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Millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to decent and affordable housing. Deforestation has led to scarcity of timber and straw for traditional roof construction. Families spend what little money they have on imported and expensive timber and sheet metal to put a roof over their heads, further worsening the vicious circle of poverty in which they are trapped.
Through its Earth Roofs in the Sahel Program: A Roof + A Skill + A Market, the Association la Voûte Nubienne is addressing this problem with a traditional, very low-carbon building technique known as Nubian Vault. The organization supports the training of local builders, in order to create a sustainable and autonomous Nubian Vault market.


Key facts:

  • New homes cost up to 60% less than cement block/corrugated sheet buildings and the market average annual growth rate is about 30% since the start of the programme.
  • The houses require no wood in their construction (saving 4 trees per house), and avoid the transport of imported materials (cement, steel, corrugated sheet).
  • Masons trained have built more than 2,400 houses in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal with plans to scale up and replicate in other countries.

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ImageThe problem

In semi-arid regions of Africa, bush timber has been used for roofing and for load-bearing supports. However, deforestation and increasing population growth mean that traditional building techniques are no longer feasible. In sub-Saharan Africa, the struggle to obtain decent housing plunges millions of families into a vicious circle of poverty.

The solution

The Nubian Vault technique is an age-old method of timberless vault construction. It uses only earth bricks and earth mortar. The program has simplified and standardized the technique, adapting it to climatic conditions and traditional know-how of the Sahel region, making it easy to learn on-the-job. The bricks are made from locally available earth and water, dried in the sun. The homes can last for 50 years or more if properly maintained.

The program is building resilience to the effects of deforestation and warming temperatures. Not only do the homes eliminate the need for wood, they are also well-insulated and provide relief from high temperatures.

The program is creating an autonomous and growing Nubian Vault market, resulting in more sustainable housing in the Sahel Region. The market is the best way to disseminate the Nubian Vault from a village to a zone, to a region, and to a country.


Helping the planet

The Nubian Vault technique is ecologically sustainable – it does not use corrugated iron roofing sheets, which are expensive and difficult to recycle, or timber beams, rafters, or supports. None of the building materials need to be manufactured or transported long distances, nor do any trees need to be cut down. As a result, the Nubian Vault buildings are carbon neutral.

As a result of Nubian Vault construction in the Sahel, 2,200 trees and 3,200 tons of CO2-equivalent have been saved.

ImageHelping people

The Earth Roofs in the Sahel Program helps families acquire comfortable, better-insulated, sturdy, sustainable and affordable housing, while improving their economic conditions, their quality of life, and their environment at the same time.

The standardized construction process uses renewable and locally available materials and is easy to teach to local entrepreneurs, further developing a sustainable local economy. Nubian Vault construction creates businesses and jobs, reduces poverty and allows scarce resources to go to improved nutrition, health, education and capital for improved economic productivity.

More than 12,000 people use, live in, or sleep in Nubian Vault buildings and more than 1.2 million Euros of local economic impacts have been generated.

Spillover effect

In 2015, the program will be extended to Benin and Ghana. Pilot projects and exploration phases are underway in several African countries.

Over the next 15 years, the objective is to promote national self-sustaining markets in Nubian Vault housing by multiplying local, regional, and national initiatives by creating new regional centers and teams in the countries where the Association la Voûte Nubienne is active and by setting up franchise arrangements and partnerships with other non-governmental organizations and development organizations.

Click the infographic below to see a larger version.


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