Earthquake resistant bamboo houses for sustainable development

By Dalmeet Singh Chawla

Governments should pay more attention to the role that bamboo and rattan can play in building more sustainable and greener economies, a pressure group has told a UN meeting.

“Bamboo and rattan are not always seen as tools to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. We believe they bring major opportunities,” the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), an intergovernmental group based in Beijing, China, told the UN Forum on Forests in New York, United States earlier this month.

“Modern bamboo houses are more flexible in an earthquake, as they flex and absorb some of the energy.”

Hans Friederich, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan

For example, bamboo can reduce soil erosion and restore degraded lands, and ultimately help protect the livelihoods of people who depend on forest ecosystems. Products derived from the two plants could also bring income to millions of people in developing countries, the group says.

INBAR, which has 40 member states, called on policymakers to include bamboo and rattan in their action plans for forest development.

Construction of a 100% bamboo house in Martinique, certified earthquake and cyclone resistant. Credit: J'ai pris cette photo

Construction of a 100% bamboo house in Martinique, certified earthquake and cyclone resistant.
Credit: J’ai pris cette photo

INBAR also presented the Global Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan, an initiative that aims to exchange knowledge and data about bamboo and rattan. The assessment is expected to be launched at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, in September 2015.

Bamboo and rattan grow across much of the developing world, including in many equatorial countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. They make good alternatives to wood charcoal and cotton fibres, and bamboo can be burned or used in biogas systems to provide a sustainable source of bio-energy.

Bamboo can grow at a rate of up to one metre per day, and can be harvested for productive use after 3-7 years, compared with 10-15 years for conventional trees. Hence, using bamboo as a replacement for other wood would lead to fewer trees being cut down for processing, INBAR says.

“Because bamboo grows quickly it also absorbs carbon quickly, and is what we call a strategic forest resource in the battle against climate change,” says Hans Friederich, director general of INBAR.

But Ramadhani Achdiawan, a researcher from the Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia, underlines the importance of forest planning for the long term if countries want to use bamboo and rattan for economic growth. For instance, Achdiawan says that “rattan needs trees to support its growth, so maintaining big trees in forests is very important”.

In its statement, INBAR also told UN representatives about bamboo and rattan’s potential as construction materials to build strong houses and furniture that will withstand natural disasters.

“The recent terrible earthquake in Nepal has highlighted the need to build better for natural disasters,” Friederich says. “Modern bamboo houses are more flexible in an earthquake, as they flex and absorb some of the energy.”

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.


Remembering the Colombia 1985 volcanic disaster

One of the most tragic volcanic events of the 20th century occurred in Colombia, in 1985, when an eruption of Nevado del Ruiz produced lahars that swept down river valleys and destroyed communities in its path. Over 20,000 people perished.

Mount Rainier and other volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range are similar to Nevado del Ruiz in many respects—massive amounts of snow and ice, a long history of lahars, and narrow valleys leading to populated areas. Could what happened at Nevado del Ruiz happen in the Pacific Northwest? And if it did, are we prepared?

In 2013, the US-Colombia Bi-national Exchange was created to help scientists, emergency managers and first responders in both countries to learn from the events in Colombia and to work toward improving disaster preparedness in communities located near volcanoes. The Exchange allows the Colombian officials to observe and learn about U.S. emergency response systems and for U.S. personnel to absorb the hard-earned lessons from the Colombians’ experiences with volcanic crises.

Scientists, decision-makers, emergency officials, community leaders, teachers, parents, students—everyone has a responsibility to prepare for the next eruption. Your role in preparedness begins with learning about the hazards where you live, work or go to school, evacuation routes and how to access information during a crisis. Ask local and state emergency officials and schools about their plans and be ready to follow their guidance. Finally, gather basic emergency provisions and create a plan to reunite with family members if you are separated. The volcano may erupt, but the tragedy doesn’t have to happen. And that is the point.


Adapting to a Changing Climate in South Africa

This short film captures the key messages and debates emerging from the first Southern Africa Adaptation Colloquium, held in November 2013.

The film was produced to make available the discussions to audiences that weren’t able to attend the Colloquium — particularly people working with local government in African cities.


From Science to Action: Lessons learnt from Haiti

Eric Calais

Eric Calais

Recently we had our first joint Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS) and Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics (IGT) seminar at the University of Leeds.

Our invited speaker was Eric Calais who was the U.N.’s Geophysicist on the ground after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. This is a short summary of some of the topics discussed in his seminar.

Science and scientists are needed on the scene of disaster risk reduction – Eric Calais

Haiti and indeed all the Caribbean countries are exposed to many numerous hazards including earthquakes and hurricanes. Of these the most reliable are hurricanes which hit the region like clockwork every summer. However earthquakes are less regular and often occur after much longer time intervals. So when it comes to hazard mitigation hurricanes trump earthquakes!

Eric started his talk with an introduction to the tectonics of the Haiti region. The countries largest city, Port-au-Prince lies about 20 kilometres north of a major strike slip fault called the Enriquillo Fault. Eric, working in Haiti earlier in his career, had predicted the fault had a chance of storing enough energy which if released all at once will result in a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

Earthquakes are not new to Haiti. There is abundant evidence for historic ruptures including one that was recorded by British colonist in the seventeen hundreds. However due to the long recurrence time of such events the human memory of these events gradually gets lost. Therefore, the inhabitants of Port-au-Prince were not prepared when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the country on the 12th January 2010.

Shake and damage map of the 2010 earthquake. Source: BBC

Shake and damage map of the 2010 earthquake. Source: BBC

The resulting devastation took the lives of nearly nearly 316,000 people according to Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and displaced nearly a million people from their homes.

The second part of Eric’s talk focused on his experiences working with the U.N. as the chief geophysicist on the ground immediately after the earthquake.

The first important lesson learnt from Haiti is that the impacts from natural disasters are amplified by socio-economical and political issues.

UN aid in Haiti. Source:

UN aid in Haiti. Source:

It is clear that a government needs to find a balance between the gains from increased mitigation with the costs needed to achieve such mitigation levels. The maximum mitigation achievable with the minimum cost is generally the prefered option, especially for developing countries. But these decisions need to made with due consideration to the types, expected magnitude and repeat interval of each individual hazard.

The U.N. is well aware that building resilience is the key to maintaining development and reducing loss from natural disasters.

An important goal for the U.N. is to offer advice and embed clear resilience and mitigation strategies into governmental policy and ensure that these policies are effectively enforced.

However much of the U.N. data on human exposure to natural disasters are not entirely accurate and often out of date. Worryingly there appears to be no clear procedure for updating this information. Improving resilience becomes much more difficult without knowing the nature of the hazards faced. It is clear that the U.N. needs to invest in resources to update key data tables such as exposure and vulnerability; combining information from industry, especially the re-insurance sector, and outputs from the scientific community.

Post earthquake. Source:

Post earthquake. Source:

Most of the U.N. members of staff are non-scientists. Therefore, many of the on-the-spot decisions during disasters are made without a proper understanding of the underlying science.

It is clear that the scientific community have not been paying enough attention! We as scientists need to be more involved with the issues of disaster risk reduction. Scientists understand the hazards, the risks involved and to some extent what needs to be done. We just need to step forward and be more involved.

Eric ended his talk with the following call to arms:

“The gap between science products and practitioners of risk reduction requires someone to make the first step; scientists are in the best position [to take this step].”

Further Reading: