Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Houses of mud

15, 1992). The article summarised well the key issues relating to the subject. I am prompted to write to you because we at the Development Workshop, actively involved in researching building with earth for the last 20 years, have recently had some success in introducing mud brick vaults and dome roofs to several areas in Sahel in Africa. The process has been slow, but local masons are now beginning to use the "new" techniques spontaneously, without any outside technical and financial help.

The techniques were introduced to provide the local population with an alternative to the traditional flat roofs, which consume an enormous quantity of increasingly scarce and expensive wood. The programme, Woodless Construction, was the 1992 winner of the Habitat Scroll of Honour awarded by the United Nations Commission on Habitat and Rehabilitation. It relies exclusively on sun-dried bricks, made of non-stabilised mud with simple hand moulds.

It would be an over-simplification to suggest that non-stabilised mud is suitable only for extremely dry climates. Low annual rainfall often disguises the fact that when it does rain, it comes in a few violent rainstorms, because of which protecting buildings from rain damage becomes vitally important. Also, bricks made of stabilised mud, if not properly made, show a tendency to crack and trap moisture within them, which can be potentially very dangerous.

Above all, stabilisation is unaffordable to the vast majority of people, which makes any arguments about its technical merits irrelevant. Careful design and regular maintenance, on the other hand, can go a long way in overcoming perceived problems.


Some clarifications

This is with reference to P S Sandhu's article Tried and tested (June 15, 1993). The photographs on page 28 are misleading because the article does not have enough information on both the implements shown. The name of the implement mentioned in the caption as "wide coulters" is incorrect. It should be wheat seed driller with improved coulters called "plate". Moreover, the person in the photograph is not Amritbhai Agrawat.

Also, Sandhu has said that calotropis is a pesticide. In fact, it is used to control "striga" -- a parasitic weed that infests sorghum crops. The biodiversity contest mentioned in the article was organised by Vivekanandan from the Sustainable Agriculture Environmental Voluntary Action, not PRADAN, a rural development organisation in Tamil Nadu. The focus on traditional technologies diverted attention from the contemporary innovations in our work.

We would also like to sponsor a global competition through the Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions for innovations developed at the grassroots level for sustainable development without external help.


Light from waste

S Rajendran's report on utilisation of waste tubelights was impressive (October 15, 1993). But the report should have pointed out that the apparatus made from used tubelights are quite fragile. The thickness of the tubes is at the most 1.2 mm and blowing on them can further reduce the thickness to risky levels.

The report should have also given cost comparisons between apparatus made with soda glass and that made of used tubelights. This is, of course, not to belittle the innovative approach adopted by the scientists at Gandhigram Rural Institute. They merit our appreciation.


Against superstition

My mother has suffered from a mental illness for almost 40 years now. Ignorance, superstition and fear of loss of social respectability prevented her family from getting her proper treatment. Two of my brothers have inherited the illness and I have to look after them. I have been astonished to see the superstition, ignorance and cruelty that prevails in our society with regard to mental illnesses.

There are three psychiatric hospitals in Ranchi. Statistics tell us that at least 6 per cent of our population needs occasional and continued psychiatric care. With the paucity of psychiatrists, the situation is appalling. Psychiatrists tell me that a majority of the patients can lead comfortable and productive lives if they get expert help and, above all, proper family and social support.


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