LAHORE: Severe effects of climate change and global warming hit Pakistan hard in the form of devastating floods in recent years.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), floods damaged or destroyed more than 2.3 million homes in the country in 2022 while the situation was even worse in 2023. Many of the people still have inadequate housing in affected areas, especially in the areas of Sindh and south Punjab.

An organisation, Safe Delivery Safe Mother (SDSM), in collaboration with Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, has come up with a plan to build and develop a low-cost and sustainable housing model for the people whose houses were destroyed by the floods.

Mehreen Shahid, the founder of the SDSM having a background in welfare work in maternal health and family planning, is the project lead. Her organisation has done work in flood relief.

“I visited Japan last year and we had discussions with Shigeru Ban. His team sent us the design of a house for the flood-hit areas. We did some customisation in the Pakistani context in terms of available material and sourcing. We had an understanding with Japanese architects that the material should be local and low-cost,” says Mehreen.

The brainstorming involving Japanese and Pakistani experts culminated in a design of a house built with paper tubes, bamboo, plastic crates and thatch.

“The paper tubes have never been used in Pakistan before. The entire structure stands on paper tubes, which has been treated to make them moisture and water resilient. The walls have been made by bamboos but we are flexible about the walls and changes can be made to them. However, bamboo is more effective as they are low-cost in our target areas, especially Sindh. Mud can also be used on the walls and bamboo can be replaced,” says Mehreen while explaining the design whose prototype has been made in Lahore.

When asked about the innovation part of the design, Mehreen points out that the main innovation having cost effectiveness is the structure made of paper tubes and bamboo.

“We have put a layer of water resistant marine plywood on the floor and under used plastic crates on the ground and made a foundation by filling sand in them. The foundation has a spacing which lets the water go through it in case of a low flood so that it does not keep standing to damage the structure. The roof is water resistant and contains plastic besides other material like thatch. Each room has two windows.”

All the material to be used in the house is local, including the paper tubes, marine plywood, bamboos and thatch.

Mehreen says that the Japanese architects, led by Shigeru Ban, tested the structure in Japan and it sustained the earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale. This design has already been used and tested in Manila, Philippines etc. The height of the structure can also be increased according to the local needs while size can also be increased, she adds.

Mehreen and her team built a prototype to test the bamboo walls in the heavy rains, claiming that they can keep the water out as the testing process proved.

For any new design the input from the local people who would use it is necessary. Mehreen claims that they have got the input of the local people at the start when the design was being discussed. Regarding the roof, Mehreen says they have got input from the locals who also suggested that mud can also be used on it.

“Bamboo is a commonly used material in Sindh and other flood areas. The actual new material for the people here is the paper tube. Our team will help the locals and train them to build it on their own,” she explains.

The SDSM has a plan to start the project in the flood-hit areas of south Punjab as well as Sindh, including Dadu and Jamshoro. But initially they are planning to launch the project in Rajanpur district of south Punjab. It was one of the worst-affected districts of the region.

Regarding the design, Hasan Wasti, the architect and technical lead, says they would keep doing RnD (research and development) for further improvement in the prototype. For example, heat is a major factor and we already have a margin for insulation in the walls to shut the heat out.

For the paper tubes, he says they have done the sourcing as they are making it with new raw material.

“We put it through strength testing to see whether it was applicable for construction or not. We have tested it for water resilience and then did its treatment with polyurethane, a resilient, flexible and durable manufactured material,” he informs.

About the plan to build the house on ground, he says paper tubes are a part of prefabrication.

Prefabrication means assembling components of a structure in a factory or other manufacturing site, and transporting complete assemblies or sub-assemblies to the construction site.

“All the cutting for the assembly is made ready and then transported to the target area, saving our time. But the case with bamboo is different as every piece is generally different and can’t be a part of prefabrication.”

The house can be made with just one skilled person with the involvement of the community and it does not require that much skilled labour as is needed in the brick and concrete structures, Hasan asserts.

Funding for any welfare project is important and Mehreen thinks that it’s unreasonable to expect funding from the local people who are already suffering.

“We have local partners already working in the flood-hit areas. We have to see different avenues for fundraising but the community would have to make some contribution to have their ownership in it.”

About the cost of the house, Mehreen says that the brick and cement houses are constructed at double cost compared to the SDSM design. The cost of this 12/12 prototype is Rs380,000, which is very feasible, she adds.

“We can scale it up and plan to cut, treat and prepare the material in Lahore and then send it to target areas to be assembled there,” she says.

Mehreen Shahid hopes that the locals would welcome the design once they see the whole of it because flood-hit areas still lack rehabilitation work in terms of construction.

To the question of the longevity of the structure, Hasan thinks that the material and structure can survive up to the minimum eight to 10 years.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

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