UN: Use local materials for affordable housing project

DP Rigathi Gachagua with UN-Habitat Executive Director Madame Maimunah Sharif at UNEP, Nairobi, on June 6, 2023. [DPCS]

The United Nations estimates that more than one billion people live in slums or informal settlements, with the majority coming from Africa and Asia.

Mitigating the housing deficit in a low-carbon trajectory is an important aspect of sustainable development.

This requires the use of carbon-neutral building materials by using renewable energy technologies as well as passive building principles.

UN-Habitat stands ready to assist national and devolved units and the construction industry with the expertise of low-carbon technology in the housing sector to scale up the housing solution.

UN-Habitat Executive Director Madame Maimunah Sharif says low-carbon houses meet the current needs of the citizens without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sharif further said housing should not just be affordable but also available, noting that Kenya needs homegrown solutions, technologies, and techniques on human, financial, and natural resources.

''Adequate and affordable housing is not only a human right, but it is also the engine for local economic development as it allows for local job creation. It is also a solution to climate change,'' she stated.

Speaking during the inauguration of the "Swiss Cube" low-carbon affordable houses demonstration at the UN-Habitat, Sharif said developing countries need to adopt 'The model house of the future' to promote low-carbon affordable housing.

The houses are made from locally available raw materials that include clay and agricultural waste as the main fuel to burn the bricks, local labor, and as a solution to respond to the housing shortage in Africa.

''Learn from this experience and make use of the tools and knowledge developed by this project to scale up the provision of housing in your countries,'' Sharif said.

The project was designed and built by the Promoting Employment through Climate Responsive Construction (PROECCO) program of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in the Great Lakes and supported by the Swiss Government.

Sharif emphasized the need to mitigate the current shortage of housing in the region which stands at 160 million.

She said this requires multifaceted solutions to meet the demand and achieve the agenda 2050 on climate change.

''The demand for housing is made more urgent by rapid urbanization that is taking place in developing countries. However, the supply of new housing remains insignificant - less than 10 percent of the demand,'' she said.

Ambassador of Switzerland to Rwanda with residence in Nairobi Zellweger Valentin, said in conjunction with the Ministry of Infrastructure of Rwanda with the aim to create affordable housing, to green the construction sector and to create decent employment.

''Locally produced modern bricks, used in this building that we inaugurated today, proved to be the ideal material for delivering affordable housing while creating a beneficial social impact along the whole value chain,'' Valentin said.

Valentin further said this has benefitted families in upgraded housing schemes in informal settlements giving them a dignified life.

''94 families have been rehoused and enjoy a more comfortable, safer, and healthier life. 600 more families are about to find a new home, and it is only a question of time before thousands of residents of risk-prone areas benefit from this process,'' she added.

Valentin said Switzerland is ready to share the precious knowledge acquired on this journey, to enter into new partnerships, and to see green, modern, and inclusive neighborhoods multiply across the continent.

The houses are made of biomass residuals which are renewable and sustainable sources of energy developed from organic materials to be dumped, burnt or left as fodder for forest fires.

This not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also helps with waste management.

Low carbon walling material can be achieved by burning the bricks using biowaste fuels such as agricultural waste and sawdust reducing embodied energy of the production process.

Biomass fuel (sawdust), grass, and leaves to be used as fuel for brick burning

Using high energy efficiency through use of efficient appliances that consume less energy without compromising performance as well as using renewable energy to power appliances saves significantly on energy costs.

The house offers key features that make it a sustainable, cost-effective solution and a driver of circular economic development through local jobs creations. This innovative housing option contributes to addressing the housing shortage, making it an ideal choice as an environmentally friendly and affordable housing solution.

The units are designed to optimize the building's performance by maximizing natural lighting, ventilation, and thermal comfort. This reduces the need for artificial lighting, heating, and cooling, thereby lowering energy consumption.

In addition, the installation of water-efficient plumbing fixtures, such as low-flow faucets and showerheads, to minimise water consumption and reduce strain on water resources.

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