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Aga Khan Planning and Building Service (AKPBS) / Saving trees and warming homes

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In North Pakistan, winters in the mountains are harsh and natural disasters are part of life. Wide-scale forest destruction causes damage from flooding and disrupts the country’s water supply because the region acts as a watershed.

Over 14 years ago, the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service (AKPBS) began a concerted drive to make homes in North Pakistan warmer, and reduce the use of wood.

 By March 2011 over 50,000 products had been provided

...bringing benefits to 240,000 family members

 Total wood saving is about 100,000 tonnes/year

"People really like the fact that they can heat water and cook at the same time – they don’t need to use two lots of wood."

Bibi Safina, Ishkoman Valley


The Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountains lie in Northern Pakistan. Lack of gas supply pushes almost all rural households in the region to use wood as their primary fuel. Homes are cold and smoky in the harsh winters, when open fires or simple wood-burning stoves are used indoors for cooking and heating.

Deforestation is a serious issue in Northern Pakistan. The recent improvements in roads and bridges that have made the area less isolated have at the same time led to increased deforestation. Many families own small wood lots, but still have to buy some of the wood that they need for building and fuel, which adds to deforestation. Deforestation increases wood prices, and has serious environmental impacts. Locally it leads to soil erosion and increased damage from flooding. Nationally it reduces water availability, since the area acts as the watershed for much of the country.

The Building and Construction Improvement Programme (BACIP) was set up in 1997 by the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan (AKPBS,P) to improve the quality of rural buildings and the home environment, and at the same time to help counter deforestation by reducing wood use.

The BACIP programme works mainly in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) region of Northern Pakistan

The organisation

AKPBS,P is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network that works to improve the quality of life in many parts of rural Pakistan. In addition to the BACIP programme, it works on water supply, sanitation, low-cost housing, and disaster risk reduction. In 2010 it had 268 employees and an income of about US$5.7 million. Most income is grants from the Aga Khan Foundation and international donors.

The programme

The BACIP programme works mainly in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) region of Northern Pakistan. The programme develops energy-efficient products and other improvements for homes, in collaboration with users. Local entrepreneurs are trained to make the products to these designs. Resource people, identified and trained in the villages, work on commission to promote the products, coordinate purchase and delivery, help with installation and check that customers are satisfied.

The technologies

The products developed improve thermal comfort, cut the use of wood, and reduce indoor air pollution in homes. The most popular are energy efficient stoves, water-warming facilities, roof hatch windows, floor insulation and wall insulation.

Clean cookstoves help save wood and prevent deforestation

How do they work?

Stove designs vary in detail from region to region, to suit local cooking requirements, but all have the same basic features. The stove is made from sheet metal and can be used for two cooking pots at the same time, while seated on the floor. Wood is added to the combustion chamber through a side door, which is then closed to limit air flow. A chimney takes the smoke out of the room. Insulated tiles are sometimes used around the stove body to cut heat loss and improve cooking efficiency during the summer, then removed for the four to seven winter months when room heating is needed.

The stove was tested by Aprovecho Research Centre in 2008, and meets the Shell Foundation benchmarks for an ‘improved’ stove. A number of changes that would improve its energy efficiency have been tried, but do not suit stove users or else add too much to the cost.

Water-warming facilities use a metal pipe that runs around the inside rim at the top of the stove. Water in the pipe is heated by the burning wood, and circulates by natural convection to a 150-litre plastic storage barrel. Water is heated while cooking takes place, so additional wood is not needed. A tap in the barrel provides water at a suitable temperature for washing clothes or dishes, or to fill pots for boiling on the stove. The storage barrel is generally not insulated, because the water does not need to reach a very high temperature.

Roof hatch windows are made from toughened glass mounted in a wooden frame. The window fits into the hole in the roof that was previously needed to take smoke out of the house. A cord is used to open and close the window, to provide ventilation particularly in the short, hot summer. The roof hatch windows play a very important role in retaining heat inside the house during cold winters.

Floor insulation is made from a simple layer of 6mm thick foam, placed between the concrete floor and the carpet. The material comes from suppliers in Islamabad.

A proper home can bridge that terrible gap between poverty and a better future.

His Highness the Aga Khan

Wall insulation is made from wood shavings, wheat stalks, hay and PE foam, which are held between a layer of plastic in a frame and the walls. It is usually fitted when building or extending a home.

How much does it cost and how do users pay?

US$1 = PKR 84.7 (Pakistan rupees) [April 2011]

Typical installed prices for the products are:
Efficient stove PKR 2,200 (US$26)
Efficient stove + water-warming facility PKR 4,200 (US$50)
Roof hatch window PKR 4,000 (US$47)
Floor insulation PKR 110 (US$1.3) per square metre
Wall insulation PKR 650 (US$7.6) per square metre

AKPBS,P places bulk orders for products with entrepreneurs, which ensures a good price and enables quality checking. Users order the product through AKPBS,P and usually pay the full price. A 50% down payment is required to place an order, and the remaining 50% on delivery.

Wall insulation is made from wood shavings, wheat stalks, hay and PE foam

To increase wood savings and other benefits, there is currently a subsidy of PKR 2,500 for households who buy a package of four products together. Thus the most common package of stove, water-warmer, roof window and about 10m2 of floor insulation costs PKR 6,800 (US$80) rather than PKR 9,300 (US$110). It is possible to include other products in the package, such as earthquake-resistant wire bindings for a house. About 60% of products sold in the past three years have been in these subsidised packages.

First Micro Finance Bank, the microfinance institution of AKDN, has recently started a joint scheme with AKPBS,P to provide loans for buying the products. The loan is made to a group of borrowers in a village, and group members undertake to act as guarantor for each other.

How is it manufactured and promoted?

The improved building products are made in 35 local workshops. The entrepreneurs who run these have been given both technical and business training by AKPBS,P. Some have been helped with loans to buy machine tools to improve productivity.

We made 1,600 stoves this year alone: 1,200 for BACIP and 400 for other people. A man came from Chilas wanting to order 100 stoves, but I couldn’t take the order, I was so busy with BACIP work.

Jahangir, stovemaker, Gilgit

The programme works with all ethnic communities in the region, on a village by village basis. When work starts in a new village, a roadshow may be used to promote the products, or a bus trip arranged for the villagers to visit an area where products are already in use. A household is then identified to act as a demonstration home. Two reliable people from the village are recruited and trained to work on commission as resource people. Women are frequently chosen, since the decision to purchase home improvement products is usually made by the women in a household. The role of resource people is to promote the products, answer questions from potential users, relay orders and cash via AKPBS,P from customers to entrepreneurs, facilitate installation of the products and go back to check that recipients are satisfied with their purchases.


Between 1999 and March 2011, more than 50,000 energy-saving products have been installed in 27,000 households. Over 90% of these products have been purchased by users, the rest provided to demonstration households. In the early years most households purchased just one or two products, but three or four is now the norm. The most popular products are floor insulation and stoves (each used in about 16,000 households), water warming facilities (14,000) and roof hatch windows (4,000).

Now there’s no trouble with rain or dust or flies – we just open the hatch if it’s too hot and close it if it’s too cold. It’s as simple as that.

Bibi Navida Khan, Hunza Valley, who has stove, water-warmer, roof hatch and floor insulation

With an average of nine people per household in this region, the number of people who benefit from these products is about 240,000. However, the total impact of the programme goes beyond this, because entrepreneurs sell directly to customers as well as via AKPBS,P. Also some products are copied by other artisans, or made by individuals for their own homes. Although these copies are generally of lower quality, they still help to cut wood consumption and improve quality of life.

Environmental benefits

AKPBS,P regularly monitors wood savings by training the demonstration households to weigh and record their wood use, with the help of the local resource people. In the 2009 study, wood consumption initially averaged 7.7 tonnes/year per household: this value is high because homes need to be heated for up to seven months in the year. After the energy saving products were installed, wood consumption fell by 3.9 tonnes/year (51%). For all 27,000 households, the saving is therefore about 100,000 tonnes/year of wood. This is very significant in an area with high rates of deforestation.

Cutting the use of unsustainable wood and improving stove combustion reduces greenhouse gas emissions. AKPBS,P estimates a saving of 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of wood. On this basis, emissions are cut by about 5.85 tonnes/year CO2 per household or a total of 160,000 tonnes/year CO2.

Social benefits

A detailed study of the health and social impacts of using the energy-efficient stoves and water-warming facilities was undertaken by the Aga Khan University Hospital during the winters of 2008 and 2009.

The study included 24-hour monitoring of carbon monoxide (CO) and small particulates (PM2.5) – the major pollutants that damage health – in homes. Median CO concentrations were reduced by 44% in homes that used the AKPBS,P products, while PM2.5 concentrations were reduced by 70%. The impact of these reductions was confirmed by reporting of reduced cough and eye irritations (controlled for other variables such as house type).

The cookstoves save time and warm up the house

Women using the products noticed that there was less smoke in their homes, and that the house and cooking utensils stayed cleaner. They also found that food cooked in less time, and the house warmed up more quickly.

Other benefits were reported to the Ashden judge who visited households. Insulated floors were found to be much more comfortable to sit on, and being able to close up the roof vent greatly reduced heat loss and draughts. Having a supply of hot water ‘on tap’ was particularly appreciated. It saves time – for instance, not having to heat water first thing in the morning before prayers – and improves hygiene.

Economic and employment benefits

A 2001 survey of the GBC region found that 55% of households purchase some or all of their fuelwood. These households make substantial financial savings using AKPBS,P products. Fuelwood in the GBC region currently costs about PKR 15 per kg, so a household that cuts wood use by 3.9 tonnes/year saves up to PKR 57,000 (US$680) per year, or eight times the cost of a four-product package. This is a significant benefit in a region where household incomes average PKR 260,000 (US$3,000) per year.

For a working woman like me it’s great. I can go to the market in the morning, and then come back and there is hot water ready to do the laundry.

Bibi Safina, Ishkoman Valley, resource person who has promoted products for ten years

The BACIP programme has increased employment and income, both in the towns and in remote villages. The programme employs about 60 people directly, and provides indirect employment to 35 entrepreneurs and 170 artisans, working in both towns and villages. Over 100 village resource people earn a small commission on each enquiry they follow up and PKR 200 (US$2.40) for each four-product package that they arrange to have installed.

Potential for growth and replication

AKPBS,P aims to have packages of four energy-efficient products installed in a further 17,000 households over the next three years, and is working to secure CDM funding to promote this.

There are many families in other parts of the Hindu Kush and Himalayas who could benefit from using similar products, and AKPBS,P has already started a similar programme in Tajikistan. The main barrier to more widespread replication is the cost of training entrepreneurs, marketing products to very remote communities, and making sure that quality is maintained.

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