Newspaper advertisements placed by Punjab PDMA (Provincial Disaster Management Authority) last week informed us that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has initiated the construction of 204 model villages in the seven worst flood-affected districts of the province. Friends in the civil society and the private sector are also talking about adopting devastated villages and families and rehabilitating them. NGOs of all hues are jumping in the fray with millions of dollars and euros to spend, while the various arms of federal and other provincial governments are also bracing up to move to the next stage of disaster management. Coming to the rescue of flood victims with a wide range of capacities and resources, all these initiatives have one thing in common: they are all soulless. Surely, to make a difference, our recognised leaders of change will have to be more than just doers and do-gooders. They must learn to think afresh. For after all, would it not be better to rehabilitate the devastated areas and millions of peoples rendered homeless and resourceless for a better tomorrow? Or will the entire exercise boil down to resettling the hapless victims into the old framework of poverty and dependence, exploitation and repression? Improvements within the established development paradigm are being touted, at least by the Punjab government, to demonstrate its determination to provide flood victims with facilities that are 'even better than those which existed prior to the floods. Such improvements, however, are not enough. It is essential to revisit some basic assumptions about development, and envision a paradigm that is indigenous and has a soul. If we really want to help our sisters and brothers, the elderly and children fighting for survival, it is important to think before we start doing our good deeds. A disaster of such magnitude, tragic as it is, provides us with the opportunity to begin anew. For instance, a capable and good-hearted friend got together with other like-minded professionals after the 2005 earthquake and put together a proposal to rebuild the destroyed settlements in a way that was not only sensitive to the local environment and culture, but also benefited from the advancement in science and technology. To put it simply, among other things, they were suggesting the incorporation of alternative energy sources, recycling, and construction that drew upon local materials and strengthened the cultural strength of communities affected by the disaster. Given the vested interests strongly entrenched in the business of development, it was not surprising that they were not given any contract to rebuild even a single village. Still, it is a bit of a shock that even their sound ideas fell on deaf ears, and nothing was done to include at least some of them in the entire rebuilding exercise. Five years on, its almost a closed chapter with only some weak ghosts of misappropriation floating around. In the record books, most of the billions of dollars that poured in were all well-spent. The number of homes and schools rebuilt, the roads and infrastructure restored, have met the targets, but the earthquake hit areas are bad replicas of what was there before the destruction. The same amount of money and effort could have produced much better results, improving the quality of lives of people, who somehow never become more real than mere numbers in record books. The same mistake must not be repeated, as we start to rebuild a much bigger area and rehabilitate a much larger number of people. While an in-depth exercise to re-orient the rebuilding efforts is required for a comprehensive model that is economical and sustainable, some basic aspects that the model should integrate are clear as daylight. Rather than focussing on connecting every village to the national grid and natural gas pipelines, localised alternative energy sources should be introduced. With electricity and natural gas shortages creating problems for consumers in the rest of the country, how wise is it to add to these dissatisfied and distraught consumers? By generating energy with wind in the coastal areas and the abundant sun elsewhere, we would be freeing the needy people struggling to stand on their feet again, from the burden of bills that even settled people are finding difficult to pay. The sky-high duty on solar panels should be done away with forthwith, at least for rehabilitation projects. Similarly, while rebuilding the habitats, it is imperative that the construction of new settlements draw upon local materials and design, improving upon them with sensitivity to the indigenous traditions. Prefab and turn-key solutions might seem more convenient, and they might make some contracting firms richer, but they are bound to create newer and bigger problems. Mud huts might conjure up notions of poverty, but they are better suited to the climatic conditions and easier to maintain. With solar panels on their roofs, the mud-huts could symbolise grounded progress. We could think long-term, rather than stop-gap for a change: common hand-pumps, rather than imported filtration plants, building upon the traditional methods of recycling garbage and water, rather than sewerage systems that do not end in proper treatment and disposal. Then, of course, are the issues of re-cultivation and replenishing the livestock. In line with the contemporary understanding of environment and ecology, a concerted effort should be made to cultivate the affected lands following our time-tested, sustainable and environment-friendly farming practices, using natural seed and manure, rather than poisoning the re-invigorated land with genetically modified seeds and the chemical fertilisers and dangerous pesticides that go with them. Rather than importing livestock from distant lands with their diseases and frailties, we should be looking at finding ways to build upon the strong, beautiful and healthy diversity of livestock that our land has domesticated for thousands of years. The beautiful relationship that our village-folk have with their cows and buffaloes, with their chicks and land, should not be allowed to 'develop into the mass-production hysteria that views livestock in terms of kilograms of meat and milk and mother earth in terms of per-acre yields. Rather than doling out state-land in tainted schemes, the landless among the affected should be provided land that they could own and cultivate. The floods have given us an opportunity to change things. We must not waste it by being lazy. Let us think about rebuilding with a soul. The writer is a freelance columnist.