Cape Town - The City of Cape Town is in the process of securing a 4x4 square metre plot of land to build a prototype shack which would help eliminate damage during floods and fires.

JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, said the plot lies in the heart of BM section, the area of Khayelitsha where a shack fire displaced 3 000 people and where five people died on New Year’s Day.

“Since 2005 the city has done a lot to improve our fire and rescue services, in terms of staff, training and resources. But a fire department does not work to prevent fires. So, if we are to minimise the incidence of fires, we have to start looking at education, emergency preparedness, engineering and enforcement of these,” said Smith.

The Green Shack, developed by design company Touching the Earth Lightly, tackles the engineering aspect of this four-pronged approach.

- It has an easily replicable floor on stilt design, which is designed to raise the shack above the floodplain.

- On sun-facing sides it has vertical “food gardens”, where hanging hessian sacks provide space for edible plants to be grown. This addresses food insecurity, and irrigation to these gardens is intended to work as fire breaks.

- l On non-sun-facing sides sand bags with indigenous plants, are generally planted as natural fire breaks.

- Alternative lighting, a low-cost solar light and a “litre of light” (consisting of a bottle fitted to the roof which refracts sunlight naturally to light up a shack during the day), will provide alternatives to candles and paraffin lamps.

Environmentalist Stephen Lamb from Touching the Earth Lightly said:

“We’re not focusing on longer-term, low-cost housing strategies for the Cape Flats. We are looking at what we can do now, right now. It’s about being simple, logical and low-tech. It’s about working in partnerships with the city and existing NGOs.”

Lamb and Smith presented the Green Shack at a city energy portfolio meeting last week, in an attempt to get more buy-in and external funding opportunities.

Councillor Xanthea Limberg, the city’s chairman of energy and climate change, said she was impressed with the presentation.

“It fits perfectly with our mandate of developing a sustainability plan for the city,” she said.

Yet activist Jared Sacks, who has campaigned on behalf of shack dweller rights, cautioned that the city needs to consult properly with communities - through public meetings - before implementing policy measures that will affect their lives and living circumstances.

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Cape Argus