Transformative power of climate-resilient houses

Bangladesh's coastal communities are no strangers to the devastating impact of climate change. As the frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as cyclones and floods increase, the need for robust, adaptive housing solutions has never been more urgent.

The development of climate-resilient houses (CRH) marks a pivotal step towards securing the future of these vulnerable populations. These homes are not only designed to withstand climatic shocks but also provide long-term benefits for community safety and resilience.

Urgency of climate-resilient housing

Prova Mridha is from Joy Kha village, Sonailtala union, Mongla, Bagerhat. Her story is a poignant reminder of the vulnerability faced by millions living in coastal Bangladesh. Cyclone Sidr in 2007 left her family and many others scrambling for safety in overcrowded shelters, only to return to devastated homes. The cycle of destruction and rebuilding has been a recurring theme for coastal residents, exacerbated by rising sea levels and increasingly severe weather events.

Prova's experience illustrates the broader reality: traditional homes, often constructed with limited resources, cannot withstand the escalating climatic threats. Frequent and intense rainfall, coupled with storm surges, not only damages these structures but also contaminates water sources, posing further risks to health and livelihoods. The pressing need for durable, sustainable housing solutions is clear.

When Cyclone Remal struck Bangladesh, 23-year-old Shwati Baroi from Mongla upazila of Bagerhat was visiting her mother’s house, bringing along her newborn baby from her in-laws' residence in Narail. While the cyclone was wreaking havoc, Shwati, her baby, and her mother took shelter in the nearby climate-resilient house-cum-mini cyclone shelter in Joy Kha village, Sonailtala union, Mongla. They remained safely in that mini cyclone shelter throughout the entire period. Several other families, also caught in the cyclone's rampage, stayed with them.

Not only Shwati, but more than 1,000 people from 183 families took shelter in the 36 climate-resilient houses – called “Amar Ghor Amar Ashroy” – across the coastal areas of the country during the cyclone. BRAC has a history of building 35 Climate-Resilient Houses with their own fund in the four coastal districts of Bangladesh, including Barguna, Satkhira, Bhola, and Patuakhali while two houses have been piloted in Mongla and Moheshkhali under the NDC Action Project of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The climate-resilient houses offer a beacon of hope. These structures are meticulously designed to endure extreme weather conditions without deformation

Being adopted by the government, these two houses have yet to be officially inaugurated, but people are already utilising them, having come by significant support during the recent cyclone, which caused extensive damage in the coastal areas of Bangladesh.

Innovation of climate-resilient homes

The climate-resilient houses offer a beacon of hope. These structures are meticulously designed to endure extreme weather conditions without deformation. Throughout the year, these houses serve as homes for families. During disasters, they shelter multiple families, with each house accommodating up to 42 people and their livestock. Situated within communities, families do not have to travel long distances to reach a safe place, leaving their assets and livestock behind.

For instance, Khuku Moni's family, after losing their tin-shed house to Cyclone Amphan in 2020, now lives in a two-storey brick house built by BRAC. This new home not only withstands strong winds but also serves as a refuge for neighbouring families during storms. Equipped with water tanks to collect and filter rainwater, these houses ensure access to safe drinking water even during the dry season.

The design of these houses takes into account local needs and environmental conditions. Each house, costing about BDT 1,300,000-1,400,000 (approximately USD 12,000), can accommodate up to 45-50 people, providing a safe haven during natural disasters. The ground floor is designed to house livestock, preventing economic loss and ensuring the community's livelihood security.

The vision behind climate-resilient housing extends beyond individual safety. These homes are designed to function as community shelters during emergencies, reflecting the community spirit prevalent among climate-vulnerable populations.

Government and private sector involvement

The Bangladesh government has recognised the potential of climate-resilient housing and is taking steps to scale up such initiatives. Under the NDC Action Project in Bangladesh, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has showcased BRAC’s housing model both at the national and international forums, garnering praise and attention. Plans are underway to roll out these houses across the coastal belt, integrating them into broader climate adaptation strategies.

Private sector involvement is crucial for the widespread adoption of climate-resilient housing. Financial institutions like Bangladesh Bank are facilitating access to finance through refinancing schemes for green and sustainable projects, including climate-resilient housing. BRAC Bank, for example, invests a significant portion of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budget in climate risk mitigation and adaptation programmes, prioritising long-term sustainability and community well-being.

Affordable loans and financial incentives can encourage more families to adopt resilient housing, thereby enhancing community-wide resilience

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite the promising start, scaling up climate-resilient housing presents some challenges. Bangladesh is still in the process of developing a coordinated strategy for a climate-resilient housing model. BRAC and other organisations have shared their designs and findings with the government, paving the way for broader adoption and implementation.

Financing these projects is another important consideration. While BRAC Bank and Bangladesh Bank have initiated schemes to support green and sustainable projects, including climate-resilient housing, increased private sector engagement can further boost these efforts. Providing affordable loans and financial incentives can encourage more families to adopt resilient housing, thereby enhancing community-wide resilience.

As climate impacts continue to accelerate, the need for climate-resilient housing becomes ever more pressing. The success stories from BRAC's initiatives, like those of Prova Mridha, Khuku Moni, and Shwati Baroi, demonstrate the profound impact such housing can have on individual lives and community safety. By scaling up these efforts and integrating local knowledge, Bangladesh can build a future where its coastal communities are better equipped to weather the storms.

The government’s recognition and support of these models, as showcased in international forums like COP 28, are promising steps forward. However, sustained effort and investment are needed to transform these initial successes into a widespread reality. With continued innovation, community involvement, and financial support, climate-resilient housing can significantly reduce the vulnerability of Bangladesh's coastal populations, ensuring a safer and more stable future.

Golam Kibria is the Lead, Media Relations Communications, BRAC

[email protected]