Through observations, surveys, and interviews conducted in Nepal, CCF recognized that one of the biggest challenges facing Nepal in its process of recovery is rebuilding with methods and materials that are resistant to future earthquakes. Throughout rural Nepal, countless buildings were wiped out or rendered uninhabitable because they were built of nothing but stones and mud mortar, traditional materials which offer little to no structural support in the face of an 7.8 earthquake.
In addition to this need for entrepreneurial building techniques, CCF also had a responsibility to determine the best way to rebuild the clinic in Baseri. Through several months of research, CCF eventually decided on system known as “earth-bag construction” as one possible solution to this issue.
Putting it to the Test
Before CCF could embark on a project as large as the reconstruction of the Baseri Clinic, it was decided that an initial trial of earth-bag should be undertaken. In coordination with community leaders of Baseri, it was decided that CCF would build two model homes out of earth-bags as a trial run. Local teacher, Goma Gurung and her family, together with the family of Takumaya Gurung would be the beneficiaries of these new houses. Both had lost their original homes as a result of the earthquake and had been forced to set up temporary tin shelters along the mountainside. We hoped to provide them with a safe, comfortable, and cheap alternative.
1. To test the feasibility of earth-bag as a construction method for the Baseri clinic.
2. To provide a model of earthquake-resistant building that villagers in Baseri could emulate in rebuilding their own homes.
3. To relocate the two families who had fled after the earthquake to the land where the clinic will be rebuilt and are now living there.
What is “Earth-Bag”?
Earthbag is a construction technique during which polypropylene bags or tubes are filled with dirt, and then compressed and stacked with barbed wire tying the courses together, to form strong, durable, earthquake-resistant walls. CCF was first exposed to this method through a workshop taught by Owen Geiger of the Geiger Research Institute of Sustainable Building. Later, CCF representatives volunteered on an earth-bag building project supervised by Woven Earth Design as additional investigation.
The Construction Process
In order to move forward with this project, CCF required more technical experience. CCF partnered with Good Earth Nepal (GEN), a local NGO at the forefront of earthbag technology. CCF would provide the funds, land, labor, etc for the project and GEN would provide the technical experience in the form of engineers, managers, and supervisors. Together with GEN and local community participants, the homes were begun on the 3rd of December and finally completed the following March. Now Goma, Takumaya, and families have moved into their homes and are able to begin returning to a normal lifestyle.
Although the two families both received beautiful, earthquake resistant, well insulated homes, and many other villagers received good wages for their assistance in turn stimulating the local economy, ultimately, building with earth-bag proved to be too labor intensive and expensive to justify continuing its use in such remote regions. In the end however, our three goals were answered: it was shown that earth-bag was not a not a feasible method with which to reconstruct the clinic, the project served to demonstrate an alternative earthquake resistant building technique to the many individuals from Baseri and the neighboring villages came to see and learn about the model homes, and Goma, Takumaya, their husbands, and their children all now have a safe home!