We arrive at the Mamre community hall on a bright morning and slightly late greet a number of residents who have come out to tell us about the retrofitting of insulated ceilings in the area. The work in Mamre is one of the first steps for the City of Cape Town in addressing the needs of over 40,000 RDP households without such protection against the cold and wet winters of the Western Cape.
Mamre is part of the Cape Town municipality but only just. Situated on its northern boundary the place feels sheltered from the frantic pace of the Mother City. In its recent history many of the residents of Mamre have suffered from conditions of poverty including a lack of basic housing and access to services. By 1997 the waiting list for the housing of over 500 families began to to be addressed and over the proceeding years many homes were built.
The building of these homes was welcomed by the community, situated within the Southern Cape Condensation Problem Area and thus prone to conditions of damp and cold, wind and rain. These climatic conditions have been recognised as particularly challenging for low income households. In fact the Western Cape region has received extra subsidy from Government since 2003 for RDP house building to ensure that ceilings are built into any new development to provide extra protection against the climate. The problem for households in Mamre was that this subsidy was activated after the construction of their homes. This meant that the households, alongside thousands of others across Cape Town, were experiencing health problems such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, colds and flu and the financial burden of trying to keep their home warm as one resident explains, “electricity is big problem in the community as its very expensive”.
The City of Cape Town has over the last couple of years begun to consider this challenge of retrofitting the RDP houses with insulated ceilings. Mamre was chosen as one of the first areas to receive a retrofit and thus to act as a pilot study in how successful this relatively cheap technology intervention is in tackling health, livelihood and energy issues in low income households. The work on around 240 homes took place over 2010 and was funded by international donors as the City is unable to use its money on what are now private homes.
Those households that have received a ceiling insulation agree over the course of the morning in the community hall that this has been a positive intervention for Mamre. The main impact of the insulated ceiling is to keep the house warm as a resident explains, “its much better now not so cold in the house”. This has had a dramatic effect on the health of families in the area as one mother explains, “A lot of changes have taken place since the ceiling installation. Children don’t get sick now, the dampness that used to be in the house was bad, it gave them colds now the cold has disappeared”. As we are about to leave a lady, who has a ceiling insulation, approaches and suggests, “They must do this for everyone in Cape Town, in all the RDP houses”. The question that the City of Cape Town is grappling with is how to achieve this goal and how it sits alongside other priorities such as providing basic shelter and services for other vulnerable families.
Thanks to the Mamre community, ICLEI Africa and City of Cape Town.
The research into the impact of the ceiling intervention is ongoing and will be published on this blog when complete.