Habitat is going green
By Don Haszczyn
Habitat for Humanity has arguably always been a “green builder”, and our long standing mission principle states that “we view our work as successful when it promotes holistic and lasting positive change within a community… and when it demonstrates respectful stewardship of all human, economic and natural resources”. The context in which we work, however, is changing.
As the world’s attention turns from an economic and financial crisis to an environmental one, with few exceptions, the issue of housing seems to be moving further down the political agenda. In addition, the world appears to be facing a convergence of crises - a food crisis, a water shortage, an energy crisis, increasing poverty and slums, and of course an increase in global insecurity.
Climate change, no matter how disputed the scientific data and the deal in Copenhagen are, affects us all already and is a risk and burden borne mostly by the world’s poor. Global warming and its resulting effects and risks for human settlement include increasing sea levels, desertification, climate related disasters and resulting migration.
In Habitat, balancing the need to keep our programs affordable yet environmentally sustainable, however, is often a challenge. Energy efficiency is important to people, especially in climates requiring heating or cooling, but it is often not the priority, particularly in poorer communities and countries. It is estimated, however, that 50 percent of energy consumption in Europe is related to housing and significant policies and subsidies are already in place to reduce emissions from housing significantly.
As Habitat for Humanity’s action based response to shelter is innovating, growing and responding to these changing contexts, although the challenges can often look insurmountable. Apart from our long standing commitment to using local sustainable materials, keeping house sizes modest, complying with the highest standards of energy ratings given that this reduces energy costs and thus overall housing costs for our partner families, Habitat programs have been expanding their programming into renovation, condominium/ multi-family dwelling upgrading, solar cookers to reduce respiratory illness and deforestation, and water storage.
Habitat programs are also playing an increasing role in disaster mitigation programs, particularly in at risk countries and communities. Since the massive earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, Habitat has committed to helping 50,000 low-income families rebuild and recover from the devastating disaster.
In short, we have a moral obligation to support the poor in our world, particularly in the South who are most at risk to the effects of climate change. Habitat for Humanity has much to do to meet the challenge to respond to the changing external conditions so that the future for millions of families is one of hope rather than despair.
What is next?
Habitat wants people not only to read about poverty housing but do something to fight it. You can support Habitat’s work in Europe and Central Asia in a number of ways. Here are some examples:
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