War, persecution, and other violations of human rights in 2021 drove 89.3 million people from their homes. The climate catastrophe might increase that number to almost one billion by 2050.
But where will those individuals stay as they wait for a secure and long-term home in the immediate aftermath of an invasion or extreme weather event? A Bangladeshi scientist and an Austin-based bioplastics business have joined forces to create a plant-based plastic that may be used to build sturdy, respectable housing for refugees.
In an interview with EcoWatch, Alex Blum, CEO of Applied Bioplastics, stated, “I want to be the transitional housing of choice globally.”
From Dhaka to Austin
The houses are constructed with plant-based construction materials known as Justin in Bangladesh and BTTR Board worldwide. Jutin is made from the plant jute, which has been produced in the nation since ancient times but only became a significant export from the subcontinent in the 1790s.
Sadly, the development of petrochemical substitutes for jute-woven burlap bags eliminated the demand for jute, which was bad news for the environment, the world, and especially for India and Bangladesh, according to Blum.
Although it is still grown in Bangladesh, the top exporter of jute in the world in 2020, it is no longer the nation’s primary source of revenue. Yet around 25 years ago, Dr. Former nuclear physicist and award-winning researcher Mubarak Ahmed Khan of Bangladesh came up with an additional application for it. Why not use fiber as a material for making temporary shelters?
The plan was put into effect as a result of a discussion between Khan and Blum in 2017. At the time, Blum, a technology salesman for the previous ten years, had closed his quota within the first two months of the year and received a $500,000 commission check that he intended to donate to a charitable organization.
A college acquaintance of mine called me and reported that two million people had crossed the border into Bangladesh, his country of origin and that it appeared that they needed assistance.
To explore what he could accomplish, the friend extended an invitation for Blum to stay with him and his family in Bangladesh.
So, Blum continued, I boarded a plane, traveled to Bangladesh, and entered into what I later knew to be the genocide against the Rohingya.
According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Rohingya are an ethnic minority of Muslims who reside in what is now Myanmar. According to BBC News, they are among, if not the most discriminated against people in the world.
They started to mass-exit Bangladesh over the border in August 2017 as a result of a military conflict that the UN described as an example of ethnic cleansing in the textbooks. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) describes the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh as home to more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees, making it the largest refugee camp in the world.
Blum decided to film a documentary on the problem after realizing that $500,000 wouldn’t be much help in the face of such a significant displacement, which is how he met Khan.
He is one of those oddball inventor types who has all these brilliant, insane ideas but has never been able to make any money off of them, according to Blum.
Khan sold Blum the idea, and to help bring it to fruition, Applied Bioplastics in Bangladesh engaged him as it’s head scientist.
According to Khan, who provided a statement to EcoWatch, “Our composite combines the empowerment of rural agricultural communities and the ancient industries of Bangladesh to produce a unique answer to modern issues, at scale.” Bangladesh would gain financially from my invention while thousands of people will have better living conditions. I am beyond honored to be a senior member of the Applied Bioplastics team that is putting my concept into action.
Now tell us how Applied Bioplastics transforms jute into a house. Jute is first woven into burlap. Finally, it is treated with a special chemical mixture that Blum claims is non-toxic and food safe before being put on top of a tin foundation coated in a Mylar sheet. The board is then coated with a thermoset resin and put in a mold that is supported by bricks.
According to Blum, the entire process takes around 45 minutes, after which you must wait an hour before you can remove the material from the mold and create a wall.
Although you can complete the procedure by hand and it is intended to be low-tech, you can expedite it by using a heat press. For a house that is 14 square meters (about 151 square feet) in size and 2.6 meters (around 8.5 feet) in height, labor, and materials would cost about $1,000. And the result is unquestionably an improvement over the tarpaulin shacks that the majority of Rohingya refugees presently residing in Cox’s Bazar do.
Refugees claimed that the tarp failed to deter thieves and insects, easily caught fire, and was susceptible to storms in excerpts from a UNHCR, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), and Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh report shared by Applied Bioplastics.
One refugee claimed that during the rain, water can readily enter the water through these tarpaulins. If there is wind, the tarp moves.
Applied Bioplastics has teamed up with icddr, b, and the Catholic charity Caritas to develop a trial initiative with six BTTR Board houses accommodating six families starting in January 2022. The UNHCR and icddr,b have thus far given positive reports.
According to Blum, they experience better health outcomes and greater dignity. People are happier and have a stronger sense of belonging.
The shelters, in contrast to the leaking tarpaulin, even endured a typhoon without any part of the building blowing away or hurting occupants.
The novel structures immediately captured EcoWatch’s attention, according to Dr. Farjana Jahan, an assistant scientist for enteric and respiratory illnesses in the Infectious Diseases Division.
We discovered that this material can be quickly assembled and fixed using locally accessible tools, which satisfied the impression of both the icddr,b, and shelter specialists. With only a little instruction, the masons were able to build the shelters, according to Jahan.
Housing the Future
The families are still invited to use the residences even if the pilot’s initial phase is over.
Due to the success of the pilot initiative, many humanitarian agencies, including the UN, might decide to buy more houses, according to Blum.
He intends to eventually license the procedure to governments for between $1 and $10 per residence.
Blum Declared, “I Don’t Want to Profit Off of Other People’s Pain.”
Regrettably, it seems likely that there will be more pain in the future. There is proof that violence against the Rohingya was carried out in part to make room for an oil pipeline connecting the Persian Gulf with Africa and China. The port city of Sittwe, where the pipeline starts in Myanmar, is home to many Rohingya.
Even before the 2017 migration, human rights activist and Save the Rohingya founder Jamila Hanant told Oil Change International in 2013 that there was a clear connection between the development of the oil industry and the eradication of the Rohingya.
Sittwe, which is being developed as a deep sea port to receive oil tankers from the Middle East, is being purged of the Rohingya. Due to the new pipeline, there have been numerous economic activities around the port of Sittwe.
Read More: Government Sends $2.4 Million to Nevada for Cloud Seeding.
Yet, the use of fossil fuels is displacing people globally in a different way as a result of the climate catastrophe. Since 2008, flooding and extreme storms have driven more than 20 million people from their homes annually. And if global leaders don’t take swift action to reduce fossil fuel emissions this decade, the number of displaced people will only increase.
Blum was amazed by Bangladesh’s willingness to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, even though his neighbors in Texas grumble about border crossings of a much lesser scale. According to a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, flooding in the low-lying nation currently displaces individuals living on river islands, and as many as 30 million people may be evicted from their homes by 2100 if sea levels rise the expected 80 cm (about 31.5 inches).
Jahan Speculated that These Individuals Might Also Reside in Jutin.
According to Jahan, we are testing these homes as a climate-resilient infrastructure in both the Rohingya camp and the host community. Based on the results of our pilot project, we intend to expand these dwellings to other climate-vulnerable areas of Bangladesh.
Read More: According to A Un Report, The Number of City Dwellers Without Access to Clean Drinking Water Will Double by 2050.
While he acknowledged his dissatisfaction that the business had only so far been able to accommodate six families since it debuted over four years ago, Blum is hoping for the licenses that would help grow the BTTR Board to shelter the millions of people displaced by mounting crises throughout the world.
Climate change cannot be cured by a single panacea. He claimed that it would take silver buckshot and that we were a crucial component of the answer, but frequently it appears as though we are merely applying a Band-Aid to these housing displacements.