CSR : Safer shelters save lives in Assam

Technology meets culture. Reinforced concrete stilts supporting local bamboo houses have ensured that homes rebuilt after 2017 floods in Assam by SEEDS stayed safe in the current floods. Village Nikori, District Golaghat, Assam, August 2018. Photo: SEEDS India.

MUMBAI: Just the way a stitch in time saves nine, well done stitching saves the trouble of having to redo it repeatedly. With this approach, SEEDS, supported by Godrej and Give2Asia, took up a housing reconstruction initiative in Assam after the devastating floods of 2017.  In an area where flooding is almost an annual phenomenon, the repeated loss keeps poverty perpetuated.

An owner-driven approach was adopted, enabling house owners to have the centre-stage in design and construction. SEEDS played the role of socio-technical facilitator handholding families through the construction process.

A team of dedicated architects worked with local families to come up with a hybrid housing design – one that married modern technology with local traditional architecture. Studies were carried out to ascertain the high flood levels expected in the various locations where houses were to be rebuilt. Appropriately high plinths of reinforced concrete and firm foundations were made that would stay strong even if submerged for a few days. The houses built above them were made by local artisans using the abundant local bamboo, using strong species suitable for construction.

Families pitched in for the construction work – in design as well as actual building of homes. Each house is built collaboratively, in a long-standing ‘hariya’ system. This system is used by the local community for processes from harvesting to building and maintaining community infrastructure. In addition, with materials all sourced from within a six km radius, the homes are truly local, yet safer.

The test came when the area again faced widespread floods during the Monsoon of 2018.  The houses built under the initiative have stood dry above the flood level, saving the families a repeat of the misery.

These homes have become a source of inspiration for many others in the village and beyond, reinstating faith in traditional and eco-friendly ways of living. The same safety levels can be achieved by sticking to traditional building practices, padded with a bit of new technology. The question is of making traditional houses and lifestyles safer with appropriate technical support, and equally important, making them aspirational!

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