Aid Projects

Strawbale building manual for Kandal Village project Iraq

Counterpart International proposes to initiate the resettlement of 52 families of internally displaced persons (IDPs), currently residing in temporary shelters in the village of Kandal Yarmija in Makhmur District, Erbil Governorate, Iraq. The project, IDP Return and Resettlement in Makhmur, will be accomplished through a three-pronged approach, one, the training of IDP laborers in the building of straw-bale housing structures and also on earth works that serves as water reservoir (small dams), two, the subsequent construction of straw-bale housing for IDP residents in this village; and three, provide basic training and techniques for income generation and community gardening.

The project cost is 172,233$ in UNHCR support, however Counterpart International will pursue additional funds in order to continue and expand these activities, which promote sustainable, cost- and energy efficient housing for internally displaced persons in Iraq IDP Return and Resettlement in Makhmur will be implemented over an 8-week period, from July 17 – September 17, 2003. Based on the needs assessments conducted by Counterpart International Iraq in the village of Kandal Yarmija, discussions held with local government officials of the Makhmur District, and consultations with UNHCR, and experts in energy efficient housing design, Counterpart International has determined that there is an urgent need to provide permanent housing and a sustainable community services for internally displaced persons

in Makhmur, in a manner that is cost efficient, energy efficient, sustainable, utilizes local resources, and is easy and quick to construct and establish.

Counterpart International has developed a comprehensive, three-phase strategy for the design, implementation, and evaluation of a high impact, emergency resettlement project, which will immediately respond to the housing needs of 34 families in Kandal Yarmija. This project will begin a process of local capacity building by addressing immediate needs for shelter and fostering community-led recovery as it promotes effective Iraqi implementation of straw-bale housing initiatives. Counterpart will provide full access to water, waste management and electricity and will incorporate all the elements and materials necessary into the housing design. IDP Return and Resettlement in Makhmur is fully in support of UNHCR’s objectives to provide internally displaced persons with meaningful protection and a lasting solution to their plight.

Counterpart International will innovatively address three priority objectives is the design of the houses: one, to provide education and training for 52 IDP families in the village of Kandal Yarmija in the benefits of straw-bale housing versus traditional concrete “cinderblock housing” including cost efficiency (through local availability of construction materials and the use of community laborers), energy efficiency, aesthetic value, and ease of construction; two, rehabilitate and construct the communal water system for water distribution to the houses; and three, train the community and provide

it with income generation activities and principles. Counterpart through this project will initially donate animals and seeds to plant. Animals will have three main benefits; food, feathers, liquid manure. The plants will have four sustainable functions: food, aesthetics, soil stability and noise reduction from highway. Counterpart will ensure a safe water and sanitation system in put in place. The project will build each house a septic tank for toilets. The community will be provided and trained on natural biological system for managing their gray water (bathroom and kitchen waters). Several houses may stream their gray water through reed beds (a system where by plants and shrubs filter the gray water and the secondary treated quality water can be used in the irrigation of orchards or flower gardens and such).

The activities will be undertaken in full coordination with UNHCR, the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development (including the local government of Makhmur District), and the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority (OCPA) and CMOC in Iraq.

Problem Analysis

The village of Kandal Yarmija is located in the sub-district of Kandenawa, Makhmur District, Erbil Governorate. According to a report by the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development (MORAD), the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein began applying a policy of “Arabization” in the Makhmur District in the late 1960’s, forcibly displacing thousands of Kurdish families from their homes, many of whom fled to the City of Erbil. Since the collapse of the Hussein regime in April 2003, approximately 313 families have returned to their original homes in the Makhmur district, and many other former residents have indicated their willingness to return .The village of Kandal Yarmija, located 5 km. from the City of Makhmur, suffered a series of forced “Arabization” programs in 1963, 1975, and 1985, resulting in the nearly complete displacement of 85 Kurdish families. Based on research conducted by MORAD, approximately 45 families have returned to the village; this figure consists of 34 families who have permanently resettled in the area and 41 families who do not have shelter, leaving squatters’ camps every evening for the City of Makhmur and retuning the next day. The village encompasses approximately 110,000 donems (or 27,500 hectares) of agricultural land, and relies on the harvest of wheat and barley for the livelihood of its inhabitants .

Internally displaced persons in the Makhmur District and throughout northern Iraq are confronting a variety of challenges including: a lack of available employment, scarcity of natural resources such as land and water, and insufficient (or non-existent) water and sanitation systems. In addition to the threats to IDPs’ physical welfare and income, these groups must also confront a variety of challenges to the well being of the family and larger community. Displacement often results in a severe disruption of the community’s social network, and consequently, a negative impact on traditional, community-oriented coping mechanisms. In particular, current overcrowding in public buildings

and abandoned military posts (as a temporary means of shelter) is forcing entire families to eat, sleep, and conduct all domestic activities in one small room resulting in an increased rate of social (lack of privacy/intimacy) and health(infectious diseases) problems.

Project Objectives

1. Sustainable rehabilitation and development of Kandal village in Makhmur.

2. Demonstrate a mini Permaculture site at the village.

3. Train the community on strawbale housing method other than cinder blocks and mud bricks.

4. Train the community on water catchments methods in the landscape

5. Establish a communal water distribution system

6. Establish a waste water management system by using reed beds.

7. Individuals from 52 families are trained on strawbale housing skills.

8. Train the community on production of organic food which leads to income generation and community garden management.


1. Personnel (Consultant on Strawbale construction, Project Manger, Engineer, Field Monitor)

2. Provision of livelihood elements such as animals and plants for environmental protection, income generation and community stabilization

3. Materials and Equipment for completion and maintenance of site infrastructure including Waste San.

4. Materials for training programs and onsite income generation activities

5. Transportation.

6. The IDP Laborers who will build the houses themselves at no cost.

7. Electrical Technician, Blacksmith and Plumber.


By the end of the project:

1. Kandal village is rehabilitated in line with a mini Permaculture design plan.

2. At least 30 people provided with training in basic concepts of Permaculture.

3. The local community trained on strawbale housing to build for future family expansion.

4. Basic income generation concepts and practices taught and practiced

5. Basic water catchment pools and wells constructed and village communal water system established.

6. The waste management system established and fully functional for the village residents.

7. Basic livelihood stock provided (plants and animals) to 52 families

Project Beneficiaries

The project aims to benefit:

1. All residents of Kandal village (52 families) through safe shelters, knowledge and skills acquired during the training.

2. All staff and laborers involved.

3. Low-income families who are able to take advantage of the project activities and outlets.

4. The IDP men and women trained on strawbale housing and water catchments strategies and income generation activities.

5. Site visitors who are expected to pass through (Government officials, Donors, NGOs..etc) the site over the life of the project or those potential partners who are interested in further investing in the community. These would include local, national and international.

Strawbale Building Techniques and Permaculture Design Systems Used at Kandal Village

The basic concept of the house design chosen takes advantage of the most readily available, affordable materials and culturally acceptable to the local culture. This consisted of a concrete floor, load bearing steel poles, steel beams connecting the bearing steel poles, straw bales, timber pole supports in the roof, mud render, cement plaster, gypsum plaster. This technique is called in-fill or non-load bearing bale, for it depends on a pole or post and beam building design. Post and beam construction employs a skeleton of vertical posts and horizontal beams to support the roof. The straw bale walls have only themselves to support. The bales are attached to each other by piercing the bales with rebar or bamboo and attaching the bales to the poles or columns.

First Step: after designing the site, we start leveling the area for each house.

Second Step: digging the foundation holes for steel poles that bear the weight of the roof in all corners and the middle of the house

Third Step: concreting the foundation and erecting the steel poles propped in a vertical position and concreted in.

Fourth Step: the houses plumbing pipes can be positioned before concreting the floor, and positioning reinforcing bars that protrude vertically out of the concrete 75cm. at 80cm. spacing directly under where the straw bale walls will be built.

Fifth Step: Welding the steel I-beams on the top of each steel pole, making a strong box frame work to support the roof.

Sixth Step: Door frames need to be positioned and anchored on to the concrete floor.

Seventh Step: the impaling of the first course of straw bales on to the steel bars

Notice: smaller size straw bales are made using large steel needles made from steel reinforcing bars and are used to pierce the straw bale and stitch the appropriate sized bales, which has the effect of retaining the compaction of the straw bale.

Eighth Step: laying the straw bales in a brick wall type pattern criss-crossing way like giant blocks, and stiffening the bales with 1 meter steel bars, as the walls get higher.

Ninth Step: Window frames are positioned usually at (30cm) variations of height, as this is the height of the average straw bale. The window frames are tied in to the surrounding straw bales with a wire.

Tenth Step: before starting the process of rendering the electrical wiring for the house can be positioned and pinned onto the straw bale walls using small steel U-shaped pins, the straw bale walls should be hosed with water until they soaked to a depth of 50mm. which allows the mud render to key into the straw. The base coat of render is a mixture of three buckets of soil (30% to 50% clay content), with two buckets of sharp sand, one bucket of straw and one bucket of water adjusted to become a sticky consistency. This mixture is smeared on to the wet straw bale wall, making sure that has good penetration. If the mixture doesn’t stick easily on to the wall, then the soil content needs to be increased and sand content decreased, but if the mixture cracks badly upon drying, the sand and straw content needs to be increased.

Eleventh Step: When the first layer render is completely dry, and you are satisfied with the result, the wall can be hosed with water again. The next process of rendering consists of sieving the soil and replacing the straw with chaff, which adjusted to make a sticky mixture then you start rending the wall and this coat can be applied with a metal trowel for a smoother finish.

Twelfth Step: when the mud and chaff render is dry chicken wire is pinned to the surface of the wall both inside and outside using U-shaped pegs made up with thin steel bar.

Thirteenth Step: a cement render is made up using 3 sand 1 cement and ½ a lime and 1 water this mix is plastered onto the outside walls and the inside of the bathroom and along the bottom of all the internal walls just 25cm up from the floor using a metal trowel. The walls are allowed to dry then hosed with water and a second coat applied where needed this is then allowed to dry. Once dry the walls should be hosed with water twice a day to slow the final drying process to reduce the possibility of cracking.

Fourteenth Step: a mix of gypsum and water is made up to a plaster consistency and using a metal trowel is plastered onto the inside walls.

Fifteenth Step: the roof can be constructed at and stage after the Fifth Step and can be constructed in numerous ways. At Kandal Village we used wooden round poles as roof rafters over which steel mesh as used in re-enforcing concrete floors was placed then date palm matting and on top of this 50mm. of soil was placed and on top of this a steel re-enforced concrete slab was poured. This forms a earth sandwich with water proof concrete seal with a 2% slope to run off rain water.

Sixteenth Step: interior and exterior of the house can be painted in the colours that may be desired by the owners and the bathroom walls and the 25cm. of cement rendered bottom section of all the interior walls can be tiled if desired.

Seventeenth Step: the doors internal and external can be fitted also the glass windows can be fitted.

Eighteenth Step: the house is now ready for the plumbing fittings to be finished, the electricity connected and the final fittings put in place.

The Main Water Supply: the village water supply is from a bore well drilled on a hill to a depth of approximately 120m.and pumped up to the large concrete water tank under construction in the photo below. From this tank the water is gravity fed to 1000 liter metal water tanks in the photo above, these 1000 liter metal tanks are positioned on top of each house allowing for direct gravity fall into the bathrooms, kitchens and toilets.

The area allocated for building was decided by the local village community, which the area is approximately 2 hectares. The site boundaries were surveyed and 52 houses and a community centre were positioned in such a way as to take maximum benefits of the solar aspect to the South and East, in addition to the shading of the hot afternoon sun in the summer from the west.

The position of the houses allows for a multi functional road design allowing for the run off of rain water to productive garden systems, leaving 3 areas of approximately 0.5 hectare each for intensive food production, in the most appropriate position for this purpose and directing nutrient flows by gravity from bio-logical cleaning systems. All grey water from the kitchens and bathrooms has been design to be directed to 5 strategically placed bio-logical reed bed cleaning systems 3 soaking to 1 main garden 2 soaking to 2 smaller garden systems. The cleaned out fall water is directed to contour soakage swales planted to fruit trees and below these mixed crop gardens with contour footpaths which can be flooded to soak the growing beds.

The main garden sited on the north side of the village has 3 reed beds and the road run off catchments directed into the main swale. There is also a duck and goose fenced pond constructed up hill from the main growing area on the east side, this enables the garden to fertilize with liquid manure by a gravity fall system.

The main water harvesting swales should be initially seeded to a legume cover crop and cover with a thin mulch of straw to force germination with minimum moisture requirement. Then fast growing legume trees planted on the up hill side these serve the system by initial shelter from wind and by shade greatly reducing evaporation. These trees also fix nitrogen to the soil while greatly enhancing the surrounding soil structure particularly down slope. They also produce large amounts of nitrogen rich mulch which can be cut and placed as mulch around the fruit trees, this greatly reduces soil moisture evaporation and as decomposition takes place contribute to the fertilizing of the fruit trees also increasing soil organic matter, improving soil structure. The legume trees should be prune for mulch at the end of summer just prior to the autumn rains as temperatures drop and evaporation has decreased and the system generally benefits from increased light. After cutting these trees quickly re-sprout new twig growth and by the beginning of the next summer when temperatures rise again and evaporation of soil moisture is a major problem they are performing their function of shade and wind protection. This process can be repeated year after year as the system establishes, eventually after a few years the wood from the larger prunings can be used for firewood for cooking or heating.

To assist sustainable agricultural production a large rock gabion was built across the wadi bordering the village, this will slow up the large assurances of rainfall runoff events that happen 2 or 3 times each winter. This water is normally carrying large quantities of soils in the form of sands, silts and rocks, when slowed all this material settles out above the rock gabion wall forming a large area of deep wet soil. The moisture in this silt field is retain well into the early summer months allowing for crops to planted with out the need for irrigation and production extended well into summer. The residual moisture surrounding the large volume of accumulated damp soil can be usefully utilized by the planting of a mixed food forest of diverse fruit trees and mixed fruit trees for support of the fruit trees with initial shade, wind breaking, nitrogen fixation and structuring of the soil also in the longer term as mulch producers and eventually fire wood producers.

There is potential on this site to generate income by using the site as a demonstration site education center for sustainable developments and in the process improve the facilities and infrastructure already in position. The community center can be used as a classroom for 2 week permaculture design certificate courses with students accommodated with the local people in some of the strawbale houses. They can be fed as much as possible from the gardens and orchards installed creating a direct outlet for village produce at the same time stimulating the need to extend the diverse organic growing systems.

Research into the energy auditing of the difference in the efficiency between the straw bale and non straw bale houses on the site could be performed by students. Establishment of composting toilet examples, solar hot water, solar electricity, solar food driers, solar glass house attachments and methane digesters are all possible and useful to the local environment for energy and water saving.

The designing of extended water harvesting earthworks to take in the larger community land could all be part of this process.

The end result of this development would be the production of teachers and designers of sustainable developments that extend these systems to other communities.

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