To develop solutions to help vulnerable and disaster-affected communities plan for a better future, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the design firm KVA MATx collaborated on a case study on voluntary relocation, according to the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

AKAH, MIT’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA), the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) and KVA MATx have been invited to exhibit the project at Giardini, Central Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia curated by Hashim Sarkis.

Disasters caused by the changing climate are destroying the homes, villages and livelihoods of millions of people leaving them with nowhere safe to go.  Too often these families face long-term displacement, continued vulnerability or migration.  While the priority after a disaster is to rebuild and return home, sometimes it is not safe to go back to the same site or even the entire village.  Yet giving up ancestral lands and relocating an entire community is complicated with risks of its own that need to be carefully studied and addressed.

The AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx partnership set out to look at how planning expertise and community engagement can overcome these challenges.  The partners looked at Basid village, located in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) of Tajikistan, to develop a model for voluntary relocation planning.

The mountain village reportedly faces an extraordinary array of natural hazards, including rockfall, mudflow, flooding, avalanche and earthquake.  Located under Lake Sarez, an unstable glacial lake, the village was struck by massive mudflows in 2010, which wiped away many homes and farms and an earthquake in 2015 that caused devastating damage.  Fortunately, there is a nearby safe place (the Khabust) where the people of Basid can and want to move.  They asked AKAH to help them plan this resettlement.

Onno Ruhl, AKAH General Manager, stated: “Over 90 percent of Tajikistan is mountainous and about half of the country’s territory is at 3,000 meters or higher and exposed to multiple natural hazards.  As natural disasters become more frequent and severe due to climate change, solutions to help communities rebuild and, when necessary, relocate are essential.  The AKAH Habitat Planning Framework gives agency to displaced people to plan for a safer and better future.”

The Basid case study combines the community’s own skills and knowledge with data-driven analysis and best practices in urban planning and design from AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx, to develop a model for participatory relocation planning.  It brings world-class planning to a remote mountain village.

Building on AKAH’s Habitat Planning Framework and Hazard & Vulnerability Risk Assessments, the AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx team, together with the community, reportedly identified four main design challenges: improving access; providing a water supply; enriching the land through soil and vegetation conservation; and creating safe village layout options.

The team used AKAH’s Habitat Assessment approach – which included drone photography and GIS data and analysis to determine safe sites, map hazards and assess other environmental and geo-spatial data important for planning including solar exposure, topography, water, vegetation, soil analysis, etc.  Community participation is integral to AKAH’s habitat planning process and the team engaged with residents and community leaders to identify needs and promising programming and engineering concepts.  They reportedly conducted collective design sessions in the field, which MIT and KVA MATx further developed into a set of design options and recommendations for a phased relocation.