Every year, Tajikistan, located in the Pamir range in Central Asia, experiences more than 5,000 tremors and earthquakes, the magnitude of which can go as high as 7 or 9 on the Richter scale.
In most mountainous villages, homes cannot withstand such strong vibrations. Destruction caused by natural disasters exacerbates poverty in the country, where almost half of the population lives on less than US$2 a day. Rebar and concrete, traditionally used to reinforce homes, are not affordable for many Tajik families.
Habitat, in partnership with the local Institute of Seismology, came up with an inexpensive technology that provides much-needed safety to low-income rural communities. It uses the mulberry tree, which grows in abundance across the country.
Trees are cut seasonally to harvest silk cocoon—the mulberry twigs have no other use and are therefore freely available. They are bound into grids and attached to walls using plaster mixed with straw and wool. This simple and affordable design makes buildings as strong as steel.
As a result, the risk of being trapped, injured or killed in the house during an earthquake is significantly reduced, and as homes are more stable, families have time to escape in case of emergencies.
So far, homes reinforced with this “mulberry tree” technology have survived two earthquakes. The first one occurred in December 2008 and measured 5.8 on the Richter scale. It sent tremors into Rasht district, where 80 homes had been reinforced. In January 2009, a second earthquake with the epicenter in Afghanistan had a magnitude of 6 and was felt in the Kumsangir district, where 120 homes were reinforced.
Another advantage of the mulberry tree technology is that it can either be built into new construction or added to existing houses. It is 30 percent cheaper than the standard techniques used in the seismically unstable regions. If applied to existing houses, the construction costs can be reduced by five times.
Low-income beneficiaries of the program live in the remote, rural Kumsangir area of Tajikistan near the Afghan border. Working with a local partner organization, Habitat for Humanity set up a revolving fund from which eligible low-income families were offered loans to pay for the house reinforcements. After these loans are repaid, funds are accessible to other members of the community. View the Faces and Places Tajikistan slideshow. 
In 2011, this project from Tajikistan on the use of mulberry branches in home reconstruction was presented at the World Reconstruction Conference, the first large-scale global event focused on natural disaster recovery and reconstruction and organized with the support from the UN and the World Bank. It was selected as one of the three winners at the Innovation Forum held in the framework of the conference.
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 Tajikistan in a number of ways. Here are some examples:
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