Incessant rains in the desert state of Rajasthan gave rise to one of the worst floods in Rajasthan in two centuries. Heavy monsoon rains started on 16th August 2006 affecting 12 districts in Rajasthan. Barmer was the worst hit because of the downstream flow of heavy rainwater from Jaisalmer. 577mm of rain fell in 3 days, which was 300mm more than the annual average rainfall of 277mm. 60-100 villages were affected and 103 people died. 95% of villagers were rendered homeless as 5,200 homes were destroyed. Homes were rendered uninhabitable after the flooding as structures had mostly been made ofuntreated mud and were damaged and destroyed by the water. SEEDS constructed 300 houses across 15 villages to meet immediate housing need.
The houses were built in complete compliance with the local vernacular in terms of the design and technology used. Traditional houses in the area were made of mud, and were circular in design with thatched roofs. In conformity with the traditional form of houses, the new houses were also constructed in a circular form using interlocking blocks of mud stabilized with 5% cement and compressed for strength. Thermal and environmental studies of circular design have shown good performance in extreme desert conditions and sandstorms. The roofs consisted of thatch on a framework of roughhewn timber for thermal comfort. The foundations and roofs of the houses were done by the families themselves. The team discussed the benefits of using earthquake resistant earthen blocks and their features with local masons and community members. Rainwater harvesting was demonstrated and solar panels were also provided to the families which could take care of their limited energy needs. The area had no electricity, and so this was a significant step towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people.
The work was completed through a combination of central fabrication of material, on site fabrication and masonry work on site. Local masons and beneficiary families were involved in the on-site construction activities. Construction teams were formed comprising a team leader and assistant masons. Team leaders were members of “SEEDS Mason Association”, an in-house team of trained masons, and they visited all activities and locations of the construction process. Monitoring was carried out by technical experts led by SEEDS and included personnel with local knowledge, and social experts for understanding community issues. The monitoring was on going, participatory and enabled changes and adjustments to be made where needed.
There were significant challenges in carrying out the construction in hostile desert conditions. Floods in the desert were an anomaly and 8 months later, water was still trapped between high sand dunes. Most roads were partially or completely damaged which posed difficulties in reaching remote villages. Undulating terrain also made travelling long distances difficult. Extreme weather conditions and uncertain rainfall in the great Indian Thar Desert region often damaged the earthen blocks. This delayed construction and frustrated the workers involved. Scarcity of water increased curing period of blocks.