On Wednesday evening an 8.0 earthquake struck central Peru, devastating the Ica region of the Andean country. The official death toll from this unfolding disaster currently stands at 502 [as of 16 Aug -- Ed.]; around four hundred of these were residents of Pisco, a city of over 100,000 near the epicenter of the main quake. Pisco is reported to have lost 80 percent of its homes.
As we speak the usual suspects of international disaster response and recovery are busy on the ground. Typically, when the media turns its gaze from one pressing story to the next, funding dries up; by the time affected towns and cities enter the reconstruction phase three to four months after the initial diaster, there are only funds available to build the same unstable housing as before. Is this good enough? Are there models for building a sustainable and safer future for Pisco? Or is this only reserved for First World post-disaster reconstruction?
Of course the solutions are available and in the places where you'd expect them most: those prone to natural disasters. From the stabilized earthen block homes of Auroville, India, to the sandbag shelters by Cal Earth (used after the Kasmir Earthquake), and even in Peru with earthquake-resistant homes designed by Estrategia and Practical Action. After the 1976 Guatemala earthquake, Fred Cuny created Housing Pictographs for rebuilding efforts.
But the sad reality is that even after decades of local innovation, very few of these groups are interconnected enough to share solutions and learn from each other's mistakes. And further, it's typical that a post-disaster situation no one wants to fund "innovative" solutions while local and national leaders are looking for "basic shelter" (read: tents). After the Kashmir Earthquake, our organization tried in vain to replicate the 1976 Cuny initiative by creating a earthquake resistant housing manual. While we received dozens of solutions for this pamphlet, we only raised $600 to implement it. This failure led us to the creation of the Open Architecture Network. And during the South Asia Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina reconstruction efforts, we learned that supporting a multi-disiplinary team of trained professionals* on the ground makes far more of an impact. To be successful, such teams need to:
After clearly defining goals and setting expectations, the team and its partners should identify "urban acupuncture" points: projects that will act as anchors in stabilizing the community. These are usually transitional community structures that help stabilize things on the way to permanent structures. Then, through the design and development process, this group can identify construction methods that integrate disaster mitigation and can be built by the local community (thus keeping funding within the community who needs it most), while also building out its coalition and contacts. A full-time team working and living on the ground can utilize its expertise for projects that may not have the funds available to bring in outside professionals.
By connecting a community like Pisco with a long-term reconstruction team, we can create solutions that are appropriate for the people of Pisco and where they live, and can be scaled within the region. And those innovations can then be shared globally. Architecture for Humanity is currently running an appeal focused on long-term reconstruction in Peru. Instead of creating tent cities, we want to build safter structures that contribute to a sustainable future for Pisco, as well as other towns and cities damaged by this earthquake.
Note: According to the United Nations, out of the 417,150 people who lost their lives in earthquakes in the period 1991-2005, 397,300 were from developing countries. In that same time period, earthquakes and tsunamis accounted for 64% of the casualities from natural disasters in developing countries.
* This would need to include in-country professionals with understanding of local historic, environmental and cultural knowledge.
Cameron, Thanks for the article. I discovered Auroville Earth Institute, Rural Bank for Women a microfinance org, SELCO the solar energy company, Biotech for lighting up fish markets with waste, Purnima who helped with Ambedkar Community infrastructure amd renewed my memory of OAN itself. Quite a lot for a day and I did not get done with anything I was supposed to be doing.
That is the power of hypertexting.
All across the world these tragedies provide us with opportunities to do right by our fellow humans while helping do better by the planet. We can put in homes that crumble and fall less, and also homes that can gather their own heat, preserve water, light with PV and cool from geothermal. If every home rebuilt or replaced were more sustainable, some of the tragedy could be mitigated.
We can afford to do this, and we cannot spiritually, financially, or environmentally afford to continue as we have done.
Suspended buildings (think paper wasp nests) use less material because walls are tensile- not load bearing. Also very earthquake proof. Erect poles suspending roofs (can be PV, can gather rainfall for potable water) and you've got sheltered community space. Establish decent sanitation practice and food distribution, and locals can largely take it from there.
Walls are overrated- can be improvised from rubble, blankets, tarps. In fact, walls can destroy community. Think of all the Americans walled off in their cars, in their suburban homes, in office cubicles.