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NEWS: Indian partner organisations win UNFCCC Lighthouse Award for community resilience

The Gorakhpur Environment Action Group and SEEDS India, two CDKN partners, have won accolades from the UNFCCC for their work to build community resilience to climate change in Gorakhpur, a flood-prone district of Uttar Pradesh, India.  The organisations last night received the Momentum for Change Lighthouse Award, from Ghanaian singer and climate activist Rocky Dawuni, before a large audience in Warsaw’s Narodowy stadium.

The groups’ work on community-based micro-climate resilience helps urban poor communities in Gorakhpur to adapt to climate change by designing and building new types of flood-resilient, affordable homes. Buildings include features such as raised floors that will help residents ‘weather the storm’.

The housing is also designed with climate mitigation in mind. Brick-making technologies and techniques are less energy intensive than conventional practices: these methods use 19 per cent fewer bricks and 54 per cent less cement mortar. Bricks are locally sourced, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

“We used hollow walls that would reduce the amount of materials used,” said Sumeet Agarwal of SEEDS. “These reduce heat from the sun. We used elements like arched openings to reduce the amount of concrete. We also integrated a toilet unit in the house.”

The first model house was constructed for a disabled widower named Ramakant, who was nominated by the community to move into the new house with his two children. “The happiest one was Ramakant’s 14 year old  daughter Sandya, who faced untold problems when she went out in the open (to use the toilet),” said Rakhee Kashyap, SEEDS. “Ramakant has gone from a person on the fringes of the community to be an ambassador of climate resilient housing. During and after the construction we had hundreds of people coming and asking us to build similar houses for them. We felt that we build a house that had truly served the user and that is what we feel is great architecture.”

In addition to the model house, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group and SEEDS have designed and built community toilets that are able to withstand increasingly frequent and heavy flooding, and a new school building from environmentally-friendly, locally-sourced bamboo.

An important attraction of the climate compatible building designs is their affordability. “The bamboo school cost only 5 lakh rupees (500,000 rupees, or US$8000),” said Dr Shiraz Akhtar Wajih of  Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group. “Now the government has committed to it and will run and maintain that school.” The housing designs are developed explicitly so that they are “at a level that a small farmer can afford – around 1.5 lakh (150,000 rupees, or US$2,400).”

Dr Wajih’s Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group received CDKN research funding to mainstream disaster risk reduction into development planning in Gorakhpur district. This effort has involved working intensively with the district government to integrate disaster management in the housing sector. Here, it is not so much a matter of mobilising new cash for government coffers but “characterising the exact activities needed ” for climate resilience, he said, and directing existing funding toward them.

Dr Waijh’s team aims to take the climate-resilient, low carbon housing design to government housing schemes at a wider scale and is already extending its work to Jorhat (Assam), Saharsa (Bihar) and Bashirhat (West Bengal).

“We on the advisory panel thought it was a great solution for many places in the world, not just India,” said Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, Senior Climate and Energy Advisor of IDDRI, a member of the advisory panel that appointed this year’s Lighthouse Awards.

“What makes this pioneering initiative so exciting is the affordability and scaleability of the climate compatible architecture,” said Sam Bickersteth, the Chief Executive of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

The climate compatible housing design in Gorakhpur was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. CDKN funding supports the broader integration of such disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation measures into district and national policy.

According to the UNFCCC, the Momentum for Change programme “provides a public platform to highlight broad-ranging climate change actions that are already achieving tangible results on the ground. By shining light on inspiring and transformational mitigation and adaptation activities, Momentum for Change aims to strengthen motivation, spur innovation and catalyse further change towards a low-emission, high resilient future.”

For more information about the Gorakhpur project, including media queries:

Dr Shiraz Akhtar Wajih


Image: Sumeet Agarwal, SEEDS, and Shiraz Wajih, GEAG, receive their Lighthouse Award – by Mairi Dupar, CDKN

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