Reconstruction of Houses and Toilets

A mud-bonded housed in Archale destroyed by the 2015 earthquake

Before the earthquake, only two of the 96 houses in Dhungentar were constructed with permanent materials. The rest were built with traditional non-durable construction materials and mud as a binding material. The absence of bands in the sill, lintel, and gable and the lack of proper bonding in the load-bearing wall lent poor structural integrity to the houses. Consequently, all houses except one were fully damaged by the earthquake. 

ICIMOD’s pilot demonstration project in Dhungentar promoted the adoption of interlocking compressed stabilised soil blocks (CSSBs) for the construction of disaster-resilient houses and toilets in Dhungentar. Interlocking CSSBs are composed of a mixture of soil and sand compressed using a manual or motorized press machine and further stabilised with cement. This technology was approved by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), Government of Nepal (GoN), in March 2017.

The need for reconstruction aid in Dhungentar is highlighted by the fact that the highest annual income is NPR 300,000/household. Accordingly, with technical support from Innovative Design Concern (INDECO), the project provided the following support modality:

  • Construction labour and materials equivalent to NPR 200,000 to houses using CSSB and RCC technologies, in addition to the NPR 300,000 grant distributed by the NRA in three tranches 
  • For each household adopting the CSSB technology: distribution of 2,200 locally produced CSSBs and support in construction labour and materials equivalent to NPR 35,000 (including 300 CSSBs) for toilet construction

However, this technology was not imposed upon the beneficiaries. While aid was provided for 54 houses using the CSSB technology, 36 houses used the reinforced cement concrete (RCC) technology, which is more prevalent throughout Nepal. 

Hear from the people 

"My sewing machine was damaged during the earthquake. I got by the past few years tying a stick to prop it up, but last month the wheel stopped working. I need to take it to its hospital! I can’t really afford its repair. I didn’t have anything to build my life after the earthquake. People around me started rebuilding, but I just felt hopeless. The people from the project kept telling me to build my house. But I didn’t feel I could do anything. They persisted. After I recently received compensation for my old, damaged house that was demolished for road expansion, I used it to buy new land. Then I requested the project to help build a new home. It will be good to have a new roof over my head. But I don’t know what I’ll do about my machine. I’m hoping something turns up."
- Hari Pariyar, Archale

(Left–right) A traditional house, an RCC house under construction, and a CSSB house in Karamfedi

Beneficiaries eschewing the CSSB technology were not entitled to CSSBs or aid for toilet construction. A separate agreement was arranged with such beneficiaries for the disbursement of support from the project.

Due to exceptional circumstances, three households were given dispensation and were fully funded by the project. Ram Bahadur Sunar in Mathillo Dhand (given his wife’s mental health disability), Nani Maya Sunar in Archale (given her status as a cancer patient), and Til Kumari Sunar (on account of her being a widow living alone) were given this special consideration.

Created with Highcharts 6.2.0Technology used in house reconstructionOther Technologies: 4Other Technologies: 4RCC: 36RCC: 36Interlocking CSSB: 54Interlocking CSSB: 54Interlocking CSSBInterlocking CSSB: 57.4%

- For the reconstruction of houses, the project supported only 90 of 96 households registered as beneficiaries of the project. This is because three house owners decided to reconstruct houses outside the project area and the remaining used other technologies for reconstruction (hollow-block and wall-system). These households have been supported through other livelihood-building activities. 

- All houses received NPR 200,000 in the form of construction labour and materials, but only houses reconstructed using the CSSB technology received CSSBs and aid for toilet construction. 
- A total of 54 dry, squat toilets (1.82 m × 1.37 m) were constructed using CSSBs. 

Why Interlocking CSSBs?

A completed CSSB house in Dhand 

The interlocking CSSB technology was developed by Habitech Center—a research and development centre at AIT Solutions, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand—and has been applied to post-disaster reconstruction in countries across the world, such as Thailand, Myanmar, and Pakistan. This technology ensures earthquake resilience through the use of horizontal and vertical reinforcement (rebar, cement, horizontal bands) in strategic points, creating an interlocked structure. For more details on the block production process, please check the Livelihoods and Enterprise Development section.

Given the Dhungentar community’s vulnerability to disasters and low economic status, interlocking CSSBs are particularly suited for reconstruction in the settlement. These blocks are cost-effective as they utilise locally available soil. Further, CSSBs do not require highly skilled labour for production or construction. This capacity for local production generates employment opportunities and opens up the possibility of establishing a local enterprise. 

Compared with RCC, interlocking CSSBs present some advantages that are particularly suited to Dhungentar’s needs and capacities. 

  • Cost-effective
    The interlocking nature of CSSBs allows for dry stacked, mortar-less construction, which reduces the need for skilled labour and shortens construction time. These reductions lower the cost of labour by as much as 80% (Anand & Ramamurthy, 2005). This technology also allows for the use of local soil in production and can be produced and constructed by unskilled labourers after simple training, thereby reducing costs and generating local employment. Given the low economic status of the Dhungentar community, a low-cost housing solution is imperative. 
  • Greater stability
    Walls constructed with interlocking CSSBs adjust progressively without damage or cracking during earthquakes as they are not bonded with cement. With traditional mortar, the bricks come under strong tension during tremors and eventually crack (Pillai, 2001).
  • Energy-efficient
    Compressed earth blocks require anywhere from 1/5 to 1/15 of the energy for production when compared to fired bricks and concrete masonry units (Maini, 2010), which means considerably lower CO2 emission. Moreover, damaged blocks have been used for the construction of the 367 m Dhand–Archale trail. 
  • Cultural preservation
    Without compromising on disaster resilience, CSSB houses (in comparison to RCC houses) better reflect the vernacular architecture of traditional Dhungentar houses, thereby preserving the community’s identity.

Hear from the people

“We weren’t prepared for the earthquake. The project built my house. I couldn’t put much money into it. I didn’t help in the construction either because I was working as a mason in Battar. I get better pay there. We agreed to rebuild our house using the blocks offered by the project because we couldn’t afford an RCC house and we don’t have enough land. But the blocks seem to be solid, even though they were produced right here in the village. They use a lot of rods, so the house must be strong. The construction work is complete, but I don’t have money right now to add the doors and windows. Wood is expensive! And Dashain is coming. Even if I work on the doors and windows myself, I’ll only be able to get them when I get the third grant instalment.”

- Bharat Sunar, Archale

Despite the apparent advantages over RCC, only around 59% of the reconstructed houses in Dhungentar adopted the interlocking CSSBs. A total of 34 households persisted with the latter for the reconstruction of their houses, even forgoing the CSSBs distributed for house and toilet construction. In consideration of the needs and aspirations of beneficiaries, houses constructed with the RCC technology were also supported by the project in the form of construction materials and labour equivalent to NPR 200,000. 

The prevalence of the RCC technology in Nepal and the perception of safety associated with it were major factors for the construction of RCC houses. Despite creating awareness on the benefits of the CSSB technology, there was also a degree of distrust in the adoption of a new technology. In addition, beneficiaries with greater spending capacity preferred more freedom in determining the size and design of their house. 

According to household size, land availability, and investment capacity, beneficiaries opting for CSSB houses could select their preferred house design from seven architectural drawings: Type 1 (217 Sq. ft.), Type 2 (279 sq. ft.), Type 3, 3A, 3B (409.78 sq. ft.), 3 extra (494 sq. ft.) and Type 4 (284 sq. ft.).

Since these fixed designs are single-storey houses with two to four rooms, beneficiaries also preferred RCC because it allowed for the possibility of future expansion. 


A destroyed house in Archale with Dhand in the background 
A house damaged by the earthquake in the process of being dismantled in Dhand
Locally produced CSSB blocks 
Construction of a CSSB structure in Dhand 
A Type 1 CSSB house in Archale 
A Type 2 CSSB house in Mathillo Dhand 
A Type 3 CSSB house in Karamfedi
A Type 3A CSSB house in Ratamate 
A Type 3B CSSB house in Ratamate 
A Type 3 extra CSSB house in Karamfedi 
A Type 4 CSSB house in Archale 
A destroyed traditional toilet (left) and a CSSB toilet in construction (right)
A completed CSSB toilet in Mathillo Dhand
An RCC house in construction in Dhand
A completed RCC house in Mathillo Dhand