Initiated in the wake of the 1999 super-cyclone, this project provides technical support and expertise in the use of alternative, cost-effective, disaster-resistant building technologies. Over 3,500 families have been able to construct safer homes at a lower cost. The training programme has helped over 3,650 masons organise into groups, enabling them to develop successful small businesses and increase their monthly income by over 45 per cent.


Project Description

Aims and Objectives

  • Promote local building materials and technologies.
  • Develop self supporting systems and institutions for sustainable livelihoods.
  • Build the capacity of local institutions and communities with a view to developing disaster-proof habitat.
  • Actively promote learning platforms at micro and macro levels.

Project context

Located on the east coast of India, the state of Orissa is prone to many natural disasters; cyclones and floods in the east of the state and droughts in the west. The super-cyclone in 1999 affected 450 km of the coast, 51,000 villages and 37 million people, with many millions made homeless.

Orissa is one of India’s poorest provinces with 47 per cent of its population living below the poverty line. Housing is of very poor quality. The Indian Census of 2001 found that 68 per cent of houses in the region were in a ‘barely liveable condition’ with mud floors and grass thatch roofs. There is high level of unemployment with many farmers no longer able to work the land, which was damaged in the floods of 2001. Many of the local masons are unskilled and have little or no knowledge of good construction practices and although government grants have been provided to assist the poorest households rebuild their homes, they are insufficient to build even a one-roomed brick and concrete dwelling in the rural areas using conventional materials.

Key Features

Employing 19 architects, engineers and planners, the Orissa Development Technocrats’ Forum (ODTF) was legally established as a not-for-profit organisation in 2004. Its origins can be traced back to the team of 30 United Nations Volunteers that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) brought together after the super-cyclone in Orissa in 1999. The team has worked to promote alternative cost-effective and disaster resistant housing technologies and to build the capacity for habitat development in the cyclone affected areas.

The Promotion of Appropriate Housing Technologies and Opportunities for Suatainable Livelihoods in Orissa is an institutional capacity building and training project, designed to encourage the use of appropriate building materials and design.

Over 3,650 masons have completed the ODTF alternative construction-technologies training programme. Trained in small groups of not more than 25, the participants have included over 500 female construction labourers. A series of training courses for building professionals has been completed by over 152 construction workers, local panchayat (village council) leaders and government engineers. This ensures that knowledge is transferred through ODTF’s work with students, visiting architects and engineers.

Seventy-two demonstration units have been built to help people understand the new construction technologies, which include rat-trap bond walling, reinforced brick masonry walling, brick arches/lintels and filler-slab roofing. Direct construction projects have also built 50 nursery school centres. These projects provide the opportunity to further demonstrate the building technologies, train masons and provide opportunities for employment.

A major strength of the project is the organisation of the trained masons into Artisan Self-Help Groups (ASHGs) within which their capacity to develop successful small businesses has been increased. Typically, each group consists of between 12 and 15 workers, trained in a variety of trades who provide a ‘one-stop shop’ allowing four or five villages to access building services.

There has been a consistent growth in average monthly income of ASHG members in Orissa from US$31 in 2003 to US$46 in 2005. As well as increased income, the range of activities carried out has increased to include credit services and the provision of building materials amongst others. The ASHGs have established group savings schemes and are able to obtain loans from local and national banks to start micro-enterprises. Informal insurance systems have been developed as masons face the daily threat of accidents.

The project provides technical support and expertise enabling families to construct their homes using their own funds – either savings, loans, or through the Rural Housing Reconstruction Grant fund from the Government. Of the 3,500 house builds supported by ODTF, 85 per cent have been undertaken by those in receipt of the government grant. ODTF addresses the need for technical training, guidance and support and works pro-actively to share information and network with all stakeholders, from grassroots villages to national and international forums. This has led to the effective transfer of information and knowledge from grassroots to the policy makers and vice versa.

The appropriate technologies advocated and shared by ODTF use local materials and have reduced the cost of housing by between 20 and 25 per cent.  Housing has been made more affordable, encouraging families to save and invest in their housing, one room at a time. Families are encouraged to design their houses to suit their needs with technical guidance and support from ODTF. It has been recognised that higher levels of involvement and participation in design and construction ensure that household needs are better met and that there is a greater sense of ownership, both of the house and the process.

Covering costs

The initial funding to set up the project was provided by the UN development Programme (UNDP) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC).  A further US$ 520,000 has been drawn together from a number of partners including the Ministry of Home Affairs, SDC, Architecture & Development, Habitat Forum, Care Today, Plan international, Sanjeevani, Vikalpa and Development Alternatives, UNDP, World Food Programme and UNICEF, as well as various state government authorities.

The initial funding has begun to taper off and ODTF are generating revenue on a not-for-profit basis through technical services provided for design, construction, training, and research and documentation work.


The ODTF project has raised expectations and aspirations to construct and inhabit good quality, disaster resistant housing at an affordable price. The project has had an impact, not only on the residents of the houses and the trained local masons, but also on policy changes at a local, state and national level. Discussion with the government and the presentation of detailed cost estimates has seen an increase in the Rural Housing Reconstruction Grant from US$ 494 to US$ 561 per house (and up to US$ 651 in hilly and disaster prone areas).

ODTF’s expertise in disaster-resistant construction has led to a number of opportunities to contribute to regional and national programmes. Emergency Operation Centres developed by ODTF in partnership with the government are to be built in the 339 most hazard-prone districts in 17 provinces across the country. ODTF will also provide guidance on safe shelter design and management strategies and has developed training schemes for the Government of India and the UNDP Disaster Risk Management Programme.

ODTF has developed Housing Technical Reconstruction Guidelines in the Tsunami affected areas of Tamil Nadu in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu government and the UN Team for Recovery Support in Tamil Nadu (UNTRS).

Indicators of the success of the project include:

  • 3,509 houses built using appropriate technologies facilitated.
  • 3,663 masons trained.
  • 25 Master Trainer Masons trained.
  • 152 Artisan Self-Help Groups (ASHG) formed.
  • Increase in monthly incomes of ASHG members from US$ 31 in 2003 to US$ 46 in 2005.
  • Spread of the movement within the province and beyond.
  • Production of documents and publications – technical guidelines and manuals for building professional and administrators.
  • Partnerships and networks established in the field and within national and international knowledge management networks.


Why is it innovative?

  • Convincing people that a good quality house can be built with the government rebuilding grant, and giving communities the technical and budgetary knowledge to do it.
  • Creation of Artisans Self-Help Groups (ASHGs), where local independent artisans are encouraged and supported to work together in groups of 12-15 people to provide a one-stop construction shop.
  • The construction sector has been formalised through the Artisan Self-Help Groups and the supporting federation system (Artisan Federations) which can lobby at national level.
  • Large-scale training provision for masons in rural areas has worked to ensure that they know how to build with the new technologies.
  • A learning platform has been created with participation from academic institutions and leading forums. Brochures and leaflets in local languages and English have been prepared and circulated as part of an on-going process to ensure a far wider propagation of the approach and technologies.


What is the environmental impact?

ODTF’s training and approach applies a number of appropriate building technologies increasing the positive environmental impact of the project:

  • The use of rap-trap bricklaying reduces the number of burnt mud bricks used by almost one third.
  • Filler-slab roofing saves substantial amounts of steel and cement.
  • The use of brick arches (the vernacular style of architecture) eliminates the use of reinforced concrete.
  • Local stone is used wherever possible.
  • Bricks are produced in an environmentally friendly process using a Vertical Shaft Brick Kin, which consumes less coal and generates fewer emissions.
  • The house construction process requires the use of fewer building materials.


Is it financially sustainable?

The project helps families to construct their homes using their own funds – either savings, loans, or through the Rural Housing Reconstruction Grant fund from the national Government. The application of ODTF’s appropriate technologies has made housing more affordable, reducing the cost of each home by up to one quarter. The technologies promoted and facilitated use local materials and are cost-optimised without losing structural strength.

The availability of technical support and the reduction in cost encourages families to save and invest in housing, even if only one room at a time. People’s direct investment in their own housing using ODTF’s appropriate disaster-resistant technologies is approximately US$4.7 million.

There has been a consistent growth in average monthly income of ASHG members in Orissa from US$31 in 2003 to US$46 in 2005, which is an increase of 48 per cent. As well as greater income, the range of activities carried out by the groups has diversified, increasing the range of income generation opportunities and establishing greater financial stability.

The initial funding support from SDC and UNDP is being gradually reduced and alternative sources of income are being generated to meet costs. OTDF is now moving towards becoming a social enterprise, earning income but on a not-for-profit basis. Income is earned by providing technical services for design and construction, training and research and documentation work. To date this only provides six per cent of its income, and is an area that ODTF is working hard to expand.


What is the social impact?

One of the main aims of the project is to bridge the gap between the untrained, informal construction artisans and the formally-trained architects and engineers. Large-scale training programmes have trained significant numbers of masons and other construction workers and helped to improve the quality of service available to local communities. Over 3650 masons have been trained, as well as 25 master trainers who are able to facilitate the training process. By providing mason training to women, their status in society and income earning potential have been increased.

The institution building process empowers construction artisans through organising them into groups and building their capacities, both technically and managerially. This has led to opportunities for successful enterprises and increased income. Local, regional and national federations give construction workers a greater voice.

OTDF has worked with communities to build local capacity and improve housing conditions. Families who formerly could only afford to live in mud and thatch housing can now build at least a one-roomed house from brick and concrete. This provides a refuge in the event of a disaster as well as providing a healthier living environment.

In partnership with UNICEF, ODTF has designed and prepared models of child-friendly toilets. Located in youth centres and schools these facilities encourage the children to develop the habit of using toilets, contributing to a healthier living environment for the future.


  • The Schedule of Rates formulated by the Public Works Department of the State of Orissa is based on the use of conventional technologies and leaves little scope to accommodate innovative appropriate technologies. This constitutes a major bottleneck for the adoption of the technologies on a large scale. A change in the legislation is needed, and although efforts are being made, it is time consuming.
  • The initial salary costs were met by UNDP, but these payments are to be reduced and replaced by what the project generates. To date this has not been possible. However, as the movement is expanding and becoming better known it is expected that this problem will be reduced.
  • The remote location of the villages with poor, or no communication, periodic disasters, traditional society with many festivals etc. are impediments to more rapid progress.
  • Lack of available building materials, institutional finance, aspirations and confidence, too many masons with low skill levels and low literacy rates were the major problems which the project faced and which are now gradually being overcome.

Lessons Learned

  • A comprehensive, holistic approach building on people’s latent skills and capacity brings success in developing social and economic linkages.
  • Construction artisans are integral to housing provision but very often lack the skills for construction of a masonry house and so there is an urgent need for guidance. When carried out this has been very rewarding and those trained see it as a lifetime opportunity.
  • Whilst mindsets have changed in favour of owning a substantial brick and mortar house, the financial capacity to afford to do so through loans has not.
  • The greater the involvement and participation of the households, from design to completion, the more functional the house will be and there will be a greater sense of ownership both of the house and the process as a whole.



The project has been very closely monitored by the UNDP. SDC has periodically visited the different districts in which the project is operating. Internal monthly review meetings are held with all of SDC`s Rural Housing Programme partners, who use the RAGA (Review, Assessment, Goal-setting and Action Plan) approach. Orissa Government officials have also made regular field visits to learn from and review the project.



The project has successfully transferred many of its programmes and technologies throughout Orissa and India:

  • The work of ODTF has spread to 16 different districts within Orissa, and the movement is gaining momentum.  Advice has also been provided to other states.
  • The construction of Emergency Operation Centres has been carried out using ODTF technologies in the 339 most multi hazard-prone districts across 17 regions of the country.
  • Integrated site, village and participatory construction plans have been provided for post-tsunami reconstruction work.
  • The construction techniques have been used in post-tsunami reconstruction in Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar islands in partnership with the Indian government.
  • Training and capacity building programmes have begun in 17 districts of India outside the state of Orissa.
  • The appropriate disaster-resistant building technologies have been included in Architecture and Civil Engineering course curricula at provincial and national levels.
  • ODTF is a member of the governing council of Habitat Forum and has an input into national housing policy.



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