NEWS & INSIGHTSPublic Health

Warm and Clean Houses

The extremely low temperatures that populations must endure every winter are the cause of a number of respiratory diseases and, if not treated on time or lacking of adequate living conditions, can result in fatality. This is the case of thousands of families living in The Andes in Peru, who must withstand temperatures of about -20°C every winter, at more than 4000 MASL in precarious housing (frozen ceilings, weak walls and windows not properly fitted) with no heating facilities.

The Peruvian Ministry of Health recorded an annual average of 40,000 cases of pneumonia among children under 5 years, of which 10 percent die due to lack of timely treatment. Although these numbers are gradually being reduced, there is still an important issue to be addressed: cold houses. Improving housing conditions not only contributes significantly on reducing cases of pneumonia caused by low temperatures, but it also helps affected people accessing a better quality of living.

The initiative “warm and clean houses”, implemented by the Group of Rural Sector Support of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, clearly shows how by applying appropriate technologies for infrastructure design is feasible to counteract the problem of extreme cold in highlands. This housing initiative works as follows:

  • Warm wall
    Structure placed outside the home that is connected with the indoor through holes made in the wall. This system has a black painted wall on the outside, which is located within a structure covered with glass or plastic, which generates the greenhouse effect. This technology receives sunlight and converts it into heat, heating the air inside the structure. The cold air transformed in hot air enters through the holes, increasing the temperature inside the house.
  • Roof Insulation Systems
    To keep the heat the house must be hermetically closed. The insulation system has a mesh which is coated with a layer of plaster, in order to maintain the room warm and isolated. In addition, doors and windows are refurbished to prevent the escape of heat from the house.

Additionally, this initiative is providing improved cook stoves for inhabitants in Peruvian highlands, because it has been identified that indoor air pollution is another problem they are facing, due to cooking on open fire within the house.

It is estimated that the implementation of these technologies can increase up to 10°C of temperature inside the house and significantly reduces the risk of getting pneumonia due to remaining in cold houses.

For these families, the fact of having a warmer room represents a way to improve their health and therefore parents can work and children can go to school, opening development channels for them.

Initiatives like this confirm the close link between “how we live” and “how healthy we are,” and alert the importance of taking into account aspects related to human welfare when planning and implementing infrastructure projects. Housing initiatives can and should be seen not just as an end in themselves, but as an effective tool for improving health. By taking into account the prevalent health risks when designing housing projects, there is a real opportunity to deliver measurable health benefits.

ARCHIVE recognizes this opportunity and encourages integrated health and housing strategies at the local, national and international level and argues that such an approach offers a more effective way to address these two essential and closely interlinked components of human development.

Cecilia Torres
Engagement Officer