Local Solutions: Floating Schools in Bangladesh

© Joseph A Ferris III

In Bangladesh, where rising sea levels are having profound effects on the landscape, one nonprofit organization called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha run by architect Mohammed Rezwan is fighting back by adapting, a true quality of resilience.  Rising water levels and the tumultuous climate is displacing people by the thousands; a projected 20% of Bangladesh is expected to be covered in water within twenty years.  For a country that is one of the densest populated state on the planet, this figure has disastrous consequences for a population that has limited access to fresh water, food, and medicine.  In response to these conditions, Shidhulai has focused on providing education, training and care against the odds of climate change by adapting to the altered landscape:  moving schools and community centers onto the water – on boats.

© IFRC

Resilience has many approaches.  In recent months, New York City has been battling with the consequences of building along the waterfront and questioning the approach necessary to protect itself against future incidents.  Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, these concerns have been the reality for many years.  Venice is frequently flooded but its main form of transportation is by gondola along its narrow canals flanked by century-old buildings and occasional walkways.  Amsterdam faces the constant threat of being overpowered by the three bodies of water that surround it.  But Amsterdam has embraced its position and has designed preventative measures to keep the water at bay.  It’s architecture has even been so bold as to build out onto the water.

The video below introduces Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha‘s goals and solutions.

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What Rezwan’s organization has chosen to do is to confront the question of how to continue to occupy an environment that is consistently inconsistent.  There are two factors to contend with: the dry land that is under assault by rising water levels and the persistence of risen water lines.  Without abandoning these parts of the country, Shidhulai has created a supplement to the lost amenities on land, both physically and socially.  Rezwan stresses the need for local communities to develop local solutions.  The values, culture, traditions, priorities and landscape are unique to each place and require a sympathetic approach in times of crisis.  For one thing, the culture and history of Bangladesh is heavily centered around water transportation.  The same element that threatens it, once helped build it.  So to understand that bond and those inherited skills is very important.

He also stresses the need for self-reliance and education.  Combining these two concerns produced Shidhulai’s current solution:  schools and community centers on a familiar and traditional tool – the boat, occupying the water where it has devoured the land.  The boats are specifically designed by Rezwan to be safe and secure during the monsoon season and to protect the equipment on board which includes a laptop that can be connected to the internet, a small library, batteries and solar lamps.  Children attend school six days a week through fourth grade.  In the meantime, adults can attend training sessions that cover different topics from farming to handling personal finances.  In exchange for their children’s attendance, families receive solar-powered lamps.  Such a small gesture has a large impact:  families can continue their personal activities after sunset, their children can read and work on assignments while their parents can continue their work, providing a steadier supply of income.

In addition to creating these services, Rezwan is dedicated to improve self-reliance by teaching new farming techniques and giving access to those methods.  In a system he calls “solar water farming”, the idea is to harness solar power and create an adaptable farm that can be sustained on the surface of the water.  The system includes floating beds of water hyacinth on which to grow vegetables, an enclosure composed of a fishing net and bamboo in which to raise fish, and a floating duck coop.   The system is self sustaining in that each part can be recycled to provide nutrients for another part of the system.  Duck manure feeds the fish, the floating beds can be sold as organic fertilizer, and the solar energy provides heat to maintain egg production.

© DFID – UK Department for International Development

Shidhulai’s approach is very catered to the lifestyle of Bangladesh.  While this nonprofit considers their options for dealing with rising sea levels and sporadic flooding, an architecture firm in The Netherlands offers a different kind of solution.  Waterstudio has worked for several years in the realm of developing .  One of its recent project, Floating City Apps, has won an award award from the Jacques Rougerie Foundation, whose funds can provide a prototype for Bangladesh.

Floating City Apps, which you can read about here, is a concept developed to provide much needed assistance to slums that are frequently destroyed during times of flooding.  The structures proposed by Waterstudio are floating units that contain a variety of programs that be deployed as necessary.  These include communities gardens, sewage treatment systems, housing units, clinics, community centers, schools, and the list can go on.  These “apps” are envisioned as emergency relief structures only and are flexible enough to maintain a steady amount of support as a community recuperates.

Both approaches provide vital and much needed solutions for areas under these kinds of threats, but it is a constant question between adapting to the threat or escaping from it and that seems to be the kind of debate that will ultimately result from the nature of our changing climate.

via Fastco Design by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan and Architizer by Molly Cotter

Images courtesy of Flickr Users:   DFID – UK Department for International DevelopmentunculturedSumaiya AhmedEU Humanitarian Aid and Civil ProtectionIFRC , Joseph A Ferris III. Licensed via Creative Commons

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "Local Solutions: Floating Schools in Bangladesh" 25 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=307128>

3 comments

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    I am an architect from Colombia. I recently finished my master studies final project on floating villages as a solution for flooding disasters in Northern Colombia. The idea is to propose a social engagement project that can be developed by local communities and use traditional vernacular tools for new spatial needs. Here is a link to the project book:
    I am happy to receive any feedback,
    Cheers
    Camilo
    http://issuu.com/camilopealez83/docs/sample00-low

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