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A floating school proposed for Nigeria water slum

Thursday - 9/27/2012, 12:34pm  ET

By JON GAMBRELL
Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - In the waterfront slum of Makoko in Nigeria's largest city where shacks stand above the murky, fetid water on stilts of cast-aside lumber, an architect thinks the neighborhood should float.

Kunle Adeyemi hopes to build a three-story school out of 16 floating platforms lashed together, capable of holding 100 students and teachers in the iconic slum. He said the project, if successful, could be replicated into homes for the more than 100,000 people who live in the slum, clearly visible to traffic speeding past on city's Third Mainland Bridge each day.

However, Adeyemi's project comes as the Lagos state government already razed homes in the slum, putting residents on edge that officials may still try to destroy the entire neighborhood where families have lived for decades.

"If the people don't live here, they'll live somewhere else," Adeyemi said Thursday. "What we're only trying to do is offer them a better solution."

The project involves building the platforms out of locally sourced wood and empty plastic drums, then using wooded beams to build a structure that would have a common area for children to play on as its base, with two floors for classrooms above it. The building would also include bathroom facilities, something lacking in a slum where most relieve themselves by hovering over the water.

The school project, which has received notice from international groups, will cost about $6,250 to complete in the slum, Adeyemi said. While that's not an incredible sum of money, that's far more than the worth of any of the small, single-room homes raised on stilts above the water of the Lagos Lagoon. Those living in Makoko subsist largely as fishermen and workers in nearby saw mills, cutting up water-logged timber that's floated into the city daily. Some work jobs outside of the slum as gate guards and in other industries, though most live almost entirely within its watery boundaries.

The people of Makoko have created their own life independent from the state, with its own schools and clinics, however ill-equipped. But recently, the state government destroyed homes and left about 3,000 people homeless. The government later stopped the demolitions, but many here remain worried they will come back.

Projects like the school, as well as improving the homes already on the water, would make the area less of an eyesore and would rid it of the constant smell of smoke and decay. Adeyemi, who works both in Lagos and Amsterdam, said he's spoken with government officials who seem largely supportive of his project, which also could help the neighborhood survive no matter what environmental challenges come in the future.

"Particularly in view of climate change, there's a need to adapt buildings," the architect said. "We decided to use this as a prototype for developing something whether the water level rises or goes down, the building responds to that."

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)