response volunteers
Seasonal events such as spring flash flooding or winter avalanches in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan or northern Pakistan or summer cyclones in coastal areas of India or Pakistan affect hundreds of communities by cutting off vital transport and communication links and hinder access to emergency support. AKAH operates comprehensive Winter and Summer Preparedness Programmes to ensure communities are aware and prepared to face different seasonal hazards including avalanches, landslides, floods, heatwaves and cyclones. These programmes aim to reduce fatalities through community education programmes and strengthening institutional preparedness, coordination, orientation and Incident Command System/Emergency Operation Centre (ICS/EOC) training sessions for local stakeholders and AKDN staff. The programmes cover pre-disaster training sessions, stockpiling, early warning systems and alerts, effective weather monitoring posts, fail-safe communication, exit routes and pre-emptive evacuation plans and procedures.
Many of the areas where AKAH operates have limited communications and transport infrastructure. Yet communications and access are vital for early warnings and safe evacuations before a disaster and timely response after a disaster. We are working with local communities to provide access to fail-safe communications, maintain access roads and bridges, and provide alternative transportation options. Through these efforts, more than 80 percent of the communities we work in have access to two modes of communications.
Recognising that school children are particularly vulnerable but also can be effective messengers and agents of change in their families and communities, AKAH implements a comprehensive School Safety Programme to mitigate disaster risk. The programme comprises both structural and non-structural elements to retrofit, protect and reinforce school buildings, and promote awareness and safe practices addressing multiple natural hazards. The programme covers over 1,000 schools and more than 100,000 students and teachers. Our School Safety Programme is aligned with global frameworks such as the Sendai Framework and builds on the core pillars of UNISDR and Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES) to ensure safe school facilities; promote risk education and awareness in the curriculum; and support schools in disaster management and contingency planning. Our efforts have helped inform national and sub-national strategies and action plans including the Pakistan School Safety Framework (PSSF).
Weather Monitoring and Early Warning Systems
Being able to effectively monitor weather patterns and issue early warning is critical to effective disaster preparedness. AKAH set up 88 weather monitoring posts (WMP) across Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan. A team of 145 trained community volunteers operate these systems and our technical experts continue to provide regular monitoring, maintenance and technical support. The WMPs collect data on air temperature, wind direction and speed, amount of rainfall and snowfall and snow depth. The WMP volunteers also look for signs or evidence of any avalanches that occurred, tracking information on location, size and impact. The data collected is analysed by AKAH’s technical experts to forecast disaster risk and issue weekly advisories and early warnings.
AKAH has also set up and maintains 19 early warning systems that cover almost 400 villages across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan as well as a system for urban flood risk in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. We also upgraded the early warning system of the highly threatening Lake Sarez located in Bartang valley in Tajikistan. These systems cover multiple types of hazards and employ site specific technologies to provide communities timely and actional warning of disaster risk.
Risk Mitigation and Eco-DRR
Data from the HVRAs on high-risk and safe zones is used to reinforce, protect and relocate critical infrastructure. To safeguard housing and other social and economic assets from natural hazards, AKAH implements structural mitigation measures such as building flood retaining walls, reinforcing foot and vehicle bridges, stabilizing slopes, constructing avalanche protection or excavating channels to redirect debris fan. AKAH has completed over 240 structural mitigation projects helping reduce the risk and protect the lives and homes of more than 50,000 people.
To address the dual risks of natural hazards and climate change, AKAH applies an ecosystem-based approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR) using nature-based solutions, in particular planting trees and vegetation and using local and low-carbon materials for structural mitigation wherever possible. In Pakistan, AKAH is working with
Since 2011, AKAH has been participating in