Habitat Responds with “Houses-on-Stilts” Concept to Bangladesh Floods as Team Visits Island that is Eroding Away

DHAKA 23rd August 2007: A bamboo-based design that would raise family homes safely above water levels is a central concept in Habitat for Humanity’s proposed response to the recent devastating flooding in Bangladesh.

Habitat for Humanity International assessment team members after landing near Modhupur. From left, Scott Peterson, Roger Bodary, Fernando Morales Torres, Daniel Tay, Kyle Scott, and Joseph Gomez.

Men from the island of Taltala Char who are keen on the proposed idea of building on stilts. Nearly all of their homes were affected by the flooding.

Schematic of bamboo house showing bamboo stilts reinforced by old tires, adobe bricks, 350-liter water harvesting arrangement and jute-based panels. A prototype is being built over the next month.

The idea was welcomed by villagers when Habitat staff showed concept designs to villagers whose homes had been damaged or destroyed by the worst monsoon rains in a decade to hit the country.

The proposed design involves building houses on stilts with bamboo columns inserted in a foundation of something like recycled tires and a fill with adobe blocks and sand for stability against running water. The houses could be as much as 2.30 meters above the ground. Wall panels would be made of jute attached to bamboo and covered with earth plaster or stabilized mortar mix.

A prototype house is to be constructed in the next month at Habitat’s existing Mymensigh Habitat Resource Center.

The concept is one of the components of a proposed Habitat response following the visit by an assessment team from HFH Bangladesh and Habitat for Humanity International.

The overall response could assist several hundreds families to repair, rehabilitate or rebuild their homes, as well as supporting disaster-preparedness training.

Implementation could be through mobile Habitat Resource Centers which would share expertise and work with local communities. The emphasis would be on using and recycling local materials. The concept of mobile centers has been successfully used by Habitat in Pakistan in reconstruction work after the 2005 earthquake.

Habitat for Humanity International and Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh are now assessing next steps, including funding options for the proposal.

During the assessment trip, members of the team used an eight-seat seaplane to visit areas to the north of the capital Dhaka. The service was provided by MAF-Swedish Air Support, a Christian organization that provides charter air services for passengers and cargo, medical teams, air ambulances, disaster preparedness, aerial surveys and relief operations.

The flight to Modipur, where Habitat has existing satellite project center, passed over flooded areas where rice fields were now brown from the weeks of rains. Entire communities once covering vast areas were now separate small islands as the flood waters edged closer.

There was no landing field. Rather the aircraft put down on water by an embankment after a few passes to find a safe site where the waters were less choppy.

The landing attracted a crowd of local villagers. Many jumped into the water to swim to the plane; others arrived by boat.

The plane could only be anchored for a few hours as the currents were strong and the embankment was eroding.

The team traveled onwards by boat and vehicle to Majhipara, Bhuapur, a village of 85 Hindu families where most homes had been damaged. Water levels had risen over five feet. The inside of most houses suffered significant damage even though their corrugated metal sides and roofs and cement pillars along the corners and sides had withstood the floods.

The few houses built on bamboo stilts suffered little damage other than some erosion at their base.

Most villagers in Majhipara were members of micro-finance savings groups and had some sort of steady income working as farmers, rickshaw pullers or daily-wage earners.

The idea of a house design on bamboo stilts was welcomed. Villager Bimalarani said: “We could keep our cattle down below and we could stay up higher. When the floods come we would be safe and it would not touch our living area.”

“I am very concerned for my children when the water level rises.”

“If Habitat can help us with a safe design, then the entire community would support this.”

The community has access to bamboo which could be used for the stilts.

Later the assessment team visited the island of Taltala Char, a community of 5,000 families which normally sits astride a small, low-running river. Many families had fled and the river was nearly one kilometer wide at some points.

The protective embanks were normally at least 10-feet high, but now the river waters were nearly overflowing onto the land. The shore was collapsing in places as the waters eroded the land.

The extent of erosion was explained by Mohammad Khorshedul, a farmer in his 50s who has lived here for over 30 years. “In the past two years, we have lost nearly 500 feet of land due to river erosion. Every year we lose at least 250 feet and every year we have flooding. I have a wife and seven children so I worry for their safety.”

Again the notion of a house design using a stilt base and bamboo house design was welcomed by villagers. Khorshedul said: “We all support this design and feel it would be very helpful to the community. This house design would be good for us so we could rebuild a safer house.”

One of the advantages of the proposed is that the structure could be moved to a new site if erosion made a location unsafe.

HFH Bangladesh has built and rehabilitated approximately 1,000 homes. It operates mainly through Habitat Resource Centers and related satellite centers in local communities. Many projects are under taken in partnership with other non-governmental organizations.