An opportunity to scale up: Housing support services in Nepal -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

An opportunity to scale up: Housing support services in Nepal

By Hiew Peng Wong


Women in Nepal prepare bamboo to be used as building material. In Jhapa, Habitat for Humanity Nepal has set up an enterprise to create corrugated roofing sheets out of bamboo mats. Women learn to produce the mats through a training program set up by Habitat Nepal.


When Habitat for Humanity began working in Nepal in 1997, the focus was on providing low-income families with decent and affordable housing. By 2005, Habitat had completed 830 houses.

Today, the focus remains the same, but there has been a strategic change in direction. To develop a cost-effective, environmentally friendly housing program, Habitat for Humanity Nepal tapped its partnership network of nongovernmental organizations, microfinance institutions and village lending and savings groups. By June 2011, Habitat Nepal had marked its 10,000th family served.

If Habitat’s early role in Nepal can be characterized as a housing provider, the recent years have seen a deliberate shift.

Nepal has grown much faster since 2005 than it did in the eight years between 1997 and 2005. In the early years, Habitat’s Save & Build program fit in well with the incremental housing model favored by the low-income communities. Low-income families would save about 35 percent of the cost of a house while the remaining 65 percent was met by Habitat and its partners. Within three years, the families were contributing 68 percent of the house cost, with Habitat and its partners coming up with the remaining third.

Many of Habitat’s microfinance institution partners were also able to expand their portfolios and provided additional loans for housing. For example, for every house Habitat Nepal funded, microfinance institution Jeevan Bikash also extended a housing loan.

“The need for decent housing is great in Nepal, and Habitat cannot bank on its own strength,” said country representative Aruna Paul Simittrarachchi. “There is vast potential in our partners to play a key role in accelerating the growth of our program. To tap this potential, we need to move beyond being a housing provider. We aim to be a facilitator, a mover and a supporter of housing solutions.”

The housing support services concept allows Habitat Nepal to fulfill that vision, particularly in light of its 100,000 Housing Campaign unveiled in July 2011. Habitat aims to serve 100,000 additional families in the next five years.

“HFH Nepal is aiming for a snowball effect in terms of reach and impact,” Simittrarachchi said. “Upon the successful completion of the 100,000 Housing Campaign, we want even more partners to be involved in reducing Nepal’s housing deficit by 25 percent, or 1 million houses. Our sight is set on the total elimination of poverty housing from Nepal by 2030, or in 20 years’ time. This will not be done solely by HFH Nepal, but with diverse partners, including the government.”

To this end, Habitat Nepal aims to:

  • Connect with the cooperatives, village banks and microfinance institutions to encourage them to add housing to their loan portfolios and, if required, to build their capacity to do so.
  • Bring expertise, knowledge and skills within Nepal together to respect, promote and enhance traditional architecture and its practices.
  • Promote and improve the quality and durability of eco-friendly construction materials through sharing of knowledge and technical training.
    With a manual developed by Habitat, staff members of microfinance institutions are trained to help their clients estimate the amount of loan required, how much each client has to save, and how to optimize the use of locally available construction materials.

Another manual will help families decide on house design and work out the construction cost, with advice from Habitat Nepal’s staff members. Habitat’s staff also can provide technical supervision at some construction sites and guidance on improving the quality of the final housing product.
Habitat Nepal will also train partner organizations, local communities, families, masons, carpenters and Habitat volunteers in the use of cost-effective construction technology.

Staff members will travel to communities to train people in the adobe technology of making bricks, using clay in the foundation and plastering, and using lime for protection against termites — techniques found in traditional architecture used in palaces and other large buildings.
To help such training, Habitat aims to set up and provide initial funding for as many resource centers as possible throughout the country. Eventually, these centers will be transferred to and run by the community.

To promote the use of cost-effective construction materials, Habitat plans to set up bamboo production centers and straw mills, depending on the needs of the com¬munity. Bamboo will be treated at the centers to increase its durability. The centers can also produce bamboo shelter kits that can be easily assembled for temporary housing in response to disasters. Masonry training will be conducted with skilled workers available for hire by families or organizations. In addition, the cen¬ters will provide guidance and advice on housing design.

Sawmills will also be set up in some communities, especially where former bonded laborers, known as Kamaiyas, live. By providing sawmill services, Habitat will help families and communities cut back on timber waste, conserve natural resources, and minimize the risk of injury and death in the event of a house collapsing in an earthquake or other disaster.

In Jhapa, Habitat Nepal already has an enterprise that produces strong corrugated roofing sheets from bamboo. The mats used to make the sheets come from 30 mat-weaving centers set up by Habitat Nepal in various com-munities, and the “raw” material for the mats eventually will come from nurseries. Habitat Nepal is considering setting up 20 training centers for the cultivation and harvesting of bamboo, providing income to poor families.

Another locally available construction material is straw bale, made from pressed, dried straw. Used as a wall insulation, it keeps a house cool in summer and warm in winter.

Habitat Nepal also wants the local community to take ownership. “Housing needs to be owned and driven by the community with appropriate consultation from the authorities,” Simittrarachchi said.

Infrastructure such as roads, drainage and sewerage disposal should not hinder house construction or vice versa. Such considerations are particularly crucial in flood-affected or flood-prone areas.

The cutting down of trees for timber needs to be minimized — a decision that should lie with the community. With public education, the use of timber can be optimized with a community-owned sawmill, Simittrarachchi said, and cutting back on the use of timber as pillars or rafters or beams will also lessen the risk of injury or death when earthquakes hit.
A community needs to have access to eco-friendly building materials, practices and methodologies. The resultant cost savings can be invested in housing, be it paying off a loan faster or building the next stage of the home.

“In Habitat, we are used to talking about giving a family a leg up,” Simittrarachchi said. “The housing support services concept extends that idea to our partners. More-informed, better-equipped partners and families make a world of difference to Habitat’s mission.”

Hiew Peng Wong is the writer/editor in Habitat for Humanity International’s Asia/Pacific area office.