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In sub-Saharan Africa, timber has always been used for roofing: beams and rafters of rough timber and branches, covered in earth or thatch, supported by adobe / mud walls, with load-bearing timber posts. Such roofs are subject to infestation and fire risks, and require constant maintenance, generally the responsibility of the women in the family.
In recent decades, however, climate change, deforestation, and increasing population growth mean that traditional building techniques are no longer feasible.
Therefore rural families have to dip into their meager food, health, and education budgets to buy imported and expensive corrugated iron sheets and sawn timber for roof-building. Such tin roofs have many disadvantages, especially the poor thermal and sound insulation, making houses too hot in the day, often too cold at night, and extremely noisy during the short but intensive rainy season. They can easily be damaged by wind and rain, last little more than ten years, and their very fragility is a source of danger. They have to be paid for in cash, which is often a problem for the many families who live outside the cash economy.
Families are locked into a vicious circle of poverty and squalor, with no durable solution to the problem of decent housing; this costs local economies several billions of CFA Francs every year. Local economic conditions are also worsened as a direct result of the environmental cost of the manufacture, processing, and transport of imported roofing materials: the resultant pollution and carbon emissions contribute to the climate changes leading to desertification.
The Sahel region, between the southern Sahara desert and the Equator, stretches from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east, including, amongst other countries, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the northern regions of Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. This vast region has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in the world, manifest in widespread poverty, low rates of schooling, and low average life expectancy. These factors can lead to famine, migration, epidemics, and armed conflicts, contrasting starkly with living conditions in wealthier 'developed' countries. To help mitigate these problems, around 20 billion dollars of official development aid goes every year to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa - but only a tiny proportion of this aid is used to improve housing conditions for the millions of rural families surviving outside the formal economy.
According to a report published in 2006 by the UN and the World Resources Institute, over 70% of the population of the Sahel region lack access to decent, safe, housing. Another report, from the African Population and Health Research Center (2002), based on a survey of poor families in urban and peri-urban areas, lists access to housing as the second priority after paid work, and before access to clean water. Despite these facts, no large-scale program has yet been launched to try to tackle the problem of habitat in the Sahel.
To help resolve the problem of habitat in the Sahel, and in other regions of Africa with similar climatic and socio-economic conditions, AVN proposes a global solution which integrates: