Archive | June 7, 2010

A Home Amidst a Never-Ending Cycle of Disasters

A Home Amidst a Never-Ending Cycle of Disasters

By Hwaa Irfan

When this was written, the Afghanis had been hit by a series of man-made and natural disasters for a period of over 23 years. Thousands had been orphaned by the Soviet War, and many had been sent to the former Soviet Union for long-term indoctrination, 10 million landmines and millions of lives were claimed, there were 6 million refugees, over 1 million disabled, 80% of the villages had been destroyed, thousands of lives lost to the U.S. occupation, and mass graves that were tied to the U.S. backed National Alliance were being uncovered.

Today the Afghans are still suffering, most are displaced, starving, and without a home or live in tents. Only 5 months into 2010, there has been 48 natural disasters:

1. Ecuador: Tungurahua Volcano – May 2010

2. Central America: Tropical Storm Agatha – May 2010

3. Guatemala: Pacaya Volcano – May 2010

4. DR Congo: Landslide – May 2010

5. India: Cyclone Laila – May 2010

6. Central Europe: Floods – May 2010

7. Sri Lanka: Floods – May 2010

8. Azerbaijan: Floods – May 2010

9. China: Floods – May 2010

10. Gabon: Severe Local Storm – Apr 2010

11. Afghanistan: Earthquakes – Apr 2010

12. China: Earthquakes in Qinghai Province – Apr 2010

13. Colombia: Floods – Apr 2010

14. India/Bangladesh: Severe Local Storm – Apr 2010

15. Tajikistan: Floods – Apr 2010

16. Brazil: Floods and Landslides – Apr 2010

17. Mexico: Earthquakes – Apr 2010

18. Peru: Floods and Landslides – Apr 2010

19. Russian Federation: Floods – Mar 2010

20. Solomon Islands: Cyclone Ului – Mar 2010

21. DR Congo: Floods – Mar 2010

22. East Africa: Floods – Mar 2010

23. Fiji: Cyclone Tomas – Mar 2010

24. Kazakhstan: Floods – Mar 2010

25. Madagascar: Cyclone Hubert – Mar 2010

26. Southern Africa: Floods – Mar 2010

27. Serbia: Floods – Mar 2010

28. Haiti: Floods and Mudslides – Mar 2010

29. Chile: Earthquake – Feb 2010

30. Madeira: Floods and Mudslides – Feb 2010

31. Caribbean: Drought – Feb 2010

32. Pakistan: Avalanche – Feb 2010

33. Cook Islands: Tropical Cyclone Pat – Feb 2010

34. Ecuador: Floods – Feb 2010

35. Afghanistan: Floods and Avalanches – Feb 2010

36. Mexico: Floods and Landslides – Feb 2010

37. French Polynesia: Cyclone Oli – Feb 2010

38. Solomon Islands: Floods – Jan 2010

39. Egypt: Floods – Jan 2010

40. occupied Palestinian territory: Floods – Jan 2010

41. Haiti: Earthquakes – Jan 2010

42. Mongolia: Dzud – Jan 2010

43. Montenegro: Floods – Jan 2010

44. Bolivia: Floods – Jan 2010

45. India/Nepal/Bangladesh: Cold Wave – Jan 2010

46. Pakistan: Landslides and Floods – Jan 2010

47. Solomon Islands: Earthquake – Jan 2010

48. Tajikistan: Earthquake – Jan 2010

Of those 48 natural disasters, disasters in certain parts of Africa, e.g. Malawi, have not been included. These natural disasters show that they could hit anywhere in the world – Europe, and the U.S. are no longer the safe zone that it had become. Some of those disasters have hit population centers/capitals spot on, leaving surrounding country sides unaffected as in Haiti, and Chile, but how prepared are we? Some people have been at the mercy of man-made disasters like the Palestinians of Gaza, to build homes from mud, because they have been denied the building materials we have all become accustomed to.

Traditionally, mud brick homes are referred to as “earthen” or “ceramic” in modern architecture – adobe homes. These types of homes are most common in regions where extreme weather conditions are prevalent. Well designed and built, these homes can last hundreds of years in the midst of an earthquake. They are cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. In Afghanistan, the homes built within the 23 year period of disaster have not been built so well, and there is a preference for the contemporary concrete homes, which are not conducive to an environ that experiences extreme weather conditions, are more prone to floods, and earthquakes, deteriorating rapidly. Concrete homes are very cold in the winter, and very hot in the summer, and are subject to regular repairs as they cannot cope with the sudden contraction and expansion necessary, as well the great demand on energy consumption that concrete homes demand. Yet, it is concrete homes that some NGO’s build assuming that this standard of their offering is what is required without really consulting the people who will live in them.

With good intentions, the Habitat for Humanity International, HFHI, donated building materials and tools to help returning refugees as a part of their Afghanistan Response Initiative based in Mazar-I-Sharif for North and North East Afghanistan.

The “Village of Hope” is the brainchild of Afghani architect Mazum Azizi in response to his people’s request for help. The vision involves:

    “… numerous villages, each with a school, orphanage, health clinic, mosque, park, and a playground all within a walking distance of 500 – 2,500 dwellings, enough for 4,000m – 20,000 residents in each village” said Azizi

The homes are “earthen”, containing cement, adobe bricks, mortar, and plaster to enhance water and seismic resistance. Barbed wire or bamboo is utilized in the brick courses. On, there are details of the design and components with step-by-step instructions to encourage access, and self-building. In addition, Azizi has been raising donations and a long list of volunteer experts to help in the construction of these homes, but success seems to have been remiss.

Engineer and architect, Nader Khalili is a renowned earthen architect and teacher who innovated the Geltaftan Earth and Fire System known as “Ceramic House”. Khalili is also the innovator of the super block construction system. Educated in philosophy and architecture in Iran, Turkey and the U.S., Khalili’s is a licensed practitioner who has received many commendations including the 1987 “Housing for the Homeless: Research and Education” award, the U.N’s International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development award.

The Geltaftan System and his Velcro-Adobe were presented at the 1984 NASA Symposium “Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century. Khalili’s concern for a healthy living space free from toxic materials “… evolved from meditation, hands-on-work, and searching for a safe and affordable shelter for humanity…” he said. Through Khalili’s CalEarth Institute, his designs passed crucial seismic tests in 1995 in earthquake vulnerable Hesperia, U.S. The Hesperia Building and Safety Department approved Khalili’s earthen construction systems. Tests included application of stress asymmetrically to the dome using steel cables to apply thousands of pounds of pressure to the structure. John Regner, senior plans examiner for Hesperia Building and Safety Division said:

    The testing equipment failed and the building didn’t!”

The super Adobe uses local building materials i.e. soil filled sandbags and a barbed wire construction system. Using standard or long tubular sandbags creates instant rammed earth walls that are cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. These can be made on-site to form walls, the vaults of Islamic and traditional architecture reinforced with strands of barbed-wire.

It was a spin-off from Khalili’s design that was used in the NASA space-lunar program now referred to as Superadobe Technology adapted to enable pumped earth coils. Khalili even developed an exterior plastering technique called “Rep-Tile” which does not require plaster mesh. This knowledge in application provided training to the U.N. transferring this technology to the TOKTEN (The Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) program in order to rebuild refugee homes in the Middle East. A prototype of three rectangular bedrooms arching with vaulting roofs exists in the U.N. for a stable family. So what has happened?

Approved for disaster sites after passing six years of building codes to build on the Afghan-Iranian border were aborted after the border was closed to refugees. On the walls of the U.N. written are the words of the 13th century Persian philosopher Sa’adi, which states:

“Humankind are on the limbs of the same body, since they are created from the same essence. When one limb is in pain, other limbs are restless. If you are indifferent to other’s human suffering, you may not be called human.”

With no traces of this technology to be seen in the promised rebuilding of Afghan homes aware of the obstacles Khalili commented:

    “Once we receive a formal declaration of the human right to housing, the education to make it happen, and the networking amongst those who want change, things will change”

Over the odds, Khalili insists any problems regarding royalties and bureaucracies can be avoided by setting up a satellite dish and transmitting a do-it-yourself dome-building seminar in India, Afghanistan or anywhere else.

It is surprising how the answers are always there, but no one wants to see! Continued ignorance and belligerence will only lead us all further down the path of destitution when we are unwilling to recognize the needs of others because wreaking havoc and misery is so much easier.

The original was written in 2002

Associated Press “UN Suspects Afghan Mass Graves Could Be Work of US Backed Northern Alliance.”

Azizi, M. “Help Afghanistan Rebuild” “Nader Khalili, Architect and Author” “Elements #9: Newsletter of Geltaftan Foundation”

Kamber, M “ Afghanistan’s Environmental Casualties”.

Kriner, S. “Natural Disasters Add to Labyrinth of Hardships in Afghanistan.”

Laber, J. “Afghanistan’s Other War.”

Sengupta, K. “Afghans Lured Back to Villages Wait in Vain for New Homes.”

Trivedi, B. “Dirt Domes” Breakthrough in Emergency Housing. National

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