Socio-economics of using poles for constructing houses in the Congo Basin
Increasingly, poor people in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by three dimensions of poverty, these being hunger, thirst and living without a decent shelter. This study focused on the latter dimension of poverty and examined the use of housing materials in villages surrounding the Lobeke National Park (LNP) in the Eastern Region of Cameroon. In total 1980 houses were surveyed, of which 1343, 602, 19, 14 and 2 were built with planks, saplings and poles, tree bark and thatch, respectively. The houses were roofed with thatch (1715), aluminum sheets (225) or leaves (40). Variations were observed among ethnic groups regarding their preferences for housing materials. Further analysis concentrated on houses built with poles harvested from indigenous forests. There were six categories of houses built with varying quantities of poles and thatch. Villagers used between 370 000 and 614 000 poles (58-97 times more than the number of trees cut for timber in 2006) to build houses in 14 villages surrounding the LNP. This is particularly destructive because such houses are short-lived, requiring a repetitive harvesting of poles for renovations every 5-15 years. With the removal of poles by adjoining villagers, the structure of indigenous forests and composition can be seriously changed, thus, compromising the possibility of supply future forest goods and services. Therefore, following a rapidly increasing population, there is an urgent need to empower local communities to improve their housing habits by promoting building materials alternative to poles harvested from indigenous forests.
Keywords: Deforestation; Forest conservation; Housing materials; Poverty; Pygmies