Millions of homes condemn those that live in them to dangerous and destructive heat. This threaten people’s health, as well their ability to work, sleep and study. Affordable and sustainable solutions exist, but are out of reach for many.
Through Ashden’s Fair Cooling Fund, three leading innovators – Egypt’s ECOnsult, India’s cBalance and MASS Design in Rwanda – have been working with at-risk communities to understand the impact of heat stress, develop practical solutions, and spark action from those in power.
For example, in many countries women are more likely to work in their homes than men – so unbearable temperatures are an increasing threat to health, economic resilience and gender equality. This means governments, civil society organisations and funders can address multiple development priorities by taking on the cooling challenge.
Attempts to tackle this problem in low-income communities are often top-down initiatives. But listening to, and working with, those in greatest danger is crucial. Only they can fully explain the mix of local factors, from poverty and overcrowding to insecure land tenure, that increase risk and undermine potential solutions. Success comes through co-developing solutions with communities (and allies such as local NGOs), as well as drawing on traditional and indigenous knowledge.
As people most at risk from indoor heat stress face a wide range range of urgent challenges, holistic initiatives that tackle cooling alongside other issues – from energy access to security and sanitation – have a greater chance of success. These are better placed to win backing from communities, but also investment from funders and authorities keen to address a range of priorities.
While helping communities access affordable and sustainable technology is essential, so is investment in skills and networks. This allows residents to create and maintain their own solutions, and even creates work opportunities within communities.
Investment and policy support for cooler homes is urgently needed, and inclusion and empowerment must be at the heart of this effort. Successful models for this approach already exist, ready for replication. Greater support from governments, funders and development organisations could bring enormous benefits for millions of people.
To connect with innovators or find out more, contact the Fair Cooling Fund.
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In India’s crowded, tin-roofed, low-income neighbourhoods, homes often become dangerously hot. Women and the elderly, who are more likely to spend time indoors, are at particular risk. In the cities of Pune and Bangalore, consultancy cBalance is working with communities to understand how they are affected by heat stress – and to install practical, locally-appropriate low-carbon solutions, that are co-created with communities (rather than ‘for’ them) through an inclusive participatory design process.
Through the Fair Cooling Fund, the organisation is piloting a range of thermal comfort upgrades to people’s homes, from roofs with vegetation and even barriers made of recycled plastic bottles. cBalance is also exploring community-based business models that could bring these solutions within the reach of the most monetarily underprivileged families.
Alongside local informal-housing related civil society organisation partners, cBalance is focused on empowering the communities it works with – not imposing ‘top down’ solutions. The organisation will synthesise insights from its Fair Cooling Fund work into its evidence-based policy advocacy efforts towards change in the curriculums of India’s architecture academia, shifts in the health services delivery apparatus of municipal bodies, and the advancing of climate-responsive tariff structures from electric utility companies. cBalance will also support the leveraging of resources available through microfinance lending institutions, and continue to elevate the voices and experiences of the communities most affected by this problem.
Housing planning, design, and construction contribute to thermal discomfort and heat stress across East Africa. Through the Fair Cooling Fund, Rwanda based architecture and engineering firm, MASS Design Group, is researching, implementing, and disseminating solutions to address the interrelated factors that contribute to it.
In Rwanda’s capital Kigali, MASS is using new roofing and building material research to build a single-family home that can serve as a showcase of sustainable, healthy, and thermally comfortable building practices. In Rwanda, many people build their own homes, or employ local community members to do so, which means raising public awareness of improved and new approaches is crucial. So, MASS are capturing their work on film, and using it to inform and inspire those that will benefit most.
The organization’s links with government ministries and the housing authority will support this process, creating bridges between policymakers and community members. This project relies on understanding the challenges and aspirations of the communities in Rwanda that MASS has been a part of, and worked with, for over a decade – and delivering solutions that match these needs, as well as global climate needs.
Extreme heat can leave families in Egypt struggling to work, study, rest and sleep. As a sustainability partner in an ambitious national infrastructure project, Egyptian architecture firm ECOnsult is tackling this issue by influencing building design in thousands of towns and villages.
ECOnsult is promoting sustainable, affordable approaches that will help tackle heat stress and other environmental challenges across a nation. Its innovation includes the creation of new planning tools and resources, but also new ways of engaging government ministries and other key stakeholders, particularly by integrating cooling with other development issues.
ECOnsult’s approach draws on holistic thinking, traditional knowledge and the often-ignored views and experiences of marginalised people, such as women and low-income communities. These groups are most at risk from heat stress – but rarely have a say in the design of their homes.