When strength and self-reliance meet

When strength and self-reliance meet

Families in the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka can choose to build safe, comfortable homes with appropriate construction materials.

While earth has been used as a building material since ancient times, people often confuse the word ‘earth’ with top soil on which plants grow. They may also think that building with earth is similar to adobe construction that uses mud.

However, the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka is tapping into earth materials that are non-organic substrate and not mud or top soil as well as appropriate construction technology for a long-term impact.

When completed, the multi-year project will enable 2,385 Sri Lankan families who have been affected by the decades-long conflict to build or repair their homes. Self-sufficiency is also encouraged through the use and production of locally sourced earth blocks and construction materials and other appropriate construction technologies.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka is providing its technical expertise in implementing the project in 31 divisions across the eastern district of Batticaloa and the northern districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Habitat’s partner organization World Vision Lanka provides flanking measures such as  livelihood support for families and communities including vocational training in construction. World Vision’s role also involves training local community members in the use of appropriate building materials and methods, disaster risk reduction and financial literacy as well as forming and strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises.

Since the project’s launch in January 2016, a total of 1,258 families have built or repaired their homes while the remaining 1,127 houses are in various stages of construction as of June 30, 2019.

Under a homeowner-driven approach, families can choose from three house designs, each for a  house measuring 51 square meters (550 square feet) in size. The designs allow the families to expand their homes in the future when they have available funds. The families have the choice of building their homes with appropriate construction materials such as compressed stabilized earth blocks, known as CSEBs, or with traditional materials like fired bricks and cement sand blocks.

Thillainathan (far right) and Ushathevi (center) with their children (from left) Dinesh, Shanmugasivam and Aishwarya in front of their Habitat house after it was completed in August 2017. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jim Kendall.

Ushathevi (center) and her husband Thillainathan (far right) with their children outside their home in Batticaloa, the first to be built with compressed stabilized earth blocks under the “Homes not Houses” project. All photos: Habitat for Humanity International/Jim Kendall and Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka.

The project also promotes the use of other appropriate construction technologies that have a lower environmental impact, are more resource-efficient, or perform better in the local climate than traditional technologies. The use of appropriate materials and technologies not only reduces harmful emissions and waste but also boosts the local economy. More livelihood opportunities can be made available to local community members including future Habitat homeowners who are trained in the technologies and production of associated building materials.

In addition, the cultural practices and aspirations of the local communities are taken into account. It is expected that around 40 percent of the homes in the “Homes not Houses” project will be built using appropriate technologies and materials.

A feasibility study published by the European Union has cited CSEBs as a low-carbon, low embodied energy solution for sustainable development. Other researchers (Riza et al, 2011[1]) have listed the following advantages of using CSEBs:

  •  it increases the utilization of local material and reduces the transportation cost as the production is in situ, making quality housing available to more people, and boosting the local economy rather than spending for imported materials;
  •  good strength, insulation and thermal properties;
  •  less carbon emission and embodied energy in the production phase;
  •  resultant low levels of waste can easily be disposed of with no direct environmental pollution during the life cycle; and
  •  earth-based blocks also have the ability to absorb atmospheric moisture and create a healthy environment inside a building for its occupants.

A yard in Vilavettuvan village, Manmunai West divisional secretariat, Batticaloa district, produces compressed stabilized earth blocks that are used in some of the homes built under the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka.

Habitat Sri Lanka’s partner organization, World Vision Lanka, manages the yard in the east that produces the CSEBs that are used in the “Homes not Houses” project. The yard is located in Vilavettuvan village, Manmunai West divisional secretariat, Batticaloa district. Another three yards have been set up in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the north that are run by local organizations Project for Youth, LEADS and SN Enterprise under the local Rural Development Society.

World Vision Lanka has obtained government permission to extract raw, inorganic earth from a local reservoir. At the yard, the earth is put through a crushing machine to produce the particles, each between 1 and 3 millimeters in size. With one cubic meter of earth, about 400 CSEBs can be cast, according to Nandakumar Amalan, former World Vision Lanka’s project coordinator who oversaw the yard’s operations.

The sand and gravel content for the CSEBs should be more than 65 percent while the silt and clay content should be less than 35 percent and zero organics to achieve the required strength, quality and durability. The ratio of cement by volume is between 5 and 7 percent.

Using a manually operated press, low-skilled workers can produce between 800 and 850 CSEBs a day. There is also an automatic press that yields around 1,700 CSEBs a day. About 4,500 CSEBs are required to build a 51-square-meter home.

A worker at the Batticaloa yard using a penetrenometer to check the quality of a freshly produced compressed stabilized earth block.

After being cast, the CSEBs are covered with plastic sheets and kept in the shade for two days by which time the blocks will have gained about 75 percent of their strength. Then the blocks are moved outdoor where they are covered in burlap and cured with water about three times a day for the remaining 28 days.

Saunthalathevy started working in the CSEB yard in April 2017 after 10 days of training. She has begun laying the foundation for her new home that would be built with CSEBs. “During the training, I was very happy. The blocks looked very nice and they had good strength,” says Saunthalathevy. During the training, she observed that the blocks are stronger than local cement blocks. “My wish is that job opportunities will increase in this village as there are so many people without jobs.

P. Suresh (second from left), then Secretary of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Prison Reform, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, and G. Suthahar (third from left), Senior Development Assistant, Batticaloa District Secretariat, witnessed the strength of compressed stabilized earth blocks at the Batticaloa yard in October 2018. Together with the staff of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka, they saw how a block could withstand the weight of about 40 CSEBs, equivalent to 300 k.g., before breaking. Photo: World Vision Lanka.

The strengths of CSEBs are also recognized by local government leaders and the local masons who are involved in the “Homes not Houses” project. “Compressed stabilized earth blocks reduce environmental pollution and are good for the environment. As the preferred earth is available in this area, local resources are being used,” says S. Gopalakrishnan, former ‘grama niladari’ or village officer, Karaveddy, Vavunatheevu divisional secretariat. He shared his observation after visiting a model house built with CSEBs in Batticaloa district. “The house is very cool inside.”

Local mason Supramaniam Puthalvan has built 18 homes including his own home with CSEBs. He likes the regular size and shape of CSEBs for the ease of building walls compared to local fired bricks. Fellow mason Karunan Ramraj remarks: “With compressed stabilized earth blocks, they look nice even without plastering. The work is very neat.”

To date, Habitat and World Vision have trained more than 400 local masons and workers using appropriate construction technology and materials.

In the north of Sri Lanka, a few homes have been built with earth concrete blocks. ECBs are made with a mix of earth and cement with the ratio of the cement varying between 5 and 8 percent depending on the type and the size of gravel particles. The ECBs are noted for being strong and can be used in place of conventional fired bricks. Yogeswary who has built her home with ECBs is impressed with the blocks’ strength as well as thermal comfort.

With a 14-million-euro (US$15.6 million) grant from the European Union, Habitat Sri Lanka is also promoting innovative appropriate construction technologies in the “Homes not Houses”

project. The “fair faced” masonry technique uses uniformly cast blocks with pointed mortar joints. To achieve uniform thickness of the horizontal and vertical mortar joints in between blocks, a locally made mortar-laying guide tool is used.

During a training session, a local mason demonstrated the ‘fair faced’ technique by laying mortar with the use of a local tool.

The “fair faced” technique is an eco-friendly and more cost-effective alternative to the regular process of plastering walls because less sand, cement and skilled labor are used. The resultant wall is strong due to the proper bond pattern and vertical alignment. Walls that are built using the “fair faced” technique are aesthetically pleasing with little or no plastering.

The “Homes not Houses” project also features other appropriate technologies such as filler slab, Baker bond and ferrocement. Filler slabs and ferrocement slabs are used in some of the homes in the north of Sri Lanka such as that of Yogeswary.

Filler slabs are supported, low-cost concrete slabs that are used in ceilings or kitchen countertops for short spans up to 3.6 meters. Concrete in the tension area of the slab cross section is replaced with a much cheaper filler material that is durable but less dense. Discarded roofing tiles and clay pots can be recycled as filler materials that save costs and provide thermal comfort. As the filler slab weighs less than a concrete slab, it reduces the need for steel reinforcement. The filler material is arranged in such a way that the filler slab looks aesthetically pleasing.

Habitat homeowner Yogeswary’s home features the use of ferrocement counters and shelves in her kitchen (left) and a filler slab ceiling (right).

Ferrocement precast slabs or panels are lightweight, relatively cost-effective structures that are  often used for elements not requiring high strength such as a kitchen countertop, a non-load bearing wall or roof. Cement and sand are mixed to produce a rich mortar mixture that is reinforced with layers of chicken wire. A ferrocement slab should have a thickness of at least 2.5 centimeters and, if not supported on all sides, it should have beams with a reinforcement bar built into the sides that are not supported.

Baker bond, developed by British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker, is a type of masonry bond in which the bricks are laid on edge such that the shiner and rowlock are visible on the face of the wall. The thickness of the wall is maintained at the width of two bricks. This gives the wall an internal cavity bridged by a rowlock. Thus, the use of materials such as bricks and mortar can be significantly reduced. The pocket of air between the inner and outer faces of the wall helps to maintain thermal comfort inside the building.

In addition, the use of the Baker Bond technique allows the supply of utilities such as water and electricity to be placed inside the wall cavity rather than cutting into the wall later or affixing utilities on the outside of the wall. This makes the finished wall more aesthetically pleasing.

Walls that are built with the Baker bond technique.

Other appropriate practices include precast door and window frames that are of a higher quality than similarly priced but lower grade timber favored by some families. For the floor concrete, coarse aggregate can be substituted with hard, durable building debris by up to 50 percent. Masons can then trowel a smooth top finish for the floor.

At the official ground breaking ceremony in February 2017, Tung-Laï Margue, the ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives for the delegation of the European Union, expressed his hope that returnee families gain not only homes and livelihoods but also the necessary support to rebuild their lives and create a better future.

Through the promotion and use of appropriate construction materials and technologies, Habitat Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka are enabling conflict-affected families to have the strength to stand on their own and build lasting self-reliance.

This article is written by Habitat for Humanity’s staff in the Asia-Pacific area office with inputs from the technical team of Habitat Sri Lanka.

“Homes not Houses” project funded by the European Union at the Batticaloa International Trade Exhibition (BITE)

“Homes not Houses” project funded by the European Union at the Batticaloa International Trade Exhibition (BITE)

“Homes not Houses” project Funded by the European Union was a part of the Batticaloa International Trade Exhibition (BITE), which was held at the Shivanantha College Ground in Batticaloa from the 5th to 7th October 2018 which was attended by over 15,000 participants. This initiative was organized by the Lanka Exhibition & Conference Services (Pvt.) Ltd. (LECS), together with the Batticaloa District Farmer’s Organization. Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and its implementing partner, World Vision Lanka were given the opportunity to exhibit project related materials and models to raise  awareness on Appropriate Construction Technologies which are being currently practiced through the “Homes not Houses” project.

The various types of Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (full blocks, ¾ blocks, ½ blocks, U blocks and round blocks) were displayed for public viewing and a production demonstration of how the CSEB blocks are manufactured was conducted. Additionally, an awareness session was also conducted to educate the participating engineers, architects, technical officer, masons and/or individuals in the construction industry on the process, testing and benefits of using this technology.

Mr. Ludovic Ciechanowski, representing the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Mr. Chandana Hewawasam, Program Manager of the European Union to Sri Lanka, Mr. Brian Grant, Chief of Party of Habitat for Humanity and several staff members of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka participated in the event.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka builds a brighter future with families in ‘Homes not Houses’ project funded by the European Union

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka builds a brighter future with families in ‘Homes not Houses’ project funded by the European Union

"Thillainathan

COLOMBO, 14 June 2018 – For the 25 years that she is married, Ushathevi never had a permanent house. “My husband and I came from poor families but ours was a love marriage.” They used to live wherever they could find work as daily wage laborers. After being displaced by Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2006, they lived for over a decade in a temporary shelter given by a nongovernmental organization.

In 2017, Ushathevi, 43 and her husband, 47, marked their silver wedding anniversary by moving into a permanent home.  Their house in Vilavettuvan village, Batticaloa province, eastern Sri Lanka, was completed on August 22, 2017. They moved in the next day that was considered an auspicious date.

Ushathevi and Thillainathan were the first to build their home with compressed stabilized earth blocks, an alternative construction material that is promoted under the “Homes not Houses” project. Funded by the European Union, the project is implemented by Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and World Vision Sri Lanka. As of 31 May, 2018, 353 homes have been constructed and more than 1,836 homes are currently in different phases of construction in the eastern district of Batticaloa and the northern districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The multi-year project includes the construction of conventional brick-and-mortar houses as well as homes that are built with alternative construction materials such as compressed stabilized earth blocks.

Thillainathan had applied to become a Habitat homeowner after he learned of the European Union-funded project. “I heard that Habitat is providing special blocks. My wife and I visited the yard and checked the blocks. After we saw that compressed stabilized earth blocks were stronger than fired bricks or cement sand blocks, we decided to build a house with CSEBs.”

At the block yard in Batticaloa, they saw demonstrations on the blocks’ strength and durability that were conducted by Habitat Sri Lanka and its partner organization World Vision Sri Lanka. Despite being immersed in water, the edges of the blocks remained intact and did not dissolve, said Thillainathan. He also observed that the blocks did not break when thrown on the ground. Later, he did the same strength test with the blocks that were brought to construction site for his house.

During the house construction, Thillainathan helped to mix mortar, sieve sand and move materials such as blocks, timber and tiles. Both he and his wife also cleaned up the build site.

Local community members visiting the home of Thillainathan and Ushathevi. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jim Kendall.

People from the local community checking out the newly completed house of Thillainathan and Ushathevi. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jim Kendall.

Since moving in, Thillainathan estimated that they have received up to 1,000 visitors, many of whom are interested in building a home like theirs. “I told them that this is the best house for us. There is no need to expect more,” he said, adding that all the visitors have only good things to say about his house. Pointing out that the temperature is cool inside his home, Thillainathan said: “If they (the visitors) build a house like mine, they will also get the same benefits.”

Meanwhile, Ushathevi could still recall the days of living in a door-less temporary shelter. “Whenever there was heavy rain, I would put pieces of cloth all around to absorb the water that came in; I couldn’t sleep because I had to keep wringing the water out of the cloths.” Whenever the children had to do their homework, the family could not go to sleep because space was limited in the temporary shelter. Now that they have their own room, the children are also going to bed earlier, Thillainathan noted.

Thillainathan and Ushathevi inside their house made of compressed stabilized earth blocks. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Nihan.

Thillainathan and Ushathevi inside their house made of compressed stabilized earth blocks. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Nihan.

Their family used to relieve themselves in the bushes though they were afraid of being seen as well as being bitten by insects. With their own toilet next to the house, they have more privacy and safety. They get water that is piped in from their own well.

While the family has started a home-garden growing vegetables such as okra, eggplant and chilli, Ushathevi is planning for the future. In three to four years’ time, she wishes to paint the interior of the walls. “I will choose one color for the blocks and another color for the grooves. I will consult the painter about this.”

Thillainathan gave the reason for holding off the painting of the walls. “Until the Habitat-EU project is completed, people are still visiting our house. If we paint the walls, they can’t see the blocks. Now people are saying that the blocks look nice without being painted.”

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka marks World Habitat Day by sharing knowledge on alternative construction technologies

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka marks World Habitat Day by sharing knowledge on alternative construction technologies

COLOMBO, 31 October 2017 ─World Habitat Day is observed each year on the first Monday in October, designated by the United Nations more than 30 years ago to focus attention on the basic right of all people to have adequate shelter. Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka (Habitat Sri Lanka) was founded on a similar conviction that everyone deserves a decent, durable place to live in dignity and safety. Operating in Sri Lanka since 1994 Habitat Sri Lanka has supported more than 24,600 families by building and improving places they can call home.

“In keeping with the UN theme for World Habitat Day 2017 ‘Housing Policies: Affordable Homes’, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka conducted a series of events throughout the month October in the hopes of bringing attention to the use of alternative construction materials and technologies in constructing sustainable and affordable homes for communities in need across Sri Lanka”, said Dr. Dinesh Kanagaratnam, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka.

Habitat Sri Lanka is currently engaged in implementing a multi-faceted housing project funded by the European Union which aims to construct and repair nearly 2,400 houses in Batticaloa, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu by 2020. More than 215,000 people will benefit from this project, which bridges the gap between relief, rehabilitation and development. It utilises alternative materials and techniques to reduce construction costs, while ensuring decent housing. This housing project also seeks to promote the use of locally manufactured earth blocks and construction materials such as Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB) and Earth Concrete Blocks (ECB).  Additionally, this European Union funded housing project has enabled Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka to introduce innovative alternative construction materials and technologies such as the Fairface masonry technology, Ferrocement –reinforced mortar and filler slab.

A training program was organized by Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka on the Fairface technology for technical officers and masons of the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) on the 3rd of October, 2017 in Kilinochchi. The Fairfaced masonry technique uses uniformly cast blocks with pointed mortar joints. It is both an eco-friendly and more cost-effective alternative to the regular process of plastering walls as it uses less sand and cement and provides a higher quality in appearance with pattern options and is more aesthetically pleasing in general. More than 30 participants from the NHDA participated in the Fair Face training program which was conducted by the project staff of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka in Kilinochchi.

In Batticaloa, a knowledge sharing workshop on Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB) was conducted by the staff of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka on the 20th and 21st of October 2017. A total of 126 students of the Department of Civil Engineering from the Technical College in Batticaloa, currently reading for the National Certificate of Technology, Diploma in Quantity Surveying, Certificate of Draftsmanship participated in this program. The workshop included an exposure visit to Habitat Sri Lanka’s Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB) production yard and CSEB model house in Villavettuvan, Batticaloa; where students had the opportunity to learn more about the eco-friendly and cost-effective homes being constructed using CSEB under Habitat for Humanity’s European Union funded housing project.

European Union-funded housing project inauguration ceremony

European Union-funded housing project inauguration ceremony

European Union-funded housing project commences in Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Batticaloa

2,455 families to benefit from the house building component of a Euro 14 million grant

His Excellency Tung-Lai Margue, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, being welcomed by the homeowners at the project site in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka.

 

Left to Right: Dr. Dinesh Kanagaratnam – National Director, HFHSL, Asst. director of planning – Karachchi DS, Mr. Jude Perera – World Vision Lanka, Mr. Arumainayagam – Government Agent , Kilinochchi,  H.E. Tung Lai Margue,  Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the EU to  Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Mr. Ernesto Castro-Gracia – Director, Regional Programs, Habitat for Humanity International Asia Pacific Office

Date: 16th February 2017
Location: Maruthanagar GN, Karachchi DS, Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka
Photo credits: Christian Sujith

COLOMBO, 18 February 2017 ─ More than 215, 000 people will benefit from a Euro 14 million multi-faceted housing project, financed by the European Union (EU), and implemented by Habitat for Humanity and World Vision Lanka.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives for the Delegation of the European Union (EU), HE Tung-Laï Margue said, “I am hopeful that this project will assist in providing returnee families with not just homes and livelihood alternatives but also the necessary support to rebuild a life and a future for themselves. The goal has always been to turn the cycle of impoverishment and reliance to that of self-sufficiency, and I am encouraged to see that we are moving in the right direction through this initiative”.

His Excellency Tung-Lai Margue, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, laying the foundation stones for houses to be constructed under the EU funded project “Homes not houses: Building sustainable future” in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka

Left to Right: Mrs. Ledsumanan Thanaledsumy (beneficiary), H.E. Tung-Lai Margue Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and Dr. Dinesh Kanagaratnam, National Director HFHSL

Date                 : 16th February 2017
Location           : Maruthanagar GN, Karachchi DS, Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka
Photo credits    : Christian Sujith

The project, which bridges the gap between relief, rehabilitation and development, aims to build 2,315 houses and repair 140 homes in 31 divisions across Batticaloa, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu by early 2020. It utilises alternative materials and techniques to reduce constructions costs, while ensuring decent housing, and to encourage the use and production of locally manufactured earth blocks and construction materials.

“The project is aptly entitled ‘Homes not Houses’. Indeed we wish to see thriving communities that are self-sufficient, stable and strong, once our building work is done and we are long gone. Thanks to the focus of this funding from the European Union the project aims to boost the local economy by investing in earth-based technologies which are cost-effective and sustainable,” said Torre Nelson, Area Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Habitat for Humanity.

Beneficiaries of the EU funded project “Homes not houses: Building sustainable future”, handing over the foundation stone of their future home to His Excellency Tung-Lai Margue, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, in Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka

Date                 : 17th February 2017
Location           : Suthanthirapuran GN, Puthukudiyuruppu DS, Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka
Photo credits    : Christian Sujith

The project activities include:

  • Access to permanent housing including houses built with innovative materials (compressed stabilized earth blocks and earth concrete blocks).
  • Appropriate incremental building through microcredit to expand a home or create a place of business.
  • “Flanking measures” relating to general livelihood support for families and communities such as vocational training in construction, training in appropriate building materials and methods, and forming and strengthening small and medium enterprises.
  • Training families in financial literacy including savings plans, microfinance and basics of business. Improved access to appropriate microfinance and management of debt.

A more holistic approach of strengthening community-based organizations, supporting disaster risk reduction, peace building and gender equity.

His Excellency Tung-Lai Margue, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives meeting a beneficiary family of the EU funded project “Homes not houses: Building sustainable future”, in Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka

Date                 : 17th February 2017
Location           : Suthanthirapuran GN, Puthukudiyuruppu DS, Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka
Photo credits    : Christian Sujith

Commenting, on this endeavor, National Director of World Vision Lanka, Dhanan Senathirajah, said “We are proud to be associated with this project. One of the main strengths of World Vision Lanka is its community engagement and livelihood development expertise. I believe our interventions in this sphere will be key to transform houses into happy and stable homes.”