On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude devastated the island nation of Haiti. The powerful quake collapsed over 250,000 residences, leaving roughly 1 million people homeless. The world itself shook with the impact of the relief effort. International aid agencies and private citizens responded with an outpouring of donations. The focus of the relief effort started to encompass both immediate needs such as food, water and medicine, and also the long-range planning of rebuilding Haiti from the ground up.
Bamboo, with its many uses, can play a role in the relief effort.
With commitments from INBAR (International Network of Bamboo and Rattan) and CBTC (Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre), the World Bamboo Organization and Generation Bambou are leading the way to mobilize the world of bamboo businesses and organizations with the goal of providing and promoting bamboo structures and plantations as part of the long-range relief effort focused on effective housing and economic stability.
The immediate benefit of using bamboo is found in the development of Bamboo Instant Houses. Developed in 2008 by a engineering professor in China in response to the Sichuan earthquake of that year, these modular structures can be built in less than 2 weeks and conform to United States’ building code standards for quake resistance (a huge benefit when dealing with aftershocks as high as 4.5 magnitude). The bamboo shelters are less expensive than the traditional building materials for shelters and unlike tents, they are more durable, insulated and offer a higher degree of protection from the elements.
Bamboo can also serve to build more permanent, earthquake safe structures on the island of Haiti. According to INBAR, one billion people around the world live in bamboo houses and with its tensile strength and favorable elastic qualities, buildings made from bamboo are excellent at withstanding earthquakes. When a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Costa Rica in 1992, all 30 bamboo houses in the epicenter survived intact.
Bamboo buildings would also introduce the concept of “green” living to the Haitian people. The highly sustainable plant grows without use of pesticides or fertilizers and can be harvested in 3-5 years versus the 10 -50 years needed for most hardwoods and softwoods to fully mature. Bamboo also has minimal impact on soil erosion as it is capable of regeneration without needing to be replanted. And because it can be grown and harvested locally and worked on with simple tools, it is also a cost-effective option for a country as poor as Haiti.
Bamboo can not only serve to put a roof over their heads, but also food on their tables. Across the globe, third world countries are using this valuable resource to bolster their economies. From housing and clothing to furniture and bedding and cozy loungewear, there are over a thousand ways to use bamboo to produce marketable goods. Haiti can ensure long-term viable economic growth by strategically planning for bamboo plantations on the island and placing the materials and means of production in the hands of the people who need it most. Bamboo is the potential cash crop that can put Haiti on the road to economic freedom.
The rebuilding of Haiti can be a renaissance of sustainability and economic development for the tiny island if the right steps are taken to rebuild. Using the exceptionally renewable, cost-effective and versatile bamboo plant is one step in the right direction.
For more on the global role of bamboo, visit Green Earth New’s section on Bamboo’s Worldwide Impact.