Remote, landlocked, and poor, are just some of the similarities that neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan share. Seven out of every ten Kyrgyzstani are either homeless or live in substandard housing. Tajikistan’s post-independence civil war has caused its economy to remain the most fragile and its people the poorest of the former Soviet republic states.
The life expectancy of a Tajik is 61 years, while a typical Kyrgyzstani is expected to live 2 years longer. Some of the leading health risk factors include unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene – thereby placing living conditions at the center of discussions on health improvement.
Housing and health as a related issue is not a new concept. Richard Jackson, a Director at the Center for Disease Control showed that housing (or the lack thereof) is largely a condition of economic forces, and that money spent improving housing has the collateral effect of improving the health and well-being of residents. Thus for non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are providing housing in Central Asia, health improvement should have a central role in its delivery.
In Kumsangir, Tajikistan, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the NGO, Habitat for Humanity is using “green?(environmentally sustainable) building techniques, which ARCHIVE argues, can create an incentive for homeowners to participate in the program. This is because of the potential derived health benefits that are afforded by localized green building.
In Bishkek, the NGO locally harvests cane reeds to construct new homes, coupled with wood beam framing and clay plaster to create an economical, environmental and earth quake resistant home. Cane reed reduces material costs by 40% compared to brick and steel, while saving families 75% of their heating cost because of an under floor heating system. Additional environmental benefits from cane reed houses come from reducing the importation of solid fuel, and the necessary deforestation and pollution. In theory, by reducing the reliance on solid fuel, we can eliminate one major health challenge (indoor smoke from solid fuels) and greatly improve living conditions for the families. However, without further research it is not yet possible to determine the exact interrelations between cane reed and health – a topic of interest to ARCHIVE.
While cane reed housing in Kyrgyzstan has been a green solution that also offers great potential for improving the health of many, the importance of localizing techniques within a country is best seen in the case of Kumsangir, Tajikistan
Slightly more than half of all Tajiks contract one or more water borne diseases ever year. As mentioned above, the fourth leading health risk in Tajikistan is unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Using a bio sand-water filter can provide clean and safe drinking water for 2 families that are easy to maintain and repair. At a cost per family of $75, nearly 2000 families in Kumsangir will improve their health, and reduce the likelihood of contracting infectious and parasitic diseases.
By incorporating localized green building techniques, there is increased potential for families to reduce major health risks in both Kumsangir and Bishkek and improve the lives and well-being of families that they serve. However, without further research it is not possible to determine if improving health conditions creates incentives for homeowners to build green, a research project that ARCHIVE hopes to undertake.
ARCHIVE works to strengthen the significance of using one basic need -Housing, to deliver one basic right -Health. ARCHIVE argues that especially among the poor, housing can be used a central strategy for preventing and treating the health risks that so many continue to face. ARCHIVE seeks to encourage other Housing NGOs to integrate health improvement strategies within the design and delivery process – thereby creating a new era in which housing and health are viewed as codependent sponsors of development.
Farron Blanc is an ARCHIVE research fellow based in Singapore.
All views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent views held by ARCHIVE officers, governing or advisory board.