Medak – Andhra Pradesh: It’s a hot, sultry afternoon and most of Dharmajipet village in Medak district prefers to stay indoors. A few meters from the entrance of the village, a group of six is quietly going about preparing the right mixture for mud bricks. The owner of the brick unit Parashuramulu gives instructions on the quantity of fine sand to be added to the mixture. He wipes the sweat off his brow even as he dusts off the two brick moulds and calls out to his cousin to bring the mixture to the machine that pops out the bricks. He has two large orders to deliver in about a fortnight’s time.
“I’m hoping to get a bigger order by the time I complete this lot,” he says. Parashuramulu is referring to an order he and 10 others are likely to get from the district administration for the Total Sanitation Campaign project in Medak district. Parashuramulu is the owner of one of the 11 production centers that UNICEF & Medak Volunteer Agencies Network (MEDVAN) helped establish in various blocks of the district.
UNICEF identified and provided technical support in setting up compressed earth brick (CEB) production units while MEDVAN provided the necessary training to 11 entrepreneurs some of whom are already trained masons under the UNICEF’s Masons Training Programme for its total sanitation campaign. “The 15-day training they provided helped me gain confidence in setting up this unit. I think once people begin using these bricks, it will become a rage,” says Parashuramulu.
Parashuramulu points towards a room where the CEBs have been stored. The bricks will need to be treated for 14 days with water before they can actually be used for construction.
Although they take some time to produce (the present machine can only produce two bricks at a time) a major advantage with such compressed earth bricks is that they have 40% more compressive strength and do not require any plastering thus bringing down the cost of construction by over 40%. The bonus is that the construction looks aesthetic without having to do any extra embellishing.
Narasimhulu, a beedi worker was so impressed with the look of the brick that when he decided to construct racks in his living room, kitchen and bedrooms, he chose CEBs over country bricks. “They look so elegant! I didn’t have to spend on cement and yet the racks look so beautiful,” he says.
Parashuramulu is also busy attending Mandal level meetings, talking to local Gram Panchayat members and other leaders in the village to inform them about the product. MEDVAN, the district network has plans to promote CEBs through the local cable TV network, sharing information in district and mandal level meetings and bringing people to visit the centre.
The Andhra Pradesh government is keen on fully sanitizing rural areas under its Integrated Novel Development in Rural Areas and Model Municipal Areas (INDIRAMMA) programme. However, scarcity of cost effective construction materials in the rural areas is always a problem.
“Besides training masons, UNICEF hopes to provide solutions by promoting more CEB production centers through young entrepreneurs. We plan to promote onsite production so that transportation costs can be cut and construction costs can be reduced further thereby helping the state realize total sanitation,” says Michel Saint-Lot, State Representative, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
UNICEF has already pioneered the concept of using low-cost construction material to construct toilets under the Total Sanitation Campaign programme (TSC). The cost of each toilet is just about Rs.3,500 (USD 88.60) including all materials. But when CEBs are used to construct toilets, the cost of a toilet will fall further to Rs. 2,200 (USD 55.70)!