A Sahrawi refugee is using plastic bottles to build homes for other refugees living in the desert camp, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] reported.
Born and raised in Awserd refugee camp in Western Sahara, the 27-year-old was familiar with the struggles of refugee housing in the Sahara Desert – homes made out of mud-bricks or adobe were often unable to withstand rain and sandstorms.
The harsh climate of the desert frequently led to evacuations. For Tateh Lehbiba Breica, it was personal because his elderly grandmother had trouble being moved to community centres every time. So when he had a chance, Breica built the first house out of plastic bottles for her.
When Breica set out to build a roof-top garden using discarded bottles to plant seeds, he did not expect the material to exceed. “I asked myself ‘What can I do with these?’” said Breica, who has a master’s degree in energy efficiency.
Breica attended university in Algiers where he watched a documentary on building homes using plastic bottles and decided to try it. “Then I remembered a documentary I had seen, during my university studies, on building using plastic bottles and thought, ‘Why not try that?’” These houses don’t just provide structural resistance to water but the thick walls work as better shields against wind and sand.
Breica’s idea is endorsed by Shelter Officer Otis Moore, who described it as advantageous over brick houses and tents used by Sahrawis. “As the adobe houses can be destroyed by heavy or prolonged rain, use of plastic bottles instead of mud-brick will create more durable structures. And we have adopted the circular shape because it is aerodynamic and can withstand storms more effectively,” he said.
His interest in collecting discarded bottles earned him the title of Majnoun al Qarurat – Crazy with Bottles – while his Facebook posts drew attention to the innovative idea, one which got the stamp of approval from the UNHCR staff who visited the camp to watch it take shape. Despite being awarded Personality of the Year 2016 by a local magazine, Breica said, “People still see me as the guy obsessed with recycling bottles and building unusual houses.”
“After the October 2015 heavy rains that damaged and destroyed tens of thousands of adobe houses, UNHCR has been working with the Sahrawis on improving construction techniques, to better withstand the severe weather of this region,” said the Senior Field Coordinator for UNHCR in Tindouf, Juliette Murekeyisoni. “We have been supporting the use of bricks fortified by cement, and now we are supporting the use of plastic bottles.”
“Adobe houses can be destroyed by heavy or prolonged rain, use of plastic bottles … will create more durable structures,” she added.
The project, funded by the UNHCR Innovation Fund, is currently building 25 houses in five camps in Awserd, Boujdour, Dakhla, Smara, and Laayoune.
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