DANGER: Your $300 House Could Cost Millions of Lives

Skip to first unread message

Hugo de Toronja

May 6, 2011, 3:17:37 PM5/6/11
to The $300 House
Your aims are admirable.

But it's surprisingly easy for altruistic projects such as yours to
have lethal unintended consequences for the world's most vulnerable

While the dwellings you would replace may seem flimsy and inadequate
to you, they are quite often the result of many centuries of trial-and-
error devoted to building the safest house possible with the least
amount of available materials.

Please consider, for example, what might happen were your award-
winning $300 house to encourage "cooling, healthy" positive airflow.

A mosquito-net curtain across the house's entrance is pointless if the
house's aerodynamics are such that the structure actively sucks in all
the deadly vectors hanging out around the house's entrance.

Please consider how a "built-in solar cooker" might kill more people
than it saves because the nasty, dirty, hazardous smoke and soot of
traditional cooking fires actually serves not only as an insect
repellent, but also overwhelms the human body-odors that vectors
detect and follow when they're hunting for a blood meal.

So as to avoid being responsible for the deaths of innumerable
innocent people, you must take great care to consult at length with
specialists in public health, tropical diseases, sociology,
anthropology, and entomology, when considering every single detail of
your $300 house.

While you may think it's a wonderful idea to place a convenient and
eco-friendly water filter inside every $300 home, please consider that
there are many parts of the world where customs and religious beliefs
are such that a woman's daily visit to a communal well is her *only*
opportunity for social interaction outside the home.

Any change in how, and how often, such women obtain water for their
families can have a significant impact on their emotional and physical

As you race toward creating a clever, affordable house for the world's
poor, please remember the inevitable destination of roads paved with
good intentions.


May 6, 2011, 4:10:57 PM5/6/11
to The $300 House
Hugo - I can assure you that we're not going to throw something up and
keep our fingers crossed.

The shelter we build must be inspected and pass the most stringent
building codes - be earthquake proof, etc. etc.

Thanks for your genuine concern. It is appreciated!


Hugo de Toronja

May 6, 2011, 5:23:47 PM5/6/11
to The $300 House
Christian, I'm not some obsessive worrywart.

Look around a little and you'll find ample documentation of many well-
meaning "aid projects" that have ended in sorrow and disaster.

Building codes are an obvious concern, but they are only *one* concern
among a great many when you're planning on providing permanent shelter
for vulnerable populations.

Often when we seek to good, we tend to believe that the purity of our
intent will somehow magically resolve all difficulties that might
arise as a consequence of our benevolence.

For example.

Shacks made of cardboard and scrap lumber may seem undesirable.

But please consider that even in tropical parts of the world there are
times when it's so chilly that people heat their cardboard and scrap-
lumber shacks with charcoal fires.

An earthquake-proof house with sturdy, insulated walls does a much
better job of containing carbon monoxide than does a shack made of
cardboard and scrap lumber.

Earthquakes, of course, kill people. But so does carbon monoxide
produced by burning charcoal.

Alex Santander

May 6, 2011, 5:59:38 PM5/6/11
to 300h...@googlegroups.com
I believe Hugo is correct.

I have been following the development of this altruistic endeavour.
I know Christian you have invested a lot of time and energy into this; but acting with a Colonialist mentality only worsens conditions of people in desperate situation.
I invite you to stop being so intrinsically obsessed with an object and start designing strategies.
These strategies are in fact intangible but they are flexible and adaptable to local situations that you and I may never comprehend.

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google
Groups "The $300 House" group.
To post to this group, send email to 300h...@googlegroups.com
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to
For more options, visit the group at
Visit our site at http://www.300house.com >>
Visit our blog at http://www.300house.com/blog >>
And tell your friends!

Alex Santander
estudio santander
residential-commercial, planning, design
619 863 7128

Pete Abrams

May 7, 2011, 12:37:12 AM5/7/11
to 300h...@googlegroups.com

an initiative to bring affordable housing to the world’s poorest: a plight facing roughly two billion people.

nobody is forcing anyone to buy this,

It's $300
u try it
u build it
u fail,u try again
and fail many many times
but in the end , if the idea is good (and sometimes ,not)
it will prevail

if it turns out that millions of people are dying because they are not covering their body and lungs with carbon
the market will tell
if it is so that women lack the social interaction from the well
and instead have clean water provided in their home
the market will say
If for a nominal amount of money,one can have a safe,warm dry space.
a place to feel calm,to know where ones place is
 to close a door behind you and lock it
and know that when you return
it will be there

That is HUGE for way way too many people

So i am sorry mr. colonialist mentality
look around
tell me WE can't do better
(worse is still an option,granted)
but i would rather try better

And when i say we
i mean we
we are sitting behind the computer
we are poking through the garbage dumps
we are trying to make the world  a better place

and willing to risk.

Ian Fraser

Jun 6, 2011, 1:09:37 AM6/6/11
to 300h...@googlegroups.com
Hang in Christian,

Listen to well founded criticism or informed advice but press-on -- take
action -- go forward with your project -- and consult widely and often with
the people you are trying to assist.

Many of the solutions being proposed in your project may well start out as
inappropriate, and may not even reach field -trialing. It’s a steep learning
curve for all involved but, only by engaging and learning will we ALL solve
the problems.

I have suggested a few times that we need the $300-HOUSE supported by the
$300-LIFE and the $300-JOB projects. But right now you are addressing the

To be frank I am gob-smacked by some recent comments on here -- is amazing
how first world dwellers see themselves and see third world dwellers.

Do not let PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS overtake your initiative.



Shakila Bhanu

May 7, 2011, 10:56:08 AM5/7/11
to 300h...@googlegroups.com
Healthy criticisms can help the project. They are very welcome and appreciated.

They need to be specific - Whenever there are major milestones, etc -
each one can test ride and come up with their comments - that will
really help the project. If no time, can give suggestions in what
directions this need to be tested.

Quoting other project damages can be a very good lesson - to show us
these kind of pitfalls are there, so be cautious....

That is not a measure to stop the project - ???? how can that be?

Let the project grow - Let us learn - starting with some thing may
transform into a something much better.

Ex - Sam Pitroda's the Telecom project 36 crores 36 months started in
1984- went through its own struggles , but what a telecom revolution
it has created in India ...

I heard Thomas Alva Edison , Kernel Sanderz people like them also
failed too many times ...Whatever transformation it needs to take it
has to take....

Contributions and criticism should direct the project in the
appropriate way. That will help the project grow in a healthier way.

Thank you so much

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages