For Florence Panda, the best thing about her new home in eastern Zimbabwe isn’t the modern design or the size, big enough for her family of nine.
It’s the fact that the house is built of cement bricks and mortar, so it should be able to withstand even a major storm – unlike her last home.
Panda, 34, lost her previous home in Ndiadzo village, Manicaland province, when Cyclone Idai swept through Zimbabwe in 2019, destroying an estimated 50,000 homes.
Built of farm bricks – locally anthill soil – and pit sand mixed with water, the house was washed away by heavy rains, leaving Panda’s family homeless.
A year later, they moved to a site built by the government to new standards aimed at making rural homes more resilient to extreme weather and combating tree loss that exacerbates damage from climate change effects like flooding.
“It was devastating to lose our homes and everything we owned in just one night,” Panda told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.
“We lived in tents for over a year so we were delighted to get a new house – it was such a relief.”
As rising temperatures lead to increasingly destructive storms and floods, Zimbabwe is rewriting the rules on how and where homes should be built to help rural communities weather the worst of the weather.
The new standards and policy recommendations in the National Human Settlements Policy also encourage Zimbabweans to move away from traditional construction methods that rely heavily on wood and earth and contribute to widespread deforestation.
Percy Toriro, an urban planning expert in Harare, said this is the first time rural house construction in the South African country has been regulated as carefully as housing construction in its cities.
“While urban housing has always been fairly safe due to strict planning and building standards, rural housing has never been subject to any standards or inspections,” he said.
“The recent hurricanes have led everyone to realize that poor housing is at risk. In our settlements, sustainability must be the goal.”
Government data from 2017 showed that 80% of houses in rural areas were made either entirely or partially from traditional materials such as cottage bricks.
In contrast, 98% of urban homes were built using modern materials and techniques.
Since approving the policy in 2020, the Zimbabwean government has built 700 permanent shelters for people displaced by natural disasters, said Nathan Nkomo, director of the Ministry of Civil Defence, the state disaster management agency that helped shape the new building standards.
With the help of partners including the International Organization for Migration, the World Bank and the African Development Bank, the construction offensive is focused on Manicaland and two western districts, Tsholotsho and Binga, all areas hardest hit by inclement weather.
“We need to find settlements that meet the requirements of habitable architecture,” Nkomo said.
The Ministry of National Housing and Welfare did not respond to requests for comment.
SLOW DOWN DEFORESTATION
Zimbabwe has become increasingly vulnerable to strong storms https://news.trust.org/item/20210305085812-n5ype in recent years.
Most recently, in January of this year, Tropical Storm Anna left a trail of devastation in 18 districts and affected more than 1,300 households, according to Nkomo.
He said most of the houses destroyed by storms were of the type known locally as “pole and dagga” shacks, made of wood, anthills and straw but without cement, so they quickly became soggy and weak in the incessant rain and fall apart.
The new settlement policy is not enshrined in law, but it creates the legal framework for local authorities to introduce regulations designed to bring homes in rural Zimbabwe up to national and international standards, said David Mutasa, chairman of Makoni Rural District Council.
The guideline says councils should ensure that all new construction uses materials and methods that are “economical, sustainable (and) resilient” – for example, by insisting that houses be built with cement bricks and registering all construction will.
To curb the negative environmental impact of housing construction, the policy bans the use of makeshift wooden shacks in mining and farming areas and bans construction on wetlands, which are vital ecosystems that provide a natural buffer against flooding.
Mutasa, who is also president of the Association of Rural District Councils of Zimbabwe, said the Makoni council is already ensuring that all new homes are built of cement bricks and fined anyone who cut trees for wood to make bricks for agriculture would fall.
Nationally, the fine for unauthorized tree felling ranges from 5,000 to 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars (US$13 to US$133).
The process of making bricks for agriculture is a significant contributor to deforestation in Zimbabwe, said Violet Makoto, spokeswoman for the country’s forest agency.
“It’s an area of concern — it’s always been a big industry and it’s still growing,” she said.
Not everyone is happy with the new housing policy, and some local authorities say they have faced setbacks.
Cost is the main issue, especially when people using traditional methods can get most of their materials — like wood and earth — for free, said Toriro, the planning expert.
After the government built her home in the village of Ndiadzo, Florence Panda spent $500 to add three more rooms that meet the new guidelines.
“Some people don’t have the money to build modern homes, let alone the standards required,” she said.
“My husband and I survive on odd jobs, but we worked hard to raise money to expand our home.”
Mutasa, chairman of the Makoni Council, said he was not aware of any government plans to help people cover construction costs under the new standards.
Still, he added, local authorities should remain resolute in their efforts to slow deforestation and curb the practice of makeshift construction.
Otherwise, if people are allowed to continue cutting down trees to build flimsy homes, it will “come back to haunt us,” he said.
($1 = 378,0000 Zimbabwe dollars).
Hit hard by storms, forest loss, Zimbabwe builds stronger houses – SABC News
Source link Hit hard by storms, forest loss, Zimbabwe builds stronger houses – SABC News