Efforts have begun in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to revive the craft of stone-masonry, a trend which has gradually been replaced by the introduction of cemented bricks over the past decades, posing a threat to the environment.
A stakeholders meeting was organised in this regard on Friday under the Pakistan Technical and Vocational Education and Training Reform Support Programme’s initiative, Fund for Innovative Trainings (FIT).
Speaking at the meeting, a senior official of the Rupani Foundation, Jalaluddin, said: “The main reason people abandoned stonemasonry is its cost.” The Rupani Foundation is an organisation which works to create economic opportunities for people living in the mountainous areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Jalal, however, insisted ways have to be found to make building with stone economical so as to create job opportunities and protect the environment.
Given the harsh weather conditions in winter across the hilly region of G-B, cement, a poor insulator, does not help houses seal the heat in. The cement brick wall is too thin to keep the cold out, leading to an increased reliance on forest wood for heating, which depletes forest reserves.
Elaborating the proposed activities under the FIT programme, Jalal said eight masonry and quarrying training centres will be established in Ghizer, Gilgit, Gupis, Hunza and Yasin valleys to train the youth in masonry.
Another speaker, Sher Ghazi said, “In G-B, 99 out of 100 houses are being built with bricks. This is because stonemasonry costs more and the skill has declined over the years.”
According to Ghazi, stonemasonry is the most appropriate way to respond to seismic activity as well as freezing temperatures in winters.
Experts present at the meeting discussed the ecological and economic benefits of masonry and said modern equipment and trainings could help in the revival of masonry in G-B.
The FIT programme is funded by the European Union, the governments of Netherland and Germany. It is implemented in G-B by the German government-run GIZ in partnership with Rupani Foundation to support labour market-oriented trainings with improvised tools and techniques.