Habitat Observatory

    Affordable and earthquake-resistant straw bale housing

A quake proof house, which is 80 per cent more energy efficient and costs half of what is required to put together a conventional earthquake-resistant construction, can be built easily using straw bales instead of brick, plywood and other expensive materials.
After the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, the Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB), a not-for-profit organisation, popularised and replicated the technique of constructing Straw bale houses in many villages of Pakistan.
Straw is an agricultural by-product, which is compressed and tied into bales as building blocks. This alternative housing material replaces concrete walls with load-bearing straw bales. The bales are stacked and bound together from top to bottom with a fishnet, which prevents them from slipping apart when shaken during an earthquake. The bails are set on a stone foundation and support a truss roof. Bamboo and netting help secure the walls and layers of clay plaster protect and preserve the straw. The technical guidelines are available at

These houses are safer and more stable than brick houses and the thick straw walls provide insulation all year round. PAKSBAB has constructed straw houses in Jabori, Hillkot, Battal, Qalandarabad, Mansehra and Shinkiari villages of Pakistan. The technique is also being replicated in other countries.

A typical 24 ft by 24 ft straw bale house, built by PAKSBAB, and comprising two rooms, a parapet and an optional kitchen, costs about USD 2250 (180,000 PKR). In earthquake simulation tests, a straw bale house has shown to absorb shocks without breaking up, thus proving its resistance against this natural phenomenon. This mode of construction is also suited for other earthquake-prone countries, such as Mongolia and China. One of the good practices in this technique executed in China has been awarded the World Habitat Awards 2005 (

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The alert has been contributed by PAKSBAB, Pakistan.

    Smoke Hoods Enterprises (SSHE) to reduce indoor air pollution in rural households

The level of indoor air pollution in rural households can significantly be reduced by 95 percent (as suggested by the tests carried out by Aprovecho Laboratory in USA)! Traditional kitchen stoves mostly used in the rural households of developing countries emit smoke indoors that leads to health hazards mainly amongst women and children. Though there are alternative stove technologies that could be used to reduce indoor air pollution but high transportation costs, irregular supply of alternative technologies and poor purchasing power of rural households make them unfeasible.

To address the problem of indoor smoke and inability to access alternative technologies by the rural households, Practical Action Nepal in partnership with Winrock International and local NGOs such as Goreto and Prayash, are promoting the smookhood technology through market linkages in hilly areas of Nepal. The project which started in 2008 with financial support from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS) and Gap is being executed in two districts of Nepal -Dhading and Gorkha.

The smokehood technology is an improved cooking stove that has a hood made up of metal, which vents smoke to the outside of the house rather than into the roof space. Its operation and maintenance cost is very less and can be manufactured locally. The significant part of this project is the market linkages established. Sustainable Smoke Hoods Enterprises (SSHE) have been set up which ensures increased access to quality smoke hoods through sustainable market promotion. Manufacturers and suppliers are trained to ensure smooth supply of smokehoods. 28 local smokehood manufacturers have been trained who are actively engaged in installation of this technology to households. So far more than 200 smoke hoods have been installed.  This approach has also generated local employment.

In addition, the customers – rural households have been connected to appropriate credit facilities through revolving fund mechanisms, local micro finance institutions and other financial intermediaries. Ten cooperatives have been trained on managing the funds. The local cooperatives provide easy loans to the interested consumers as well as non cooperative members to help them install smokehoods.

The beneficiaries of the project are 3000 women and children. In addition to reducing smoke and improving the health condition of the rural poor, the project reduces the consumption of wood.

This alert has been contributed by Practical Action Nepal.

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