How can vernacular architecture help?
Vernacular architecture is based on local materials using traditional construction methods such as pakhsa (a combination of earth and straw), mudbrick, and stone masonry. These practices, deeply ingrained in the country's culture for centuries, offer sustainability and resilience. House designs in Herat province replicate elements of its ancient citadel which dates back to 330 BCE and the time of Alexander the Great.
In an era increasingly dominated by technology it’s important to preserve traditional knowledge. Vernacular housing serves as a living repository of traditional techniques and can complement modern building.
Vernacular housing is also highly sustainable, often resulting in the lowest levels of carbon emissions. By using local materials and age-old construction techniques, they are better suited to local climate conditions, resulting in natural energy efficiency.
The process encourages the principles of recycle, reuse, and reproduce. Local materials and even construction waste are often repurposed, using what would otherwise be debris. This minimizes waste and reduces costs.
There’s a strong social element built into the process. It fosters social cohesion, enabling communities to make collective decisions and empowering them to maintain their cultural identities and preserve their proud heritage. It instigates broader social and economic transformation that extends beyond merely improving physical infrastructure.
However, while highlighting the positive aspects of vernacular building, it is also important to address its shortcomings. There is need to look at its inherent weaknesses and low resistance to seismic loads. Vernacular architecture, that is outcome of continuous social process over many centuries, still needs further, modern scientific inputs.
Born out of experience
The vernacular housing strategy for recovery and resilience was born out of the experience after the 2022 earthquake. Drawing upon traditional wisdom of building with local materials and modern scientific knowledge, a comprehensive set of guidelines was prepared. The objective was to empower homeowners, particularly women and young people, to take charge of restoring their traditional homes--from choosing the appropriate layout and design, to managing their own construction. Families were given cash grants and 150 homes were built in about four months. Now people are constructing their houses on their own using the hazard resistant features they learned during reconstruction.
UNDP's focus isn't merely on reconstruction. It addresses immediate needs, employs community members through cash-for-work schemes and helps restore local businesses and economies. It’s a long-term commitment to reducing the impact of disasters.
A unique aspect of this approach is the strong focus on gender. The cash-for-work initiative equips women with new skills and opens up alternative sources of income. Given the situation in Afghanistan such opportunities for earning can significantly uplift women's social standing and promote gender equality.
More funding is needed
This partnership, between UNDP, CARE, ActionAid and the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and local communities has resulted in 150 houses being built over the past year. More than 10,000 families in Herat need housing in the coming months, and more funding is needed to reach families who face harsh weather in inadequate shelter.