The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) won the World Habitat Awards 2020 Gold Award on December 3 for its “Integrating Indigenous Knowledge and Technology for Safer Habitat” project. 

In the winning project, AKAH pioneered the use of Hazard Vulnerability and Risk Assessments (HVRAs), which integrate science, technology and local knowledge for disaster risk management and sustainable habitat planning and development, according to press release issued by the Aga Khan Development Network.

Reflecting the importance of this work, Prince Rahim Aga Khan, Chair of AKDN’s Environment and Climate Committee, said: “For decades the AKDN has been working with vulnerable communities to improve quality of life and reduce disaster risk. Today in the face of the climate crisis, understanding and mitigating these risks is even more urgent.  Only by helping these communities adapt and thrive in harmony with their often-precarious habitat can we hope to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

One of the judges of the award, Leilani Farha, Global Director of The Shift, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said: “This project, led by the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Pakistan, is the embodiment of a human rights approach to climate change adaptation policies.  This novel project manages to combine indigenous knowledge, community involvement and technological advancements to ensure resilient, sustainable communities capable of living in dignity, security and peace amidst the rising threat of climate-induced disasters.”

The project reportedly combines local and scientific knowledge in order to assess hazards, map risks, determine residential and economic zones, and develop disaster management and habitat plans.  AKAH geologists use remote-sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technologies and risk-scoring tools, combined with participatory risk assessment and community knowledge, to develop plans for safer habitats.

The World Habitat Awards is an international charity dedicated to finding, supporting, sharing and celebrating projects related to housing that can have an “overwhelmingly positive impact on individuals, families and communities”.  It posits that housing is a basic right.  Its World Habitat Awards – organized in partnership with UN-Habitat – “recognize and highlight innovative, outstanding and sometimes revolutionary housing ideas, projects and programs from across the world.”

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) works to ensure that the places people live are as safe as possible from the effects of climate change and natural disasters while also helping them to be prepared to cope with and respond to disasters that do strike.  Beyond safety, AKAH aims to ensure people have access to services and opportunities to improve their quality of life.  Established in 2016, AKAH combines several agencies and programs of the AKDN that had been working on housing, habitat and disaster preparedness and relief since the 1990s in South and Central Asia, including Focus Humanitarian Assistance, the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, and the Disaster Risk Management Initiative.

In Tajikistan, AKAH engages with communities living in precarious mountain environments to increase their resilience to natural disasters and complex emergencies.  It also supports them in finding ways for their “habitat” to enhance their health, education and economic development.

The AKAH approach is to predict, where possible, potential emergencies that may impact homes and livelihoods, identify structural and non-structural interventions that can prevent or mitigate the impact of those hazards, and to build the capacities of communities and local and national Governments to reduce their vulnerability to risk and simultaneously to increase the capabilities of governments to help their neighbors. 

AKAH implements a wide range of disaster prevention and response initiatives in local communities, including disaster preparedness trainings, vulnerability assessments, risk mitigation activities and disaster relief efforts.