Promoting alternative building methods across Malawi
Charlie Bowles, a Structures Engineer within our London office, is an advocate for making a difference to those in need. Back in May 2016, he visited Greece for 3 weeks to aid an unofficial refugee camp called Idomeni as part of Team Bananas and has also joined The Mlambe Project, a charity that aims to promote, fund and build structures within the impoverished communities of Malawi, East Africa. Here he tells us how he aims to change the living and environmental conditions of the Mlambe community through earthbag construction techniques.
Malawi’s deforestation issue
As well as being one of the world’s most impoverished countries from an economic and educational perspective, Malawi is suffering from some major environmental issues – namely deforestation.
The traditional method of construction in Malawi uses wood-fired clay bricks which are not only of poor quality and create non-durable structures, but is the main contributing factor behind Malawi’s deforestation issues which consequent impact on soil destabilisation and higher surface runoff (coupled with Malawi’s intense rainy season) leads to:
• Increased threat of flash flooding,
• Washing away of nutrients from soil and therefore the area of productive land.
The Department of Forestry has estimated an annual deforestation rate of 1.6 – 2.8% and in order to slow this and reduce the negative impacts outlined, it is imperative to promote the use of less wood-intensive construction techniques such as using low cost, locally-sourced and sustainable materials.
The project’s aims
The Mlambe Project aims to facilitate the provision of skills and techniques required to build educational and residential buildings in Malawi. This is being achieved by the research into building with Flexible-Form Rammed Earth – or Earthbags – which is a technique that addresses the ‘triple bottom line’ as it simultaneously tackles environmental, economic and socially sustainable issues as a low-impact and cost-effective construction method.
The Project is now locating other developments across Malawi that are open to using this technique, appointing our Malawian Earthbag building experts who have honed their skills at Mlambe to assist in the construction and training on the new builds. I am now planning to go back in November to oversee the first external build from the Mlambe School Project, a school block in the capital city, Lilongwe.
For further information on how you can get involved, please visit The Mlambe Project website here.
You can also read Charlie’s volunteers perspective from the refugee camp in Idomeni by clicking here.