[Strawbale] Bales for Haiti

paul paul psheraton at hotmail...
Sat Feb 20 17:49:51 CET 2010

I have no idea about the amout of humidity that tropical Haiti experiences, I would be more concerned about how the strawbale structures will stand up to the frequent flooding that Haiti can experience.

  "The hope for the project that started this thread, is to get one 
 strawbale building built before the April rains begin"  

Presumably  strawbale buildings built in the United States must pass building regulations designed to withstand local enviromental and climatic conditions. Under what building standards will the Haiti structures be built  to take into count the conderable challenges posed by local deforestation, soil erosion, earthquakes, hurricanes and especially flooding?

from wikipedia:
 "In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest 
covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population 
has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as 
fuel for cookstoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland 
soils, contributing to desertification.[61]
In addition to soil erosion, deforestation
 has caused periodic flooding, as seen on 17 September 2004. Earlier 
that year in May, floods had killed over 3,000 people on Haiti's 
southern border with the Dominican Republic.[62]

In 2004, tropical storm Jeanne skimmed the north 
coast of Haiti, leaving 3,006 people dead in flooding and mudslides,
 mostly in the city of Gonaïves.[63]

Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early 
September 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane
 Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil 
conditions throughout Haiti, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the 
devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, 
valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive 
flooding. Casualties proved difficult to count because the storm 
diminished human capacity and physical resources for such record 
keeping. Bodies continued to surface as the flood waters receded. A 10 
September 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of 
humanitarian aid.

> Date: Sat, 20 Feb 2010 08:34:21 -0700
> From: derek at unm...
> To: max at permalot...; strawbale at amper....muni.cz
> Subject: Re: [Strawbale] Bales for Haiti
> Hi, Max,
> It's a challenge exchanging information with a bunch of different 
> folks in different places and on different lists.  I will paste below 
> a response that I made on the GSBN strawbale list.  Before that, I 
> will respond to a few small points in your message.
> > I'm seriously concerned about the idea of using S.B. in Haiti.
> Me too.  However, we will try it.  We have some climate data, now, 
> from the Port Au Prince area, and its temperature and humidity levels 
> are lower than summer norms for much of the southeastern and south 
> central United States.  There has been no international outcry 
> against strawbale building in those locations, and no frightening 
> failures reported.  Much of our problem in assessing the risks in 
> Haiti is that few of us have tropical living experience.
> Max says, "My result for small family shelters the building of 1000's 
> of simple rectangular shelters out of bamboo re-enforced (in hexagon 
> grids!) cob, with light weight roof structures with fair overhang and 
> significantly 2 doors: [snip]
> I still haven't heard from BWB what is wrong with this reasoning and 
> suggestion"
> I think it is a good idea, as I have stated.  We have also said that 
> we are interested in collaborating and supporting you and others 
> wanting to build with earth.  That's still true.  We are not 
> interested in picking the one and only "best" idea, but rather trying 
> a number of things where there is energy and enthusiasm of a project 
> leader.
> The report from Patrick contains the incorrect assertion that Haiti 
> has no grain agriculture.  This is incorrect.  Haiti grows a lot of 
> rice, although they no longer are a net exporter.  Someone (Max?) 
> felt that all straw should go back into the fields.  My view is that 
> the amount of straw removed for a pilot strawbale building project is 
> miniscule.  If the technique has no merit, then it will end there.
> A negative view has been expressed that I and others have an attitude 
> that "strawbale is the best solution for everything."  My favoring of 
> a strawbale experiment in this case is based primarily on its 
> potential for earthquake survival of the residents.  Earthquakes 
> caused the current disaster, and are first in my mind when 
> considering rebuilding technologies.
> Max contintues, "apart from the fact that it [strawbale] is not as 
> interesting from a creative artistic minded foreigners view point? 
> ;o)."  I appreciate the humor, but this has never been a BWB position 
> or assertion.  We are consistently in the opposite camp.  See my 
> message below to GSBN for greater detail.
> More Max:  "I still have to find time to try to persuade Derek that 
> earthen buildings are best suited for heat regulation in tropic 
> climate; I've never been too hot inside a thick earthen wall!"  I 
> have!  I've spent time in tropical countries, and have been in very 
> uncomfortable thick-walled earthen structures.  People with more 
> experience in tropical areas than I often say the mass of wattle and 
> daub is too great, and strawbale all the more so.  But Haiti, at 
> least Port au Prince, is not such an extremely hot tropical climate. 
> I think earth can work.  I currently think the wattle and daub 
> hexagons seem more promising than thick earth walls, but I'd love to 
> see experimentation with both.
> With best wishes, support, and collaborative spirit,
> Derek
> Below is my message to GSBN:
> Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and concerns.  We have been 
> in dozens of hours of discussions, and exchanged hundreds of email 
> messages, discussing options and looking at possibilities.  BWB has 
> been working with the PAKSBAB folks since 2006, and they do 
> incredibly good work.  It might be surprising to some on this list 
> how few things anyone working on any international project gets to 
> simply "decide", and do as would seem best in other situations.
> I share the misgivings that several people have expressed about 
> moisture and straw in Haiti.  On the other hand, the temperature and 
> humidity in the Port au Prince area are both less than summers in 
> Houston, and in many parts of Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, 
> Georgia, and Florida.  I don't remember resounding indictments of 
> list members proposing to build with strawbale in some of those 
> locations. We keep strawbale high on the list of options, because of 
> its relative earthquake safety.
> It's tough to figure out how to build in a place that has earthquakes 
> and hurricanes, lacks timber and an earthquake-resistant building 
> tradition.  No material has all the right properties.  Thatched 
> bamboo structures probably come the closest, and they would work if 
> people were willing to live in them, and replace them every few 
> years.  I don't think this approach will have much appeal.  It is an 
> ironic truth that while people are hesitant to accept a new building 
> style, they are often even more hesitant to accept a traditional and 
> appropriate technology, when it seems old-fashioned, vulgar, and is 
> associated with poor people or country folk.
> I haven't read the newest guidelines on building more 
> earthquake-resistant structures out of earthen materials.  I'm sure 
> it contains very important information.  But I have been to several 
> presentations on traditional and modern earthen structures and 
> earthquakes, and I've read many articles.  Up to now, the safety 
> record of earthen structures has been poor when it comes to 
> earthquakes the size of the one in Haiti, and larger.  I've read 
> Nader Khalili's assertions about earthbags and earthquakes, his 
> "testing", and I don't have faith in the combination of earthbags and 
> earthquakes.  Perhaps future testing will prove him right, but for 
> me, building in an earthquake zone with earthbags right now is 
> accepting big unknowns.  I don't see working with that level of 
> uncertainty as doing a service to Haiti. Building more intelligently 
> and safely with other earthen materials requires knowledge that few 
> of us currently possess.  I am eager to learn, but not to put 
> everything on hold while I learn.
> The issue of cultural sensitivity and popular acceptance of a design 
> is always in the front of our minds as members of BWB consider 
> intercultural projects.  But in a situation like the Haiti disaster, 
> contradictions are immediately obvious.  Much of what we think people 
> will accept is unsafe, and what is safe will require some changes in 
> lifestyle, which people might not accept.  It's pretty easy to 
> conclude that there is no good answer, and then to cede the field to 
> those who are less culturally sensitive and less aware of the risks. 
> We choose not to do that.  Kelly's questions are very important, as 
> are David's warnings of the risks of unintended consequences from any 
> actions.  Yet in a disaster situation, I also consider the risks 
> associated with inaction, and with leaving everything up to 
> institutions like the World Bank.
> The hope for the project that started this thread, is to get one 
> strawbale building built before the April rains begin.  That project 
> will teach us a great deal about the viability of strawbale building 
> in Haiti.  There will be more things to learn and adjustments to make 
> in the coming months and years.  Maybe it will work, maybe it will 
> lead to better ideas, maybe it will be a dead end. We are going to 
> give it a try.  To try something without a lot of study first has its 
> problems, as others have mentioned.  Yet learning by doing is often 
> the most efficient way, and is sometimes the only way to answer 
> certain questions.  Thankfully, we are not required to make policy 
> for the entire country's disaster relief program.  We are supporting 
> and collaborating on a few small experiments.  We hope that some of 
> them will lead to useful techniques and information that can be 
> implemented on a broader scale.
> I have studied the hyperbolic acrylic-cement thin-shelled roof 
> designs that David refers to, and I think they offer great potential. 
> They don't fit the aesthetic tradition of anywhere, and face a number 
> of the same cultural sensitivity and acceptance questions that we 
> have been discussing.  Nonetheless, I think they are worthy of 
> consideration and experimentation.
> Best wishes,
> Derelict
> Derek Roff
> Language Learning Center
> Ortega Hall 129, MSC03-2100
> University of New Mexico
> Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
> 505/277-7368, fax 505/277-3885
> Internet: derek at unm...
> --On Friday, February 19, 2010 2:26 PM +0100 Max Vittrup Jensen 
> <max at permalot...> wrote:
> >
> > Dear all,
> >
> >
> > I'm seriously concerned about the idea of using S.B. in Haiti.
> >
> > Lets start with an advice from the real world:
> > --------------------------
> >
> > This is my final report on the expedition to Haiti, from 23 Jan to
> > 4 Feb. I travelled as a medical relief worker...[abridged]...My
> > primary concerns about Haiti from here on out are not medical, but
> > relate instead to the idea of rebuilding, and the development issues
> > that go along with it. With the US military ceding food
> > distribution to
> > civilian agencies, the relief effort has begun to take seriously the
> > question of what happens next for Haiti, and what model, economic
> > and
> > physical, should guide Port Au Prince into the future. I have even
> > begun to overhear, on the internet and through word-of-mouth, of
> > specific efforts to send engineers to help construct permanent
> > housing
> > for the displaced poor. These rumours range from the established
> > civil
> > engineering model to wilder "permaculture" plans to build straw-bale
> > houses (in a wet, tropical country without grain agriculture, no
> > less!)
> > to more practical determinations to assist poor people in
> > reassembling
> > the informal and improvised houses they occupied before the tend
> > cities.
> >
> > With respect, I can't imagine a worse use of informal resources or
> > donated
> > money...[continues here, going in depth about the repeat ignoring
> > of the Haitian poplulation:
> > http://tagonist.livejournal.com/201318.html?style=mine#cutid1]
> > -------------------------
> >
> > Yes, Rob Tom, Haiti likely have rice straw, however due to extreme
> > logging the topsoil is screaming of carbon depletion, and are in
> > badly need for any bit of straw which exists.
> >
> > What I'm seeing in this approach of a straw bale 'cure all' is in
> > contradiction with one of the basic issues I teach about Natural
> > Building: "Don't build and Igloo in a Desert" E.g.; One solution
> > doesn't necessarily fit everywhere.
> > Sara; I have deep respect for Paksbab's SB aid work in Pakistan
> > (where it get pretty cold), however fact is that the amount of SB
> > houses built through Paksbab in Pakistan is a fraction compared to
> > the 2-3000 cob cabins which got initiated by Caroline Meyer White
> > at same time, same place. (Unfortunately a rather cold construction
> > technique).
> >
> > Haitians are reputedly not likely to easily accept significant new
> > designs to housing. Historically/culturally they have had too much
> > pushed onto them from outside, so it doesn't seem sustainable to
> > import concepts like domes, yurts, earth-ships etc. To quote the
> > book 'Building Without Borders': I'd like to quote part of chapter
> > 6; 'Sustainable Settlements: Rethinking Encampments for Refugees
> > and Displaced Populations' by Cameroon M.  Burns in the book
> > 'Building Without Borders';
> >
> > "There are endless stories from refugee camps where well-meaning
> > aid organisations have provided advanced technological devices, the
> > best food stuffs, and other new expensive materials that simply do
> > not match the economic, educational, cultural and geographic
> > realities of the situation. Dr. Rasmussen feels strongly that such
> > situations call for an overlapping integratoin of players from
> > diverse backgrounds. He thinks the sustainability community's
> > approach of understanding an entire system before attempting a
> > solution might be the appropriate approach in refugee settlements."
> >
> > .. in same chapter, on page 181, a central point is made in regards
> > to site planning and socio-cultural sustainability: "The point to
> > remember here is that the refugees themselves are the experts'
> > (Following this is a 50-question survey to the refugees about site
> > planning.
> > ...and I might add that it's on page 168, where a photo title
> > states: "Abandoned geodesic domes in Gubai. Most relief efforts are
> > useless at best and destructive at worst. These structures [for 225
> > families] donated by an aid agency, do not reflect the traditional
> > patterns of the local people and thus have been rejected by them"
> >
> > Haiti needs housing. Lots of housing. Fast. About the only readily
> > materials are earth and concrete rubble.
> > Some bamboo exists, as does a special type of long grass which
> > likely could substitute straw in cob.
> >
> > From listening to a month of ideas, facts and input on
> > http://lists.permaculturehaiti.org/mailman/listinfo/pcrelief , I
> > tried to the best of my knowledge (and I've never been to Haiti, or
> > actively done relief work!) to analyze which materials, designs and
> > techniques seemed most appropriate. My result for small family
> > shelters the building of 1000's of simple rectangular shelters out
> > of bamboo re-enforced (in hexagon grids!) cob, with light weight
> > roof structures with fair overhang and significantly 2 doors: That
> > way an initial small shelter can easily become simply a room in a
> > larger house in due time. And I need to emphasize: with the help of
> > this simple low-tech earth mixing machine, (which can be made for
> > electricity or diesel), it would be a very fast process of building
> > such shelters for the urban/rural areas. Such buildings could be
> > constructed in a speed of one per day for each cob machine and a
> > 10+ person team. Much slower than the OSB-shelters at Hurricane
> > Catherina, however these are close to free, healthy, regulates
> > climate and the inclusive process teach the inhabitants how to
> > expand them once the time is better."
> >
> > I still haven't heard from BWB what is wrong with this reasoning
> > and suggestion, apart from the fact that it's not as interesting
> > from a creative artistic minded foreigners view point? ;o). By the
> > way, here's a link to the quake tests: 
> > http://www.stanleyparkecology.ca/programs/cob/journal/journal.htm .
> > It notes that embedding bamboo would likely be sufficient to make
> > it last past a scale 9 quake!
> >
> > One our board members of NBN is about to go to Haiti to do a recon,
> > (unfortunately predominantly to consider SB building!). Several cob
> > builders and community designers have offered to get involved, and
> > I'm in process of making a funding proposal for such solution.
> > Anyone interested to help are welcome to contact me directly, or
> > simply by registering here: http://nbnetwork.org/nb/rebuild We also
> > have an offer of help setting up micro-business with light-weight
> > concrete roof tiles.
> >
> > None-the-least I personally can't grasp the idea of using straw due
> > to the hot/wet tropical climate; I still have to find time to try
> > to persuade Derek that earthen buildings are best suited for heat
> > regulation in tropic climate; I've never been too hot inside a
> > thick earthen wall! (If any of you have the data readily available,
> > then please forward it to me).
> >
> > All in all; In general I'm very much in favor of building with
> > straw bales, but I simply can not see that it is a good solution
> > for Haiti.
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Max Vittrup Jensen
> >
> > Director,  PermaLot Centre of Natural Building www.permalot.org
> > Director, Events and Marketing, Natural Building Network,
> > www.nbnetwork.org
> >
> > PS: I haven't received Derek's initial post; perhaps it's only on
> > the international list, and I only subscribe to the euro list?
> Derek Roff
> Language Learning Center
> Ortega Hall 129, MSC03-2100
> University of New Mexico
> Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
> 505/277-7368, fax 505/277-3885
> Internet: derek at unm...
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