Cleaner bricks lay foundation for green economy

green brick plant
The brickmaking technology introduced by UNDP reduces carbon emissions by 40% compared to traditional brick factories. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

Fourteen years ago Razia Bewa`s husband passed away, as a 30-year old widow with 4 daughters, she was not prepared for what life had in store for her. Her husband was a landless farmer who worked as a day laborer in other people`s farms and after his death their hand to mouth existence disintegrated.

"I had no idea what to do and how to survive. My husband did not earn much but he took care of us. After his death I was left with no savings to live on," said Razia when talking about her difficult past.

Highlights

  • Six demonstration kilns using green technology reduced 35,380 tonnes of carbon emissions.
  • Private sector has started adopting new technology with 20 new kilns.
  • New technology produces 7.5 times more bricks for the same amount of energy consumed.

With no education, skills or options she immediately started working as a housemaid. Unfortunately she was paid so little it was barely enough to feed and clothe her family. Razia says, "There was nothing else I could do, we would often go hungry but the kindness of others often kept us going."

Her cycle of extreme poverty seemed unbreakable until one of her neighbors suggested that she try to find work at a nearby brickfield. "At first I was skeptical, women don`t usually work in brickfields, and it`s not safe for them. Yet my neighbor said that this brickfield was different, not only were women working there but they were being paid well," said Razia. After years of work with next to nothing to show for it she was willing to try anything to better her lot.

Razia walked to Banalata Refractory Ltd, got a job and has never looked back.

The Banalata Refractory Ltd is part of UNDP`s Improving Kiln Efficiency in the Brick Making Industry project, commonly known as the green brick project. UNDP Bangladesh, under its GREEN Brick project, is working to promote the Hybrid Hoffman Kiln (HHK) technology, as an energy efficient alternative for brick production in Bangladesh. The project is designed to remove barriers to the widespread adoption of energy efficient kilns and energy efficiency practices for the brick making industry in Bangladesh.

Brick making is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Bangladesh estimated to be on the order of 6.0 million tonnes of CO2 annually. The successful implementation of the demonstration energy efficient kilns will result in the direct cumulative energy savings of 314 ktonnes coal by end of project and 1,470 ktonnes CO2 cumulative direct emission reductions during the expected 15-year service life of the energy efficient kilns.

The technology has also had a notable social impact as well with more women joining the industry than before. In the Banalata Refractory Ltd factory around 30 Women including Razia were hired from the local community, thus empowering them both financially and socially. In the last a total 120 women have been hired in HHKs.

The Project Manager Mr. Khondker Neaz Rahman points out, "The new technology named Hybrid Hoffman Kiln (HHK) not only reduces air pollution and enhances profit by lessening the energy use and persistent round the year production, but also improves the living standard and working condition of its employees and laborers- especially, the women employees."

He adds, "There were rarely opportunities for women to work in traditional kilns. But these kilns provide numbers of positive aspects for them to work, such as competitive wages and financial solvency, reasonable working hours, healthy working conditions etc. Most importantly, most of the women workers are hired from local communities. So, they feel safe to work. At the end of the day when they come back from work they feel empowered".

Razia's was empowerment the moment she joined Banalata and received TK 2500 a month. "I never thought I could work normal hours in a safe place and earn this much money! It (the job) changed my life," said a visibly please Razia.

In last four years, her salary has increased to Tk 3500 and transformed her life. Now three of her daughters are married and her youngest is in a local High School. The transformation has been social as well, she is no longer looked at as the widow of her village instead as a respected senior member of her community. "Often community members and neighbors come to me for advice, which never happened before," says a smiling Razia.

Programme Manager of UNDP Bangladesh Dr. Sarwat Chowdhury says, "With our gender empowerment efforts in brick making, bit by bit, we are ensuring the creation of "green jobs" in newer energy efficient brick factories. We also aim to create an overall community level gender impact through reaching out to traditional brick factories which employ women at minimal wages and in many cases have questionable labor and environmental conditions".

The GEF funded project has received its share of international plaudits as well. At the historic Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, the project was highlighted by the Government of Bangladesh as a win-win-win success story from LDC in an intergovernmental side event on Green Economy co-organized by Vietnam.

At the end of the day the GREEN Brick project looks out for the environment and in its journey to help mother nature they managed to bring people like Razia along for the ride. With a steady income and three married daughters, Razia now has big plans for her last daughter.

"Just a few years ago we needed the help of others to survive, now my only wish is that my youngest daughter grow up to be a doctor," says a smiling Razia. Clearly the roads to her dreams are lined with Green Bricks.

Donors: Global Environment Facility / UNDP

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