12One of the greatest challenges of helping kids in developing countries is providing cheap and durable shelter. Providing children with a secure place to live is crucial to advancing development.

The problem is that building houses – using traditional methods – is a very expensive and time consuming task. It requires skilled labour, purpose built tools and a lot of expensive building materials.

Around the world, people are challenging the norms of housing development by pioneering cheap, recyclable buildings that can be built by unskilled labourers.

Here are a few of the methods used to provide housing in developing countries –

Recycling Plastic

Not only is this one of the most affordable and durable methods for building cheap housing, it is also environmentally friendly. The huge amount of plastic used and discarded by humans is having a massive, detrimental impact on the planet. Eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped in the ocean each year, which is equivalent to five small bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the world. When you consider this, and the fact that plastic can take up to 400 years to decompose, you start to realise the extent of the problem.

With that in mind, the benefits of recycling plastic and using it for housing are obvious, even plastic used in rotary washing lines. Instead of using plastic for ‘one-use’ items like water bottles, its amazing flexibility and longevity as a material can be used to provide excellent shelter in developing countries. Startups like EcoDom melt down plastics, mold it into large plastic panels and using those panels as walls and roofs.

Conceptos Plásticos is another company using recycled plastic to build houses in Columbia. The company built temporary shelters in Guapi for victims of armed conflict. The company completed the project in just 28 days, and they only employ 15 people. While the shelters aren’t permanent, they are created out of locally-sourced, environmentally-friendly materials.

Cut My Plastic recommends the use of plastics for windows, roofs and even floors. The material is easy to clean, water resistant, heat resistant and incredibly durable.

Earthbag Building

This isn’t a new, revolutionary method, but it is tried and tested. Earthbags have long been used by the military to form protective barriers and as flood protection. Now this old method is being used around the world as a cheap way of building houses and other shelters.

It’s also one of the simplest methods available. Essentially it works by filling up bags with gravel or soil and placing them on top of each other. Then you use something like barbed-wire in between bags to keep them in place, being careful not to snag the earthbags. You also have to dig appropriate foundations, depending on the size of the structure. This method also answers another one of the biggest issues in developing countries – the surplus on unskilled labourers without work.

Hyper Wattle

Another earthbag based building method, the hyper wattle design was the winner in a cheap house building competition. Contestants had to build a durable and sustainable house for less than $300. The hyper wattle method is extremely strong, which makes it excellent for countries with severe weather conditions. It’s made by stacking wattles (or tubes) filled with either dirt or foam and strengthened with chicken wire or cement mortar.


Bamboo has been used to build shelters for a very long time. It is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet and is extremely strong and lightweight. Because of this, it is an excellent building material. Bamboo houses don’t need deep foundations because they don’t weigh that much, and they are resistant to earthquakes because they can move back and forth. Like all building methods used for developing countries, they can be built using basic tools and by unskilled people.

Lego Style Brick Housing

In March this year, Elon Musk announced that his company – The Boring Company – is bringing out a new Lego style brick that can be used to build a house in a few days. Built using strong materials like tunneling rock, the bricks aren’t yet available. Elon Musk said on Twitter “the boring bricks are interlocking with a precise surface finish, so two people could build the outer walls of a small house in a day or so.”

Clay Brick Alternatives

A company called Durabric has created an earth-based, environmentally friendly alternative to clay bricks. They are used in much the same way as clay bricks, but have a significantly smaller carbon footprint and are cheaper to products. Made out of compressed earth, the Durabric is strong, durable and weatherproof. It is currently being used effectively in Malawi – where the Durabric is produced – and the company has plans to use the building method in other developing countries.