Siamak Moghaddam The unprecedented flood in Pakistans history and the enormous all-round damage it has done have tasked the decision makers with finding answers to daunting questions that they may not be prepared for. The floods have taken place at a time when the institutional landscape of the country is in the process of change and a number of functions of the federal government are being devolved to the provinces, in particular the responsibility of the environment, population, housing and urban planning. Therefore, the provinces have an opportunity now to develop and institutionalise their new responsibilities in the light of the huge demands placed on them by the 2010 floods. The floods have also exposed the vulnerability of a great mass of the population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. Indeed, they have been an eye-opener for many to realise that a sizable population still lives in certain areas in extreme poverty and backwardness, lacking basic social facilities or services. Surely, this time round this category of people should not be ignored, if Pakistan is to rise above this disaster and regenerate itself The housing sector: What have we learnt? According to the governments figures, some 1.74 million households have lost their homes. The level of investment and effort for reconstruction of this sector is gigantic and runs into billions of dollars. However, Pakistan has proven before that it can rebuild its housing sector in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), and that it can do it again, if the right policies and strategies are adopted. Looking back at the response to recent disasters could lead to lessons for application to the current flood response. In the reconstruction strategy of Kashmir earthquake, a staged assistance package (Rs 175,000) was provided to the affected population together with earthquake resistant designs and standards and an extensive technical assistance programme, free of charge; communities were mobilised en masse for earthquake resistant construction and awareness. People were central to the decision on their own housing and fully involved in the reconstruction of their own homes. Women were actively engaged in the decision making at household level. At the end of the Rural Housing Rehabilitation Programme (2009), some 436,543 houses (95 percent of the destroyed houses) were completed of which 97 percent were determined as compliant with ERRA standards and hence safer. However, in the case of the Balochistan earthquake in 2008, the reconstruction strategy consisted of a uniform package of one-time housing cash grant (Rs 350,000 for completely destroyed or severely damaged houses, and Rs 50,000 for partially damaged houses) to the affected population without any technical assistance or compliance to any particular reconstruction standards. As a result, nearly two years after the earthquake in Balochistan, the reconstruction rate is found to be extremely low and the quality of construction is also extremely poor (based on technical assessment of UN-HABITAT engineers). Two years after the disaster in AJK, 42 percent of the 463,000 severely damaged houses were successfully reconstructed, while the remaining 58 percent were still under construction. In Balochistan, two years later the report was about 5,188 severely damaged houses - only 2 percent were completed, while 3 percent were under construction. Ninety-five percent of the houses in AJK were built according to seismic standards, whereas in Balochistan, none of the houses were built according to standard deeming them unsafe to live in. The above comparison between two similar disasters and different response strategies exhibits clear consequences for different strategies. The costs of the two solutions are different, but it is evident that a little more investment pays off in a grand way. Financial assistance provided with technical guidance is not only possible, but also more effective than just providing houses. Organising the communities and letting people, particularly women, making informed decisions about their own housing through awareness campaigns and training of skilled and semi-skilled workers, and use of indigenous materials and techniques, ensures ownership and increases the peoples self-esteem and national pride. Direct assistance to the extremely vulnerable families, such as widows, elderly without care, persons with disability and orphans, would also demonstrate that Pakistanis care about their countrywomen and countrymen. Given the magnitude of the current disaster and financial implications, the decision makers surely do not have an easy time in arriving at the right policy and strategy, particularly in the housing sector, as this is one of the hardest hit and the most expensive. Political devolution also makes this process certainly more complicated. However, it is possible to seize the opportunity and rebuild the affected areas (and indeed the country) in line with the dreams that the founders of Pakistan had. Pakistanis are clearly resilient people and Pakistani capabilities have been proven in the case of the 2005 earthquake. There is indeed hope The writer is country programme manager, UN-HABITAT Pakistan.