Low cost housing for Orissa’s cyclone hit areas
Christoph Luethi,

Development Alternatives (DA) in collaboration with CARE India is currently implementing a rehabilitation project for 1400 households in the areas worst hit by cyclone in the state of Orissa.

The cyclone that hit Orissa on 29th.October 1999, has left over 10,000 people dead and damaged 1.9 million houses and 18,000 schools and colleges in 12 districts of the eastern Indian state. Orissa is the second poorest state in India with an average GNP of $ 38 per head.

The disaster relief operation that got underway at the end of 1999 also was to include the rebuilding of houses for the most destitute and hardest hit by the cyclone. In a community managed process involving intermediary organisations like DA and local implementing NGOs like AKSS, CARE is carrying out a unique rebuilding effort which will deliver large numbers of cyclone-resistant core houses using cost-effective appropriate building materials.

Core funding for the project comes from the British OFDA and DEC agencies and beneficiaries are expected to contribute sweat equity during the house construction process. The project is expected to rebuild 1400 homes, train 1500 village masons and expose over 30,000 households to the new building solutions.

The shelter delivery system works through two Building Material Services Banks which are building material production centres, producing material for 3 to 4 houses per day. The two main products being Hydraform Interlocking Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) and Ferrocement roofing channels (FCR). These materials were chosen because they were both cost-efficient and could be produced locally. Production of building elements at the BMSBs under the supervision of trained supervisors insures quality and productivity thus ensuring production economy. These elements are then transported to the village sites. Introducing two totally new building materials into a conservative rural area is risky, but after initial reservations, the beneficiaries are now convinced of the material qualities and lower price. There are even first requests from interested buyers.

Two crucial planning steps were implemented to ensure that the end product would really target the poorest. Firstly, a design workshop was held together with the village communities to design the core houses with the beneficiaries, and secondly, a five-step screening process was introduced to ensure targeted subsidies. This included a list of all damaged houses in the districts, cross-checking with other loan programmes and putting the list to the village reconstruction committees for a final cross-check. The design of the core house takes into consideration speed of production and construction, ease of transportation of building elements and ease of construction by local village masons, besides incorporating structural aspects of cyclone resistance.

The design and detailing process is a continuously evolving one with input and feedback from users and implementers being incorporated into the design and new details being developed as need arises.

The core house is a 12m2 structure with one door and one window with a cement foundation built on elevated ground. The roof consists of four Ferrocement roofing channels (see photo below). All walls are built with load-bearing interlocking Hydraform compressed earth blocks with 5% cement added. The main advantage of these blocks: they do not need any mortar since they are interlocking and brick laying can be done by unskilled workers or beneficiaries with a minimum of skilled supervision. Sweat equity by the beneficiaries consists of brick laying and making the rammed earth floors.

The table below gives a breakdown of the costs involved for one house, including labour and material inputs. At Rs.29,000 / $632.- (Rs.2420 per m2) the core house is a good low-cost solution that provides protection from future cyclones. This cost is expected to come down further, once all building banks will be working at full capacity. Another added advantage of the building materials used: construction time is brought down to only 7 days (excluding foundation works).

Total costs for 1 housing unit as per the 1st set of 20 constructed houses in $632. Cost is expected to reduce as the delivery is streamlined.

Issues of interest
The following are some of the issues that may be of interest when considering shelter:

w target population selection

w the issue of subsidies

w community and NGO-based shelter delivery systems vs. contractor-based solutions

Target population selection
One achievement of this project has been its rigorous screening of beneficiaries to ensure that this subsidised programme really reaches the intended target group. These are mostly landless, women-led households whose houses have been completely destroyed by the cyclone. The selection process takes about 3 months time. The government-led disaster-relief programme has been much less effective in targeting and (like many state programmes) has not reached the intended weaker economic sections of the affected districts.

Subsidies – are they necessary?
The relief programme is a subsidised shelter delivery programme which is targeting 1400 households in four coastal districts. Dealing with the poorest of the poor, who have lost virtually everything including family members and livestock, the programme is justly working through a subsidised approach. Given the abject poverty of the targeted households and the absence of housing finance institutions in rural Orissa, the subsidised rehabilitation project can be justified. However, the transition from (subsidised) rehabilitation work to long term self-financing replicable solutions will not be an easy task and will certainly have to ensure a housing finance system catering for the needs of Orissa’s rural poor.

Community and NGO-based shelter delivery systems
The approach outlined here has been able to offer appropriate solutions under an extremely tight time schedule. Not only was the community/NGO-based approach able to respond quicker, it was also more targeted and offered less costly solutions for rehabilitation efforts than the slow and bureaucratic government set-up. Another obvious advantage is that the opportunity-seeking middlemen (builders/masons) used in the government set-up has effectively been replaced by more accessible village construction teams.

Problems encountered in the first year

w Weak delivery capacity of the local implementing partners. The NGO AKSS has previously not dealt with construction issues and hardware-delivery.

w Strikes by building bank workers, demanding better pay (above the State average).

w Middlemen and other contractors jacking-up their prices (contractual expectations in dealing with a "rich" donor agency).

w Inability to reach unrealistic donor-driven timeframe (e.g. 1400 houses must be completed by March 2001)

w Laterite soil must be brought in from a distance of 80km. because the local soil is to saline – adding to the building costs. q

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