Tateh Lehbib Breica is a Sahrawi refugee who lives in a camp in a remote area of the Sahara desert in Tindouf, Algeria.
Breica, who has a master's degree in energy efficiency, is building home for other refugees out of plastic bottles filled with sand, according to a video the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) posted recently - watch it following the end of this post.
Breica lives in Awserd refugee camp, one of five camps around Tindouf where Sahrawi refugees have lived for over 40 years. Thousands of Sahrawi people, an indigenous group of the Western Sahara, were displaced to Algeria in 1975 during the Western Sahara War, and many have remained there since, according to a BBC report.
The elements here in the desert are tough to deal with - there are storms, heavy rains, and temperatures that reach as high as 113 degrees. That often results in damage to the refugees' homes, which are either tents or made of adobe mud brick, as UNHCR reports.
Adobe mud brick homes are vulnerable to the heavy rains that periodically sweep in over the Sahara Desert, one storm in late 2015 demolished thousands of them. Frequent sandstorms also fill the houses, and traditional Sahrawi tents, with choking dust, which often leads to temporary evacuations.
Breica had originally planned to build an energy efficient home in the desert, using discarded bottles for a roof garden, but as the roof’s circular form presented construction challenges, he found himself left with numerous bottles that were no longer good for their intended purpose: growing plant seedlings.
“I asked myself ‘What can I do with these?’” said Breica, who was born and raised in Awserd refugee camp, attended university in Algiers under a DAFI scholarship, and later studied for his master’s at a Spanish university.
“Then I remembered a documentary I had seen, during my university studies, on building using plastic bottles, and thought, ‘Why not try that?’”
The 27-year-old's plastic bottle homes make for a more durable structure than adobe when it comes to fighting heavy rains, reports UNHCR. The circular shape also makes them aerodynamic, which helps to withstand storms.
“We spend months building the other fragile dwelling,” Mailaminin Saleh, a refugee who currently lives in one of Breica’s plastic bottle houses, explained to ThinkProgress. Her former house, made of mud brick, was destroyed in floods, after which she had to live in a tent.
“It is stronger and more efficient here,” she said. “I am very happy that I have benefited from this initiative.”
The UNHCR's Senior Field Coordinator in Tindouf, Juliette Murekeyisoni noted, “After the October 2015 heavy rains that damaged and destroyed tens of thousands of adobe houses, UNHCR has been working with the Sahrawis on improving construction techniques, to better withstand the severe weather of this region. We have been supporting the use of bricks fortified by cement, and now we are supporting the use of plastic bottles.”