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Housing is the building block of society. It is the place where people come to feel safe and secure. Yet, in many parts of the world, this basic need remains unmet for millions of families living in poverty. The global housing crisis has been exacerbated by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes like Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and wars such as Syria’s ongoing conflict. But there are solutions – here are experiments that show how we can improve impoverished housing conditions:

“The Shack” house

As Africa’s population swells, millions of poor families are migrating to cities that often lack affordable housing. The shack is the affordable housing solution for people whose income is barely above USD 1 per day, but there are now nearly 2 million shacks here in Khayelitsha township alone. Inside one of them is Dudu Masooana. She lives with her three children in a tiny brick structure – 400 square feet without running water or electricity. For the past eight years, she’s lived on the outskirts of Cape Town with little access to clean water and electricity. Her children share two beds pushed together with dirty blankets thrown over them – the only ones she owns. There is no space for a table and chairs, and nearly every surface is covered with something.

Prefabricated homes

Prefabricated homes are at the forefront of building affordable housing for all manner of communities around the world, including areas affected by natural disasters, conflict, or high rates of homelessness. For example, at least one million people were left homeless after China’s Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Many people were forced to live in tents because no buildings had been left standing. But now prefab homes are being used as temporary shelters until more permanent damaged buildings can be repaired or reconstructed.

Solar-powered shelters

Solar panels, like these inside a UNICEF-built school in Haiti, provide renewable energy and lighting. Solar-powered shelters are another great example of affordable housing made possible by clean sources of energy; otherwise, large families might find themselves without electricity for cooking and heating water. For the past 20 years, the Nepali community has been sending its young men to work as servants in industrialized countries. When they returned home with their salaries, they often found that there was no place to invest their earnings or start small businesses; their income was simply too little to build even basic homes. Many ended up sleeping on dirt floors with only plastic tarpaulins around them – if they had one at all. now members of this same community are working with local organizations to build affordable, environmentally sustainable housing by using solar-powered water heaters and cookstoves. The houses are also designed to be earthquake resistant, a big concern in a region where quakes can be deadly.