The TechBuilding System: How it will Revolutionize Refugee Housing

UGDA02130The Uganda government together with the United Nations and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last held the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees that run from 22nd – 23rd June. It was attended by 20 International NGOs and Development agencies and hosted by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General and H.E Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda. The aim of the Summit was to raise support and funding from the international community for the next four years and by the end of the Summit, more than $358 million was pledged.

Uganda has been hailed internationally as “one of the world’s largest refugee hosting countries.” Estimates put the number of refugees at over 1.2 million that hail from the neighbouring war ravaged countries of Burundi, Congo and South Sudan. Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda, located merely 40kms from the South Sudan border houses more than 950,000 refugees from South Sudan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expects this to grow by 300,000 in 2017 alone.

The refugees live in simple semi-permanent houses built with mud, wood and wattle. This has taken a heavy toll on the environment, especially forests and woodlands in the surrounding areas. These large populations are completely dependent on wood to build which consume millions of trees a year, resulting in the total destruction of forests.

The conflicts in Southern Sudan and neighbouring countries may go on for a while, Development Organisations and NGOs need to consider moving away from semi-permanent to more sustainable permanent housing solutions which the local native populations would later inhabit after the refugees are repatriated. On average, 2 parents and 3 children live in a single semi-permanent house in the refugee settlements; if applied to a total of 1.2 million refugees, the result would be a minimum of 240,000 housing units that Development Organisations and NGOs would need to cater for.

The TechBuilding System offers the perfect solution; it manufactures reinforced Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panels that are assembled onsite, after which concrete plastering is then applied. Not only does the finished structure have a tensile strength 5 times stronger than a conventional brick and timber structure; it has a minimal negative impact on the environment, as no timber in required at all during the construction process which would relieve the strain on the natural resources like forests and rivers that are being degraded at an unsustainable rate in many of the refugee camps.

The absence of habitable accommodation in the refugee camps is a huge crisis that needs to be addressed urgently, time is of the essence and one of the main advantages of the TechBuilding System is the speed of construction; for instance, ten 50 sqm low cost housing units can be built in only 3 weeks. Development Agencies and NGOs nowadays put huge emphasis on sustainability when it comes to the use of funds; the return and impact of every dollar spent is closely controlled and the TechBuilding System is 30% cheaper for large scale projects.

As Development Organisations and NGOs formulate solutions to shelter the growing number of refugees, sustainability should be at the fore front of their programmes. Innovative solutions like the TechBuilding System that minimize the environmental impact on natural resources must be considered.

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Social Welfare: The Construction Gap in East Africa

In a 2016 report on the construction trends in Africa, one of the highlights was; East Africa represented 15% of the entire number of projects valued at $ 50 million and over, which points to a large market for large scale construction projects in East Africa. The TechBuilding value proposition, especially for large scale projects, is that the M2 Building system, which uses reinforced polystyrene panels; offers significant savings of up to 30% in construction costs and further operational savings, reaped from projects running on time, completed on schedule.

The largest number of projects in Africa in 2016 were mainly from the Transportation sector (33.6%), Real Estate (22.4%) the second largest, followed by Energy (21%), then Shipping (8.4%), Oil & Gas fell to 4.5% (though made up 25% of the total project value), mining projects trailed with 2.8%. What is interesting to note, is that there were few large scale construction projects in the Water sector (1.3%) and significantly less in Healthcare (0.3%), Social Development (0.1%) and Education (0.1%), which is quite shocking. One reason that might explain this; is that many African governments are short of funding, running large budget deficits and dependent on Foreign Aid. Therefore, for such large projects, many opt for public–private partnerships; cooperative agreements between the public and private sectors, where private contractors or investors provide the majority of the financing for such projects that are usually long-term.

Return on Investment, is the first port of call for private financiers partnering with African governments and therefore, they typically focus on projects that promise larger profit margins in the: Transportation, Real Estate and Energy sectors. However, projects in the Water, Healthcare, Social Development and Education sectors, focus more on the social impact and welfare of citizens and many offer a lower return on investment.

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Photo credit: Clarke Junior School

Herein lies an opportunity that TechBuilding believes the future of large construction will shift to. With the rise in Impact investments which are: “investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return,” this large construction gap in the Water, Healthcare, Social Development and Education sectors will soon need to be filled and what better way to make this shift, than by using innovative building solutions like reinforced EPS Polystyrene panels which offer significant cost savings compared to traditional brick and mortar.

A Foundation to Stand the Test of Time…

Yesterday afternoon, in a meeting with Wood & Living (one of our partners installing finishings in the model house), he mentioned how one of the things that got him excited about the TechBuilding Group new building system was: how fast the construction is, “…a 3 bedroom bungalow, in just 20 days!” He continued to share about how he had suffered delays in one of his construction projects, that was already 9 months past the due date because of numerous site hiccups he had to work around.

It was insightful, hearing first hand, the kind of challenges faced by players in the Uganda construction market, highlighting exactly what our value proposition is: enabling large construction projects, run on schedule thanks to reinforced polystyrene panels. This is what differentiates use from the rest of the market!

Lo and Behold: Today, we started work on the foundation at the site in Bukasa, Muyenga; a residential surburb of Kampala. We poured the concrete bed of the foundation on stable, strong soils; which should dry in one day (if torrential rains don’t make a mess of things!) It is all moving at a good pace!

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“It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” David Allan Coe

The Building Revolution Starts…

The philosopher Laozi famously said:  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”  and finally; the construction work on the Model House foundation has started. This is no ordinary house, it will be constructed using an innovative new building system. Just imagine; a three bedroom bungalow built entirely from reinforced expanded polystyrene panels!

This is truly an exciting time for all of us at the TechBuilding Group, because it marks the beginning of a true construction revolution in the Uganda market. We will share every step of this journey with you.

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TechBuilding Architect Ms. Cristina breaking ground!

TechBuilding Group’s mission is to revolutionize the construction industry in Uganda by introducing the M2 building technology which uses expanded polystyrene panels, with galvanized steel mesh on both sides, perfect for the large scale low cost building projects. This innovative building system, allows construction companies and real estate developers achieve the highest quality with significant cost savings of 30% for raw buildings, reinforced with shotcrete.