Beira shows the way to low-carbon housing

Submitted by Wadzanai Linda Mvundura | published 30th Jun 2022 | last updated 7th Oct 2022
Easy housing in Biera

Easy housing project in Biera. Pic: Easy Housing

Introduction

Cities are at the centre of our society, providing a home for about 55% of the global population and generating 80% of the world’s GDP (World Bank, 2020). However, the unprecedented rate of urbanization and economic development, especially in the Global South, has led to major problems.

Firstly, the fast expansion of urban areas has put high pressure on surrounding land and natural resources, negatively impacting biodiversity and the climate – cities are responsible for about 67% of the global energy use and 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions (World Bank, 2020). Secondly, cities often cannot keep up with the instream of new residents and lack sufficient housing and other essential infrastructures, such as sanitation, safe drinking water, electricity, and so on.

Globally, 1 billion urban poor live in informal settlements, also known as slums (World Bank, 2020). These city slums grow uncontrollably as people from surrounding areas move to the city to find a job. There are often no proper infrastructures, like sanitation and waste management, nor green areas, and the houses are self-built shelters of low quality. This has a negative impact on the health and well-being of the inhabitants, and makes them extremely vulnerable to climate change and disasters like flooding (Water Adaptation Community, 2021).

However, slums are not the only problem cities face. There is a general lack of affordable housing - by 2030, the global housing deficit is predicted at 300 million homes (Reall, 2021). Urbanization will continue and by 2050, 67% of the global population is expected to be living in an urban area. Considering that the global population is predicted to be around 10 billion people by 2050, about 3 billion additional people will need access to an affordable home – adding around 600 million extra homes to the current deficit (UNHABITAT, 2021).

Adaptation Options

There is need to embrace sustainable, affordable, and scalable housing solutions, only then will a level be reached a thriving and equitable world with comfortable, safe and healthy homes for everyone (This is exactly what Easy Housing is aiming for). Easy Housing in Beira, Mozambique, is a circular and carbon-negative building concept based on sustainably sourced timber. There is thus an enormous demand for housing and also a strong need for upgrading of slums.

However, buildings account for 38% of the global CO2 emissions and the cement industry alone is responsible for 8% of all emissions. In addition, construction currently causes 30% of all waste and 50% of all resource extraction worldwide (UNEP, 2021). If we try to solve the housing deficit with traditional (concrete) building methods, this will have a devastating impact on the climate and the environment. In addition, houses must be climate-smart and resilient to natural disasters like hurricanes, droughts and floods, as these are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. It is thus essential that the construction sector will embrace carbon neutral and circular building to minimize the climate and environmental impact, while also ensuring climate mitigation and adaptation.

Potential impacts/benefits

The houses are climate resilient and can withstand natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. The timber buildings provide a healthy indoor environment with a high level of comfort, and they have been designed to be fire safe and energy efficient.

As a circular building concept, the homes have long-term value and allow for relocation, repurposing and incremental building, while minimizing waste. The homes are carbon-negative, as avoiding the use of concrete strongly reduces the total emissions and the sustainable timber captures carbon in the building structure. This circular and biobased building concept thus minimizes its impact on the environment and climate.  

Through standardization and supply chain optimization, the concept is scalable and affordable. For each project, Easy Housing aims to establish a local concept line by working together with local partners, sourcing all materials and labour locally. This ensures cultural integration of the Easy Houses while also stimulating the local economy through job creation and demand for materials. The building concept can be tailored to local building requirements, such as cultural aspects, available building materials, and climate conditions, allowing for many different typologies and floorplans.

Outcomes and Impacts

In April 2022, an evaluation of the project was conducted. The technical, social and cultural, economical, and institutional feasibility of the housing concept in the context of Beira was studied using an inclusive, participatory co-creation process involving all stakeholders. The evaluation consisted of a variety of methods. Firstly, a representative and diverse group of people were selected for Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs).

The involvement of the community was very important in the success of the project. Social Empowerment of local people by ensuring public participation. This ensured  ensured health, safety, well-being in residences thus creating a sense of community, ‘sense of place’, and identity.  The results from the evaluation show that the local residents  preferred the housing concept as it is a good innovation and generally has a fast construction cycle. Bio- based houses are faster to build wooden houses than concrete houses.

Other

FURTHER READING

For more information on Easy Housing and their current projects, see their website and social media:

Reach out to Easy Housing if you have any questions or if you are interested in working together: