The housing challenge for vulnerable communities


Housing in vulnerable areas significantly affects the quality of life of communities and their inhabitants. In these communities, socio-economic conditions are precarious, and people face significant challenges in terms of access to basic services, employment, education, health and security.

Some housing deficiencies and the risks or impact on the quality of life of people living in those areas are:

1. Vulnerability to natural disasters: Homes in vulnerable areas are often located in areas prone to natural disasters, such as floods, landslides or earthquakes. Poorly constructed or dilapidated homes can collapse or suffer structural damage in the event of these natural disasters, which can result in serious or fatal injuries to occupants.

2. Lack of heating or insulation: In regions with extremely cold climates, lack of adequate heating or thermal insulation in homes can lead to cold-related health problems, such as hypothermia.

3. Limited access to basic services: Housing in vulnerable areas often lacks adequate access to basic services, such as drinking water or electricity. Electricity is not only needed to provide light but also for other basic needs such as food preservation. Water is necessary for life and sometimes causes women or girls and boys to travel to bring it, reducing their time to go to school. This is why lack of access to these essential services can affect people’s lives and hinder personal and economic development.

4. Sanitation problems: Lack of adequate sanitation in homes can lead to the spread of vector-borne diseases and contamination of drinking water, which can lead to disease outbreaks and affect the health of residents.

5. Insecurity: Precarious housing conditions can contribute to an environment of insecurity and violence. Lack of adequate lighting, poorly maintained public spaces, and increased gang presence can make residents feel insecure and limit their mobility.

Some of these shortages can contribute to the loss of human lives, as they pose a number of risks to the safety and health of residents.

Addressing housing challenges is essential to improving the quality of life in vulnerable areas. Government policies and programs are needed to promote the construction of adequate and accessible housing, improve infrastructure and basic services, and strengthen resilience to natural disasters. In addition, it is essential to address the socioeconomic and educational factors that contribute to the vulnerability of these areas to achieve a sustainable and positive impact on the quality of life of its residents.

Here are some examples of housing challenges and innovative solutions that have been applied to address some of their problems:

Some people still die of cold: HOUSING IN PUNO

Populations in the high Andean regions of Peru have been affected for years by many problems. In addition to extreme poverty, low temperatures in times of "frost" are increasing due to the effects of climate change.

These problems are reflected in the precariousness of their homes and the poor conditions to face their survival due to the nature of their habitat and thermal comfort, which does not allow them to shelter properly.

Children and the older people are the most vulnerable population, and today represent about 14%. of the census population. Part of this population lives in rural areas in huts.

The buildings in Puno follow patterns inherited from previous generations and traditional knowledge. Therefore, they do not have adequate thermal insulation and do not use bioclimatic adequacy with respect to orientation due to the sun and wind.

During periods of frost in Puno, as in other high Andean regions, the most vulnerable population suffers broncho-respiratory problems and death due to the inadequate thermal conditioning of their homes.

Professors Víctor Linares Zaferson, and Nayeli Cuéllar Cajahuaringa of the agrarian university la Molina carried out an investigation to evaluate the thermal behavior of a prototype of "improved" housing built in the Santa Rosa district (Puno) 3800 meters above sea level and propose alternatives for the improvement of thermal conditioning in the manufacture of repetitive modules. The indoor and outdoor temperatures of homes were monitored during cold days seeing that the main causes of heat loss are due to the construction materials and the inadequate orientation of homes by sunlight and ventilation.

It was observed that the largest area of the enclosure composed of adobe walls represents 60% of the total enclosure and that, despite being a material of low conductivity, it represents 77% of the heat losses due to lack of a suitable plaster. Considering the proposed modifications in the housing envelope "improved" has been achieved to increase the indoor temperature by 1.87°C in the hours of lower temperatures and maintain an average indoor temperature of 14°C.

Assessments were made by orientation of the sun, ventilation and thermal exchange between the exterior and interior of the house depending on the shape and materials of the envelope. The analysis carried out by means of a model allowed identifying deficiencies and needs of the building in relation to the thermal transfer of the materials and their form. Considering this analysis, the model was rethought by applying corrective measures in search of the comfort temperature inside the "improved" housing at the time monitored.

Cooking with firewood has some risks 

Most rural households in Peru cook with firewood, which is very harmful to the environment and health.

Wood stoves are made of brick and a sheet of metal used to drive heat to food. Combustion occurs underneath, burning liquid fuels (such as kerosene) or solids (such as wood, charcoal, and mineral). The problem is that combustion is inefficient because the wood does not burn completely, it becomes carbon dioxide and this causes highly toxic substances, mainly carbon monoxide (CO).

"That carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, so we don’t even know it’s there. When it enters our body it displaces oxygen, so if it becomes concentrated a high amount can even cause death," says Patricia Segura Medina, a researcher at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER) in Mexico. But it also produces benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde, and other imperceptible particles that decrease air quality in homes and increase the risk of generating respiratory diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that about 2.6 billion people in the world are being affected by the gases emitted by wood stoves.

It should be noted that not all damage caused by toxic fumes reveals consequences immediately. The WHO estimates at least 3.8 million premature deaths caused by domestic air pollution; of these, 27% are due to pneumonia, 18% to cerebrovascular accidents, 27% to ischemic heart disease, 20% chronic obstructive pneumopathy and 8% to lung cancer.

In addition, according to researcher Stella Hartinger, from the Latin American Centre of Excellence in Climate Change and Health (Climate), "all the pollution that is in the air of a house has an impact on the outside and contributes to greenhouse gases and pollution in the community". This was one of the reasons why we launched a challenge on pellet manufacturing in Chile, where in the Temuco area there has been a lot of contamination by wood stoves.

However, it is difficult for households dependent on wood stoves to stop using it as solid fuels are more accessible, mainly for people living in rural communities. Getting intoxicated by cooking or trying to get heat in a building has become a public health problem. Therefore, various social support programs around the world have sought alternatives, such as the Social Energy Inclusion Fund (FISE), a government program that promotes access to LPG in the most vulnerable Peruvian communities through discount vouchers.

The desert fridge: An example of a low-cost solution

In some parts of the world, such as in some villages in Morocco, preserving food and medicine is a challenge because electricity is not available. These villages next to the Sáhar desert, are more prone to poisoning and food loss due to lack of conservation. 

Raowia Lahmar, a young engineer from Casablanca, developed a clay fridge that without electricity is able to maintain a temperature of 6 degrees in dry areas and 12 in wet areas.

The desert fridge looks like a clay pot and has a very simple operation: it consists of two clay pots, one inside another, separated by a small space of sand. The sand is watered daily with water and covered with a damp cloth. Evaporating water lowers the temperature allowing food to be stored at an average of 6 degrees for an average of 15 days. The refrigerator should be on a clay pedestal and separated from walls or other objects to enhance cooling.

This refrigerator has been a revolution in the arid areas of Morocco, where electricity does not reach or is a luxury that many families cannot afford.

Lahmar had the idea of making an ecological refrigerator when, as a student of Environmental Engineering, he met a young diabetic who had to be admitted to the hospital because he did not have a refrigerator to preserve the insulin that needed to be injected daily. He also observed that some locals lost part of the harvest they bought weekly, not having a cold place to keep it.

Lahmar focused on a traditional sub-Saharan technique, which consists of burying under the sand what is to be cooled and then moistening the sand. He designed 2 versions of the refrigerator, one cheaper for rural areas without access to electricity and another more elaborate for urban customers.

She created the company Go Energyless, began distributing the organic refrigerator under the name of Fresh'it and offers work to local artisans and a team of merchants who act as intermediaries in the most remote areas.