The iShack: The simple, solar-powered home that could transform life for slum-dwellers
Meet the iShack, a modern take on an age-old design that is bringing new hope – and light – to the slums of South Africa.
Millions of people are unable to afford to move out of slums and shanty towns in sub-Saharan Africa but the development of the iShack is intended to lift their living standards. People living in rickety and makeshift shacks in slum areas can wait for years before they can get connected to the electricity or water grids, and the United Nations estimates that 62 per cent of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa lives in slums. With the iShack, the ‘improved shack’, they get a solid dwelling that is fitted with enough solar panels to keep the lights on at night and provide power for important equipment such as mobile phone chargers.
It is an initiative from researchers at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa which they hope can allieviate poverty across the country and beyond its borders.
Housing backlogs, government budgetary restrictions and a rise in the number of people moving to urban areas means it will be many years before the shacks of slums can be cleared away and replaced with bricks and mortar. Andreas Keller, one of the project leaders, said: ‘Shacks are becoming the new norm.
‘So what can we do today in order to improve the living conditions of people through energy intervention, lighting, cell phones, communication, upping security? That’s where the planning comes in and the technology takes it one step further.’
Each shack iShack costs about £410 ($660) and they have been deliberately designed to be as user-friendly as possible. Windows are placed to maximise air circulation and the sloping roof allows rainwater to be collected. The walls are insulated with recycled materials, a brick floor helps keep temperatures steady and flame-retardant paint is intended to reduce the risk of fires.
Lauren Tavener-Smith, a phd student at the university, said: ‘The materials and design were chosen based on affordability, accessibility and impact on thermal comfort.’
About 100 iShacks are expected to be erected over the next year following a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Nosango Victoria Plaatjie, a domestic worker employed once a week, has received one of the prototypes in Enkanini, a shanty town just outside Stellenbosch which is one of South Africa’s wealthiest areas. It has already made a huge difference to her life, especially with the electricity supply enabling her to keep her phone charged, which has meant she has been able to get more work.
She told CNN: ‘The solar [lights] are better. Now we don’t need to go to sleep early anymore because now we have lights. My daughter must do her homework now, she doesn’t have any more excuses. And I like the light outside because we can see what is going on, I feel safer.’