Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Haiti: Rebuilding the 'Sustainable' Way?

First, a sort of Public Service Announcement:

Haitians, many of them, are running out of time. The rainy season is coming, and there's a lot of work to do. Including putting up shelters that won't wash away in the rain.

You may be able to help.

A list of charities you've probably heard about already, with links and some contact information: Also a list of posts in this, and two other blogs, about Haiti.

Now, the post:
"Sustainability in Haiti in the Wake of Disaster"
Susan Cosier, via Associated Content (March 16, 2010)

"Before the earthquake struck Haiti in January, leaving millions of people homeless and without access to food or water, UN officials were already helping the country prepare for the worst. But the disasters they were anticipating were hurricanes and flooding from denuded hillsides, not collapsed buildings. Officials are now putting some programs on a temporary hold as they focus on a new priority: green building. The new structures, if taken from a page out of Chilean design, could help prevent earthquake damage in the future.

"The Feb. 27 earthquake in Chile, about 500 times more powerful than Haiti's, led to fewer fallen structures and a much smaller death toll (700 hundred compared to the 250,000 in Haiti). The reason, experts say, is the strong building codes enforced in the South American country, which is no stranger to the earth's rockings; the country experienced the largest earthquake ever, a 9.5 on the Richter scale, in 1960.

" 'One system that helps buildings stay up is called the "strong columns weak beams" system,' writes the BBC...."

I'm interested in architecture and interior design, among other things, and I've run into the word "sustainable" quite a lot recently. A "sustainable" building project often seems to involve someone shipping wood in from somewhere else, or selecting roofing and siding that doesn't need much paint or maintenance.

I have no problem with someone building a carport that costs more than the house I'm living in, or using exotic building materials. If there weren't folks like that, I wouldn't be able to read about their houses. I think that designs that give maintenance a higher priority are smart.

But the word "sustainable" has started to sound silly to me.

As I wrote last year: "...About the 'sustainable wood,' though: I've been running into the word "sustainable" for some time now. I think I understand the concern that people feel about using precious resources like wood. The way some builders and designers talk, you'd think that wood grows on trees!"
(January 31, 2009)

I was a bit concerned when I saw "sustainable" in this article's title. The folks in Haiti, many of them, are in a desperate situation. The last thing they need, short of another 7.0 earthquake or a major hurricane, seems to be foreigners coming in and insisting that they pay extra for "sustainable" construction.

What the article describes isn't like that. The focus really is on studying what Chile did, that resulted in (relatively) little damage in their recent quake. Apart from having the epicenter happen away from the national capital.

Reforesting Haitian hillsides will help them look better - but, more to the point, if the right trees are selected the roots will stabilize the soil. Grasses will do the same thing. The idea is to keep the dirt more-or-less where it is now.

Building codes? I don't, as a rule, like regulations. And building codes, like any other rule, can be silly. But, just as it makes sense to make it a rule that everybody drive on the right (or left) side of the road, it makes sense to have rules about how buildings are put together.

The trick, in my opinion, is to make the building codes "sustainable." In other words, give the folks who have to pay for and construct buildings a break: Make sure that the codes describe buildings that can be built, given economic conditions and available technology.

Related posts:More:
A tip of the hat to acnews, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

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