6 Reasons Cob Houses Could Shelter the Poor

1. Cob is one of the world’s most common building materials. It is similar to clay, but is a mixture of lumps of earth, sand, and straw. These materials are not difficult to obtain and are often incredibly cheap.

2. Because it does not use bricks, wooden structures, or particular forms, it is easy to shape. Historically, cob houses were shaped and mixed by people through shoveling and stomping, or by large animals, such as horses and oxen. There are many natural builders who consult and help train people to build with cob.

3. Cob houses are perfect for extreme conditions; they are cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They are ideal for places of either cold climates or desert conditions. They can absorb substantial amounts of rain without softening. Only when it is completely submerged with water will it become more likely that the home with erode with time. However, with a sturdy roof and thick walls, it will be nearly impossible to drench and destroy the house.

4. Using cob as a building material does not contribute to deforestation and pollution. By building homes out of cob, builders conserve and protect the environment.

5. Everyone appreciates the opportunity to add personal touches to their home. Cob houses can be easily and quickly painted with clays and natural dyes.

6. Cob houses stand the test of time. Some of the oldest enduring cob homes are in Devon, England and New Zealand. However, Africa, India, and the Middle East also have a long history of cob construction. One of the most notable is the Emara Palace in Najran, Saudi Arabia. In south Yemen, there is a cob city called Shibam. Near the border of Ghana, Africa, there are many towns filled with cob homes. If these buildings have lasted 100 plus years, cob houses are proof that we can shelter the poor in sturdy, protective, and lasting homes.

Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: Barefoot Builder, Cob Cottage Company, Devon Earth Buildings, Inspiration Green, Network Earth
Photo: Inspiration Green

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country of Haiti, claiming tens of thousands of lives and costing $7.8 billion in damages. Build Change, a non-profit international organization, is fortifying impoverished nations to prevent another disaster of this scale.

Working in Haiti, China, and Indonesia, Build Change provides earthquake-resilient house designs to be implemented by local homeowners and carpenters. Instead of proposing revolutionary design choices, Build Change analyzes the architecture of affected areas and makes specific modifications to improve stability. This allows local workers to quickly learn the new designs and eventually become able to build safer housing without outside help.

After an impoverished country endures an earthquake, houses built as replacements can either be culturally inappropriate or suffer from the same instability that caused the original houses to collapse. By intervening after a time of disaster, Build Change enables home owners to be involved in the building of secure housing. This in turn sparks the creation of new jobs for local workers. In a country like Haiti, with 70% of the population either unemployed or underemployed, this is a huge boom for the economy.

With 18,701 houses built, success stories have been numerous. Haitian Mirlande Joseph recounts her experience working with Build Change after her house was leveled by the devastating earthquake. Although they could not offer her financial support, they were able to walk her through the process of building a new house by engineering the design and providing onsite training of the workers tasked with the physical labor. Although this required more monetary investment than Joseph anticipated, the experience was so positive that she considered taking up construction as a profession.

Build Change was founded in 2004 by Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, who started the organization in response to the tragic number of lives lost following earthquakes. Hausler realized the insurmountable amounts of damage could be avoided if those in poverty had access to better housing. Finding immediate solutions to this issue helps prevent millions of dollars in repairs that would be spent following a national disaster. To Hausler, it’s imperative to provide these designs to those in struggling countries, regardless of whether their respective economies have fully recovered or not.

This sentiment is encapsulated in the Build Change site’s timeline: “Earthquakes don’t kill people… poorly built buildings do.”

In 2011, Hausler received the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT reward for sustainability in recognition of the work model utilized by Build Change. By winning the award, Hausler hopes to inspire governments and building agencies to create affordable building codes that are sustainable and efficient. She hopes more young inventors will take time to work with the locals of struggling countries to conceive practical and economic solutions with their products and methods.

– Timothy Monbleau

Source: BBC News, Build Change, Economic Impact of Haiti Earthquake, MIT Press Release
Photo: Build Change Universal Giving

USAID Gives Contracts to Louis-Berger Group
The United States Foreign Aid budget recently contracted several development projects to the Louis-Berger Group, Inc (LBG).  The contracts, which will continue for the next three to five years, will provide logistical support, aid in information technology and clean energy, and help with legal reforms in conflict-prone areas in the Philippines.

Providing logistical and especially legal support is important, especially for the autonomous region in the Muslim Mindanao. LBG previously did work in the area and saw growth in economic activity, business development, and better governance practices as a result.

The Louis-Berger group, founded in 1953, has worked in over 70 developing countries since its beginning in 1959. It is a privately-owned company that specializes in work in the following areas: buildings and facilities, development economics, energy, environment, public administration, reconstruction and recovery, transportation, and water.

Afghanistan is one of the areas in which this company is heavily involved. In the Helmand province, Louis-Berger helped rehabilitate two turbines and generators at the Kajakai power plant.  With LBG’s help, the all-Afghani run plant now supplies sufficient power for both Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Louis-Berger has over 30 U.S. Federal agencies as clients, including the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Energy. It not only works inside the U.S., but also has client relationships with other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It purports its goal is to ‘work its way out of a job’ by emphasizing local development and sustainability. This, hopefully, will be the case for the Philippines in these new contracts funded by USAID.

– Aysha Rasool
Feature Writer

Source: PR Web