Saturday, June 7, 2008

Habitat for Humanity Mongolia: Poverty Housing

I found this site while I was searching through news and blogs on Mongolia, and found it interesting. Especially as their houses are constructed to provide insulation against the harsh winters of Mongolia where temperatures can drop down to -40 or 45 Celsius. Habitat for Humanity, a US-based international organization, constructs inexpensive housing that are sold at cost price to poor families (along with monthly instalment payment option). Something like US$20-30 per month. The builders are people on "a holiday with a difference".

From their website:
HFH Mongolia was set up in 1999 to address the need for decent and affordable housing. It has affiliates operating in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Edernet, and two program centers in Tsetserleg and Arvaikheer. Starting in July 2007, five new program centers are being set up in, Bagakhangai, Baganuur, Khakhorin (sic), Nalaikh and Zuunmod.

A typical Habitat home measures up to 36 sq. m. in size and is constructed with bricks or concrete blocks, wood, concrete roof sheeting and Styrofoam for insulation against the harsh winter. Toilets are built separately.

For more info, visit their website
Now almost all of the above areas, except for Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Erdenet, are in the rural areas. Darkhan and Erdenet are small cities, or very small by the standards of any other country. If a family can afford US$2000+ per house in instalments, they can more than afford to buy a few gers (or Mongolian yurts). Considering that these areas are isolated town centres, central heating and water as well as sanitation are non-existent. Toilets are built separately, and water still needs to be bought from the town centre water dispenser and carried over to their houses. Granted, a house is still better than a ger as far as personal space, privacy and household organization are concerned. The Ger is a nomad's practical invention, built for mobility and compactness. But would one, being able to afford a ger, pay ten times more for a house? Not a criticism of any sort, simply a question to ponder as I notice the irony of the situation.

And here's the ironic part:

There are many websites retailing Mongolian gers as environmentally-friendly housing in Europe, Australia and other developed countries! Some are even retailing them as "luxury yurts". If you don't believe me, go here.

I may be overreacting, empty-stomached and somewhat dizzy from the antihistamines. That is, after all, how the world operates, as my Indian housemate non-chalantly remarked as I told him this story.