Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Providing Safe Shelter

Following my earlier entry about the Nepal Earthquake, I ran across a number of great building ideas that should be more widely known and implemented.  Billions of lives all over the world depend on safe places to live that are resistant to earthquake damage, both to prevent injury and to provide continued shelter following an event.  A great article following the Nepal earthquake of 2015 cites two important rules for building these houses:

·         Keep it Simple
·         Keep it Local

Engineer Marcial Blondet of the Catholic University of Peru, in Lima is quoted as saying, “The devastation in Haiti wouldn’t happen in a developed country. Yet it needn't happen anywhere. Cheap solutions exist."  For example, the article includes this wonderful graphic showing simple techniques for using locally-sourced materials to create safe houses (descriptive text quoted from the article as well):

·         Light walls and gables
·         Lightweight structures are subject to smaller forces and are less likely to fall when the ground shakes.
·         Quake-resistant houses are being built in Pak­istan—of straw. The compressed bales are held together by nylon netting and sandwiched between layers of plaster.

·         Light roofs
·         In Haiti heavy concrete roofs collapsed on many homes; in general, metal roofs on wooden trusses are more resilient.
·         Small windows
·         Small, regularly spaced openings create fewer weak spots in walls. But the bigger problem in Haiti was that walls were not properly reinforced.

·         Reinforced walls
·         The reinforcing rods need not be made of metal. Natural materials such as eucalyptus or bamboo work well too.
·         In Peru, the walls of some adobe houses have been retrofitted with a plastic mesh to prevent collapse.

·         Confined masonry
·         In Indonesia and elsewhere, brick walls can be framed and connected to the roof by corner columns and a crown beam of reinforced concrete. In a quake the structure moves as a unit. Tires filled with stones or sand and fastened between floor and foundation can serve as cheap ground-motion absorbers for many types of building.

The article includes another sobering quote by Blondet:In Nepal, Haiti, Peru and elsewhere, risk is more abundant than the money or time needed to shore up dangerous buildings.  There are many millions of houses around the world that will collapse in the next earthquake."

Good Advice

Two experts--Maggie Stephenson, a United National reconstruction expert, and Bijay Krishna Upadhyay, of the National Society for Earthquake Technology in Nepal--offered a number of key points in an article in the New York Times.  They included:

    1. Build to last. It helps improve structural integrity.
    2. Choose the ground (and I would add location) wisely.
    3. Plan ahead, and plan conservatively.
    4. Check the quality of materials.
    5. Anchor the building well.
    6. Tie the building together.
    7. Columns must be secured.
    8. Avoid top-heaviness.
    9. Keep water away from the foundation.

Example: Build-Up Nepal

Buildup Nepal is a Not-for-profit company dedicated to rebuilding after the earthquake and fighting rural poverty. It was founded by a group of organisations, professionals and foreign experts with long experience in engineering, social business, management and rural development.

Build up Nepal works as an implementation partner for organisations that wants to rebuild and develop their villages, but do not have the construction and rebuilding expertise. We also run our own projects in different villages where we have been active from before.


Compressed Stabilized Earth Bricks (CSEB).  Most of the villagers in Nepal dream about living in a house of brick and concrete. But this is very expensive and not feasible in remote villages. With Earth Bricks this dream becomes a possibility. Earth bricks or Mud blocks is a perfect building material for villages in Nepal. It is made from soil, sand and cement and can be produced with a machine that runs without electricity. Compressed Earth Bricks (or soil blocks) is an old technique well suited for seismic sensitive areas. The blocks are made by Soil, Sand and stabilized with 8-10 % of cement.

Building permanent with Bamboo.  Bamboo is a strong and local material that can withstand both earthquakes and heavy weather. The Bamboo is treated to ensure a long life for permanent buildings. A 4″ thick panel is made with bamboo on both sides and plaster of either mud or cement to cover the walls. This creates an insulated panel making the houses very pleasant in both summer and winter. The bamboo panels can be manufactured locally in the village creating local jobs, cheap houses and opportunities for small business.

Reinforced stone with GI wire.  In very remote villages in the Himalayas transporting foreign materials is difficult and expensive. We are working with stone masonry buildings reinforced with galvanized iron wire. This technology makes it possible to reinforce stone building even in very remote locations at a low cost.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Politics of Preparation

Three months ago Japan and Ecuador were hit with earthquakes.  At that time, I started a blog entry thinking it would be worthwhile to compare and contrast the two, in terms of how well prepared they were, how it might have affected damage and loss of life, etc.  But then realized that even in earthquake-savvy Japan, this particular quake caught communities and government in this region of the country off guard. 

About the same time, I ran into a commentary piece by Sanny Ramos Jegillos, a senior adviser on disaster risk reduction at the Bureau of Policy and Programme Support, UNDP in Bangkok. Among other things, he said:

"Some are calling it a "seismic epidemic." A recent series of powerful earthquakes from Japan to Ecuador, Myanmar to Indonesia, have rattled populations across the globe. 

"While each inflicted trauma on local populations, the most devastating in terms of the loss of life was on April 16 in Ecuador, where latest reports put the death toll at more than 400, according to the BBC. But while Ecuador has the highest casualty rate of the recent wave of quakes, the most striking example is Japan, a country that many expect to be better prepared than most for earthquakes.

"The two big earthquakes that hit Kyushu on April 14 and 16 claimed at least 42 lives. The second quake's 7.3-magnitude registered highest in the Japanese intensity scale in this region…. Besides the death toll, many of Kyushu's businesses are shut down. Major corporations took a hit…. For a nation that has grappled with and learned to live with the ever-present threat of earthquakes it seems surprising. It should not be.

"While the rest of Japan has diligently worked to prepare for disasters -- especially since the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) of 2011 -- Kyushu has yet to apply the lessons learned."

The answer, as he put it, was fairly simple but inexcusable:

“Until now, Kyushu had not experienced an earthquake of such high intensity.”  He noted how the 2011 Japan tsunami exceeded every known historical basis for planning and concluded that, “If there was one overarching lesson from 2011, it is that one cannot prepare adequately by basing knowledge on science and history alone. It naturally follows that we must be better prepared and anticipate a quake that might be of far higher intensity than we could possibly expect. It also showed that we cannot wait for disasters to strike, and retroactively prepare a response.”

Meanwhile, In Nepal… 

No amount of aid that followed last year’s major quake seems to be able to both quell the dire and continuing needs of the people for basic shelter and services, nor does it seem to be able to help them prepare for the future.  The logjam seems to be tied to organizational problems in the Government and the country’s dependence on others. 

This piece by Krishna Dharel, who was interviewed by an Australian TV news program, paints a fairly dismal picture of the current situation.  In his interview, he says:

"It was widely expected that the reconstruction process will gain momentum after the promulgation of the constitution but this was not to be. Our country faced another disaster as an ethnic minority residing in the country’s southern plains bordering India expressed reservations on some of the contents of statute and resorted to the worst form of protests, including an inhumane blockade of border points with India. As Nepal is a land-locked country with no access to sea, the unofficial blockade backed by India crippled the whole economy, leading to scarcities of essentials including fuel. This blockade persisted from late September to December last year, further affecting the resettlement and rehabilitation of earthquake victims….

"The government did precious little for the resettlement of the earthquake victims in general. At the outset, the government could not immediately appoint the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), tasked with channeling the donor-pledged fund of around $US4 billion on account of the differences among the political parties over who would lead this plum post. The CEO of NRA was appointed on December 26, eight months after the earthquake battered our country. Indeed, the constitution drafting task diverted the attention of the government away from reconstruction until September, and the crippling border blockade further affected it due to dearth of essential supplies for a few months thereafter. Now the blockade is over and the country has had a new constitution but the government effort is not satisfactory enough."

Richard Sharpe, a New Zealand earthquake engineer who led a team that formulated Nepal’s only set of building standards 20 years ago, was even more blunt: “They didn’t need this, but it was inevitable, absolutely inevitable.” The linked article says that the new building code, "about 2 inches (5 centimeters) thick, took two years to compile and included information designed to prevent buildings crumbling in Nepal, which shares New Zealand’s high seismic risk and mountainous topography.  Authorities didn’t systematically implement its rules and guidelines, from basic building design to electrical wiring specifications."

So what was the problem?  Why were Sharpe's codes ignored for so long?  “The hard thing is to get implementation of it,” Sharpe says in the article, is that  "All the turmoil in the country has been such that there hasn’t been the political will at the municipal level to get the building consents and so on.”

An ironic twist. Then another.

All this was on my mind a few weeks later when, ironically, the blockade by India played a contextual role on a TV program.  I happened to be watching the most recent installment of Discovery Channel’s excellent program titled “Expedition Unknown” as the host, Scott Gates, tried to gain access to transportation to remote parts of Nepal.  The documentary had nothing directly to do with the politics of Nepal nor earthquake recovery, per se, though both did lend some dramatic background to the production.  Thankfully for the show’s viewers, things worked out and individuals came forward who were instrumental in helping get the show’s producers overcome the problems and find a fueled plane. Which brings me to another ironic twist.

Key among these heroes of logistics that saved Scott Gates' expedition, apparently, were Mahendra Thapa and Shanta Nepali, who it turns out are both part of a wonderful Nepalese organization called “Mandala” (a term that refers appropriately to a Buddhist representation of the universe.)  Curious, I checked out their web page and was quite pleased to see how much they are doing—directly, in a hands-on way—to better the lives of those most devastated by the earthquake and to prepare the people for a more resilient future.  Their goal is to cut right through the politics and find a way to help improve the lives of the people:

The Mandala Organization (Partnering for Himalayan Resilience) is a Non-Governmental Organization registered under Nepal Government which focuses on sustainable development. Like a Mandala which symbolizes the universe itself, our organization focuses on all development aspects of the country. Be it Disaster Management, Environment Awareness, Tourism Development, Climate Change or fulfilling Basic Human Needs, we are always on the forefront.

Right now our team is working rigorously on rebuilding life of recent earthquake victims of Nepal. The Mandala Organization has already started building more than 200 Earthquake Resistance Houses and schools to needy victims of the earthquake in remote areas of Sindhupalchowk.

The galleries on the organization’sFacebook page are filled with wonderful images of volunteers engaged with villagers in building houses and educating children.  They also raise money and help create opportunities for jobs and economic development (through things like tourism).

I was most interested in diagrams like those above (from Facebook) that describe how they’re building (and teaching others to build) houses that utilize familiar local materials (stone, straw, mud, etc.) but in ways that helps strengthen and harden homes against earthquake damage and other natural hazards.  I found the approach fascinating both for its sustainability and its economy.  I look forward to learning more about it.  

I'll continue this discussion when I do.