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Straw and rubber tyres are among the materials being considered for the rebuilding of Haiti's cities, devastated in last month's (January) earthquake.

Many Haitians are still living outside so the country needs quick, cheap solutions for housing its citizens in earthquake-proof buildings.

Darcey Donovan, founder of the non-profit organisation Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building, suggests constructing buildings from straw bales instead of concrete which, while cheap, is heavy and brittle — a bad combination in an earthquake. Such straw houses withstand severe shaking in tests (see Straw house design passes earthquake tests).

Others say that concrete can still be used in a safe way. James Kelly, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States, suggests erecting buildings on rubber foundations to absorb shocks, as in Japan.

Recycled rubber tyres can be used for this, says John van de Lindt, a civil engineer at Colorado State University. And inserting bamboo buttresses into concrete walls would further reinforce them, he adds.

"This isn't sophisticated science," acknowledges van de Lindt.

But Haitians need to accept the new designs and building techniques — and quickly.

Haitian earthquake engineer Pierre Fouché says: "If nothing is done quickly … people there are going to do the same thing [as before]. They think, 'a big earthquake just happened so there isn't going to be another one for a while'."

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