The award was made by The United Nations Climate Change Conference on the Paris agreement held in Marrakesh in November 2016.
The focus of the conference was to promote clean energy through solar solutions to reduce carbon emissions to protect the planet.
The message of the conference was “together we build a better future”. As founder of the Spiti Projects Charity I’ve been working for the last twenty eight years with people who live in the Spiti Valley, a remote area high in the Himalayas, situated in India on the border with Tibet. For the 12,000 people who make a living from subsistence farming, life is hard and physically challenging at an altitude of 12,000ft, but they are warm hearted with a strong sense of spirituality. We are delighted to have received this award.
When the local people, Tibetan by culture, asked us to build a Community Centre for their meetings and cultural activities we decided to make use of the traditional mud brick method which had been practised in this area for thousands of years, to make use of its thermal qualities and take advantage of the abundance of solar energy in the valley to heat the building and reduce consumption of combustible fuel and CO2 emissions.
Living above the tree line, trucks of firewood would be brought in by the government each winter. Apart from the exorbitant cost to families, I was horrified to see forests being destroyed in the lower valleys and felt that an alternative must be found. And so, when we approached the Auroville Earth Institute with the building we had in mind, Satprem Maini, UNESCO Chair for South Asia, with his team developed an architectural plan for the Kaza Eco-Community Centre. This innovative structure was developed to our specifications, built with Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks, in combination with rammed earth blocks. The foundations were re-enforced with steel as protection against earthquakes in this 4.5 Richter scale zone.
Located in the rain shadow of the Greater Himalayas, adjacent to Tibet on the eastern border and Ladakh on the north, the valley of Spiti is one of the least populated regions in India. The mountainous desert climate and geographical complexity of this region combine into a barren landscape with virtually no uncultivated trees. Having been isolated for over 32 years until 1992, the local culture was introverted with highly collective social patterns. The remoteness of the valley and abject scarcity of resources have been the dominant factors driving innovation towards seeking new ideas for resource management.
This is best exemplified by Spiti’s material and energy efficient building practices.
Kaza is situated along the bank of the Spiti River at an altitude of 3,600m above sea level and as the capital of the valley is an important trading post with a modest market drawing vendors and tourists throughout the summer. The warmth and kindness of the local people along with the draw of the mountains have contributed to making Spiti an ever more popular tourist destination
The people of Spiti are proud of this magnificent modern looking, Eco-Community Centre, which is fast becoming their new meeting place and the focus of life in Kaza. The inhabitants of Spiti are beginning to use this thermal technology for building their new homes, already saving on fuel bills and CO2 carbon emissions.