Nepali quake survivors reject basic shelter

debrisfilledsacks (1).JPG
Copyright: Iliona Khalili

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  • Charity built just one domed Superadobe home made from debris-filled sacks
  • Families feared missing out on post-quake hand-outs if they accepted charity housing
  • Existing Superadobe buildings within an orphanage survived the earthquake

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A project to construct shelters in Nepal from earth- and rubble-filled sacks has only built one home following clashes with local housing traditions.
A team from the Superadobe project, run by charity New Earth UK, returned from Nepal last month after constructing a home for an elderly couple in Lanagol, a village outside Kathmandu. The work was done with Nepali architects Mahesh Maharjan and Kris Grg as part of relief efforts following the April earthquake.
Superadobe shelters are built using sacks stuffed with soil and other local materials. These are stacked on top of one another in ever-decreasing concentric circles to create a domed structure.

“The Nepali people want to retain the traditional feel of their villages.”

Kirsteen Merrilees, Rural Access Programme 3

In Nepal, the rubble from collapsed homes was reused in the sacks. To avoid heavy lifting, sacks are placed before being filled. Barbed wire is placed between the layers of sacking to stabilise them.
The technology has been certified as resistant to earthquakes, floods and hurricanes under the building codes of California in the United States, which cover safety during earthquakes. In Nepal, however, the New Earth UK team struggled to get support for its efforts from local people, according to Iliona Khalili, one of the group’s directors. 
Khalili tells SciDev.Net that many families were worried they might not get the full government hand-out of around 15,000 Nepalese rupees (about US$150), which is on offer to each family wanting to build a corrugated iron shelter.
Another problem was the resources required to build a Superadobe house: it cost around £2,000 (more than US$3,000) and took 40 volunteers three weeks to build the home in Lanagol, according to Khalili.
Aktanin Khair Tanin, a coordinator at New Earth UK, adds that the building’s shape also created problems, as domes are traditionally only used for temples, mosques and other holy buildings in South Asia.
Nepal’s earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and destroyed nearly 600,000 homes, according to the United Nations. The Superadobe project, started by Khalili, is meant to provide long-term shelter in emergency situations that is easy to construct using local materials.

But Kirsteen Merrilees, a deputy programme manager for Rural Access Programme 3, an antipoverty infrastructure initiative in Nepal, says construction efforts must consider local traditions.
“The Nepali people want to retain the traditional feel of their villages,” she says. “Changing attitudes is a complex issue that takes time and the immediate response to a disaster is not the time to do so.”
But Nepal already has several Superadobe buildings: the Pegasus orphanage in Kathmandu Valley includes 40 earth-bag domes built in 2006. The orphanage’s Superadobe structures survived the earthquake intact, while its two traditional brick buildings are now unsafe to use because of substantial cracks.