Flood resistant housing
How strengthened homes can hold up against floods
Year after year, floods destroy homes and crops, often hitting the poorest hardest. Every year, flooding in Bangladesh alone kills over 700 people, damages four million homes, and wipes out over a million hectares of crops.
Most of the deaths are not due to drowning, but to disease spread by the shallow stagnant water that covers everything. But there is a simple answer.
Practical Action has worked with communities to develop simple and affordable flood-resistant housing.
Flood-proof houses and cluster villages
Previously, houses in Bangladesh have been made from flimsy wood, sitting on traditional earth floors and topped with corrugated iron roofs. As a result, thousands of families are forced to watch their homes wash away when the rains arrive in earnest.
With training and materials supplied by Practical Action, landless people have been able to build their own flood-proof houses. Homes in four villages along the Jamuna River have been replaced by ‘cluster villages’ in which the houses are raised above the floods by building them on a 6ft plinth of sandy soil, brick and concrete, strong and high enough to last through repeated floods.
Walls can be made of brick up to window level, increasing their resilience. Jute panels make also make resilient walls that cost very little yet are quick and easy to replace. Treated bamboo poles on concrete bases are strengthened with metal tie rods to hold the wall firm and safe.
A plinth raises a house up further above the surrounding land. Made from soil, a little cement and some pieces of stone and brick – strong and high enough to last through repeated floods, unlike the traditional earthen floors that simply wash away.
Animals are considered in the plans too. Crucial to the family’s welfare, poultry and livestock have a separate area in the improved houses, to improve hygiene – and the henhouse can be picked up and carried to safety, out of the way of the floodwater.
Bracings and fastenings bind the walls firmly to the house ‘skeleton’ through a network of holes and notches – locally called a ‘clam system’ – and the whole building can stay standing through the strongest of winds and rain.
Water-thirsty plants are set around the house, such as bamboo, banana, hogla and kolmi – they ‘drink up’ flood water and hold onto the soil, helping the whole homestead stay intact. Most plants can be found growing wild locally, but a little people power is needed to get them in place.
Safe drinking water from raised wells
More people are killed by drinking the stagnant, polluted flood water, which contaminates village wells. With people forced to drink the dirty flood water, it can be no surprise that 110,000 Bangladeshi people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases.
Now village wells are raised up on concrete plinths above the highest historic level of flooding in an area – simple, but no one had thought of doing it before Practical Action did. 100 wells have been elevated and 60 new ones have been built, saving an estimated 30,000 people from waterborne diseases.
The Mollah family, Bangladesh
For the Mollahs from Bangladesh, just one of the families we’ve already helped, it is a dream come true. "Before, when the rain came, we wouldn’t sleep," Mr Mollah remembers. "We were terrified, but now at last we can live our lives in peace." And with their home intact, the family can bring in their crops, send their children to school, and keep their businesses running. Their whole livelihood can continue, grow and thrive.
Aklima Begum lives in Mukimpur, North-West Bangladesh
Aklima Begum lives in Mukimpur, a riverine village of Sirajgonj district of North-West Bangladesh, with her husband. The village is exposed to seasonal flooding – many homes of the village are submerged just by mild floods.
“Ten years ago, our neighbourhood was eroded by the river Jamuna. We lost not only our land, but also our cattle-shed, two cows, three goats, five chickens. We were able to only salvage some materials of our living hut.”
“Being uprooted by the river, we became ootuli (a local term referred to indicate people displaced by river erosion), we were desperately seeking a place to live. One of our relative permitted us to build our new house upon his land. With the help of many, we built our new house.”
“Our new house, however, was not safe from flood – we had to face monsoon-hassles as we faced at our previous home.”
“More miseries were waiting for us. Seven years ago, my husband became paralyzed, and became completely unable to work. Sometimes, we could not arrange anything to eat. I tried to maintain my family by working in a handloom factory. It was not a regular job. Other time, I work in other’s house as a domestic aide.”
“Besides, I rear goats in a share arrangement, income from which greatly helped to support my family.”
“I was lucky enough to be selected as a beneficiary of V2R project. Considering my needs, it was decided that the plinth of my house would be raised so that my family could stay at home during flooding. Structure of the house also made stronger. It was beyond my expectation – because I would never be able to do so in my lifetime.”
"Now I feel secure – we don’t have to move to other place during monsoon. I can sleep at my home during flooding without any worry. In addition to my work, I grow vegetables in my homestead and rear goats. ”
“There are many poor families at our village – who have been facing flood-hazards. If their house were elevated, it would be a great help for them.”
After years of living on a river embankment, Mansur Ali and his family now have a new flood-proof home, which they built in partnership with Practical Action. For the very first time, they can look forward to a flood-free future.
Shahana from Salabhora village, Sirajgonj, Bangladesh
For the past 6 months, Shahana, her husband Abdul and their two daughters have lived in a new, flood-proof house which they built in partnership with Practical Action. As one of the most vulnerable families in the area, they were one of 10 (in Salabhora village, Sirajgonj, Bangladesh), who were given the opportunity to leave their life on the riverside and build a better future.
“It feels so good to have our own home – to finally have an address. In the past we had no land or home of our own, I saw how people used to see us. Now we have more respect and more chances in life”.
The entire area of land on which the new homes have been built has been raised by around 6ft. Each newly-constructed home, of 18ft by 12ft, then sits on a plinth, further lifting it out of the reach of any future flood-waters. A road will shortly be built to ensure that there is easy access to the mainland even during times of flood.
Families are determined to stay in Salabhora so are keen to help it stay flood-free. Shahana’s family and others who have moved into their new homes have already begun to strengthen the embankment by planting fruit trees and napier grass, to reduce the chance of erosion. They have each been given a 99 year lease on their homes, cannot sell the building and can only pass it down to named dependents.
Before moving into the village, Shahana suffered greatly during the floods. Her family home was twice completely submerged under flood waters and they lost everything. She could not believe that their new home could be safe from the flood, until she saw it with her own eyes: since moving 6 months ago, a flood has hit the area but the waters did not reach their home. Despite the whole area being flooded, the village stands out as a safe, dry, island.
Shahana mentioned that the raised tube-wells (flood-proof pumps) had proven especially useful during times of flood, with women from other areas coming to the village to use the pumps. Even during the record high floods of 2007, the pumps remained above the water level, supplying a clean, reliable source of water for up to 50 families each day. The community have also been trained in how to add height to the pump (using an extension pipe and a wrench) should the waters ever come close to the top of the water pump platform.
As a result of working with Practical Action, life for the Akhter family has changed: “There was once a time when I used to starve with my family. We lived in a barren land. But for the last two years, after training in floating gardening, starving is no longer part of our lives. It seems a long time ago, in our history now. My husband has so much work with his crops that he is turning down labouring for others!”
Shahana’s husband, Abdul, is making a living from cultivating vegetables and seedlings on his floating plot. Recently, for example, Abdul nurtured enough paddy seedlings on his floating farm to plant up 18 decimals of land (1 decimal is equivalent to 100 acres).
The current price for these seedlings, if he were to sell them now, would be 1,000 Taka (£9). He also sold 320 Taka (£2.80) worth of excess seedlings at the local market and is growing a variety of vegetables on the same floating farm, which are likely to have a value of around 700 taka (£6). (Average monthly income in Bangladesh is £23.)
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Bangladesh has regular floods putting people at risk. This brief describes some flood resistant housing options.