Driving innovation in construction at UNICEF
UNICEF is using innovative construction strategies to address some of the world’s most complex humanitarian and development issues.
Innovation is an important part of UNICEF’s mission to realize the rights of every child, especially the most excluded. UNICEF is a powerful force for social transformation and can help address a range of humanitarian challenges, including water and sanitation, health, education and child protection.
UNICEF construction professionals and innovation teams join forces to develop country-specific solutions to humanitarian and development problems across its programmes.
Reimagining education systems in Cameroon using digital learning tools
Many construction innovations developed by UNICEF are focused on modernizing or scaling infrastructure for education.
‘Connect My School’, for example, was launched to provide access to digital learning opportunities and reinforce quality education for children in Cameroon. The initiative supports Cameroon’s national mandate to provide sustainable connections to digital learning tools and opportunities with the goal of reducing the digital divide.
The e-container digital hub design developed by UNICEF Cameroon’s Connect My School initiative inserts recycled shipping containers into existing school campus locations. Each utilizes three equipped and isolated 20-foot containers.
Keeping with UNICEF’s principle of reducing emissions associated with construction, these e-container hubs utilize on-site renewable energy through solar panels, energy-efficient air circulation, recycled tires as concrete forms, and rehabilitated wooden pallets and cable reels as furniture. Panels made of recycled pallets cover the glass wool insulation in the walls and roof. Most of the materials are sourced locally.
The innovative construction solution provides digital learning environments and tools for 20,000 school children and their teachers, including those in rural environments where access to the internet is low. The availability of digital tools, such as tablets, enables students to connect to a wider web of opportunities and equip them with the skills they need to succeed in a digital world.
Under its Reimagine Education initiative, UNICEF aims to connect 3.5 billion children to digital learning by 2030. The construction of digital learning facilities and related infrastructure plays an integral part in achieving this ambitious target.
Residential solutions to create safe living environments in Mongolia
UNICEF’s construction innovations take many forms and support its programmes for children, including direct support for family housing.
In Mongolia’s extremely harsh winters, coal-fired stoves are used for heating in traditional Mongolian dwellings known locally as gers. Consequently, air pollution in Mongolia is caused mainly by coal burning to heat homes. This pollution poses a significant threat to the health of children in Mongolia.
To solve these challenges, UNICEF implemented the Cooking, Heating, and Insulation Product (CHIP) package for the ger households. The CHIP package replaces the coal-fired stove and chimney with a fuel-efficient electric heater, air filtration system, and extra layers of windproof and waterproof insulation around and under the ger. It was designed to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality in traditional homes as well as contribute to the reduction of outdoor air pollution.
The CHIP package illustrates how UNICEF innovates to tailor its construction projects to the specific needs of a country and culture.
Ms. Handarmaa, whose ger was updated with the CHIP package, noted, “With CHIP, there is no need to make a fire for heating or cooking. We have put away our stove. We no longer need to buy coal which means no more dust in the ger. I’m grateful that my younger son is now growing up in a better environment.”
Innovative construction materials address multiple community needs
UNICEF’s innovation initiatives often take system-based approaches to devise solutions to development or humanitarian challenges. For construction, this frequently means the use of innovative materials.
Côte d’Ivoire faces a severe and mounting waste management issue. The province of Abidjan produces 288 tons of plastic waste daily, 90 per cent of which pollutes vulnerable communities. Improper waste management is linked to malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia and other diseases that are leading causes of preventable child deaths.
At the same time, across the country, 43 per cent of children living in poor households are out of school. In many cases, there are not enough classrooms, and available classrooms are overcrowded at double or triple capacity.
UNICEF works with Conceptos Plasticos, a Colombian social enterprise, to set up a brick production factory which used as its material supplier a women-led recycling initiative. This project converts the region’s plastic waste problem into plastic bricks for construction.
The bricks are made of plastic waste, which is converted into Lego-like bricks that are easy to assemble and used to build much-needed classrooms. The plastic brick is standardized, reducing the construction time significantly compared to the time required when using traditional building methods.
Bangladesh: local construction materials to support the COVID-19 response
During the COVID-19 pandemic response, the conditions at the Kutupalong refugee camp represented a considerable challenge to health care workers who were seeking ways to rapidly scale up isolation and treatment services. Located in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Kutupalong is the world’s largest refugee camp, inhabited by Rohingya refugees who brought with them accounts of the unspeakable violence and brutality that had forced them to flee from Myanmar.
UNICEF devised an innovative, local solution to quickly build an isolation and treatment centre for the Rohingya people impacted by COVID-19. UNICEF used locally available bamboo to construct a new severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) isolation and treatment centre.
Bamboo is a cost-effective, sustainable material and presents an alternative to tents which would have to be ordered from outside the country and may have faced delivery delays given prevailing global logistics challenges during the pandemic.
UNICEF construction: essential role in the success of our product innovations
For health systems in many low- and middle-income countries, the COVID-19 pandemic turned an existing oxygen gap into a crisis. UNICEF’s Oxygen Plant-in-a-Box is an innovative emergency solution that produces enough medical-grade oxygen to treat up to 50 patients with COVID-19 or severe pneumonia in 100 children – per day.
Although the Oxygen Plant-in-a-Box is designed to be operational within days of arriving at a health facility, many centres do not have the infrastructure to accommodate the plant safely. UNICEF’s construction professionals serve as expert advisors to its programme and product teams to determine site preparedness. If a health facility is deemed not ready to receive the plants, UNICEF’s country office and construction teams take action to modify the site or build new infrastructure so the plants can be safely installed.
This action may take the form of supporting country government construction institutions to ready the site or it may entail hiring of private sector engineering and construction firms to modify, renovate or build a site suitable to install this life-saving innovation.
As of 8 November, over 110 of these innovations have been procured for 34 countries, with 20 delivered and 5 already set up. An estimated 15 additional plants will be installed in 2022 and the remaining 75 in 2023.
Innovation is one of nine change strategies in the UNICEF Strategic Plan 2022-2025 and is used to accelerate progress towards UNICEF’s mission and the Sustainable Development Goals.
At UNICEF, production innovation and construction teams work together to deliver sustainable, inclusive results in both evolving development contexts and in humanitarian response. UNICEF also partners with academia and private sector institutions to find solutions that reach the world’s most vulnerable children and communities.