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 A social enterprise supporting families in Rwanda and Uganda to replace their dirt floor with solid earthen floors has been named a Finalist in this year’s World Habitat Awards.

EarthEnable is a US-based organisation, founded by a group of students from Stanford University. In 2014 they set up EarthEnable Rwanda to improve the health of low-income families by replacing dirt floors with affordable earthen floors.

More than a billion people worldwide live on dirt floors, including three out of every four Rwandans. Dirt floors are known to harbour parasites and bacteria which can cause serious conditions, including diarrhoea, parasitic infections, respiratory illness, anaemia, immunodeficiency and malnutrition. Young children are particularly at risk but alternatives, such as concrete floors, are often too expensive.

These floors are laid by trained masons and have a durable, waterproof surface which can be washed to remove dirt and dust. In addition to improved health, earthen floors offer socio-economic benefits as fewer work and school days are missed through illness, increasing household income and educational outcomes for children.

Earthen floors have so far been installed in more than 2,300 homes in Rwanda and around 100 in neighbouring Uganda. At around USD$3 per square metre, the floors are more affordable than concrete and also more environmentally friendly.

EarthEnable hopes to encourage a competitive market that builds on its work and uses profits from the enterprise to fund expansion into new countries so more people can experience the life-changing benefits of an earthen floor.

Eugenie Mukaneza, a farmer and mother of three children living in Eastern Rwanda, said: “Before, we had a dirt floor and our clothes were full of dust. But now my house is clean. Children at school used to laugh at my children because their school uniforms were covered with dust. Sometimes, my children would miss school because they were afraid to be laughed at. After having an EarthEnable floor, my children do not miss school anymore. They go to school clean and other children do not laugh at them anymore.”

David Ireland, Director of World Habitat, said: “These floors have made a remarkable difference to families on low incomes, both financially and environmentally.”

The World Habitat Awards Advisory Group said: “EarthEnable have taken the issue of dirt floors and done something life-changing. Living on a dirt floor affects everything – the indoors become outdoors, it is very difficult to keep your home and your family clean. This is very significant in tackling the health issues of children. As an organisation they are constantly trying to innovate in an effort to reach families of differing incomes, and they are constantly adapting and evolving the model to improve.”

Each year the World Habitat Awards are presented to ten of the most outstanding and innovative housing projects from across the world. In 2018 over 200 projects and programmes entered the Awards.

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