Mother’s Nature Fury raged again last week. This time it was in the form of a severe tropical storm that hit eastern Indian states as well as neighboring Bangladesh on Tuesday, April 13th. Striking with little warning as people were sleeping, the storms contained winds gusting at a walloping 100 km/hour with tornadoes developing within the storm. Half a million people were affected and all of this in a region still struggling to recover from Cyclone Aliya that hit in May 2009.
An estimated 100,000 homes were destroyed and the confirmed death toll reached 136 with 29 of those deaths being children. The district magistrate of Araria (a rural district within Bihar), Uday Kumar, told reporters that “while the exact number of people rendered homeless would be ascertained by Saturday, 25,000-30,000 people were affected.”
There were lucky ones whose houses survived the storm and not surprisingly, their houses contained the strong element of bamboo.
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi told the media: “While tin-roofs secured by bamboo shoots withstood the fury of the storm, people sleeping under the mud-thatched or asbestos roofs were caught unawares. Unfortunately, a large number of the victims were women and children.”
The rural poor mostly live in thatched huts and these were the houses that swept away easily in the storm. According to AFP, 500 families have lost their homes in Assam state while in Bangladesh, 12,000 houses were damaged. The question of resolving homelessness and providing adequate shelter is fresh on the mind.
And the answer could be in the use of the bamboo that survived the storm. Bamboo is an incredible building material that combines flexibility with amazing tensile strength. Roughly one billion people around the world live in bamboo houses and buildings made from bamboo are excellent at withstanding natural disasters. While the bamboo house may bend with the wind, the structure will hold.
For shelter after the storm, many relief agencies have implemented the use of bamboo instant houses. After an earthquake struck Central Java in 2006, the Red Cross erected 12,500 bamboo shelters that can be used for up to five years. Another such bamboo housing design was developed in 2008 by an engineering professor in China in response to the Sichuan earthquake that occurred that same year. Because of its durability and affordability, bamboo is an effective material to build emergency housing around the world.
These storms also brought in a fresh wave of concern about the plight of the poverty-stricken citizens in these areas. About 55% of people in Bihar live below the poverty line according to official estimates. In West Bengal, 27% of the population lives below the poverty line of one US dollar a day.
Not only could bamboo supply the necessary housing for the people of India and Bangladesh, but it could also provide a means for rising above their poverty. India has already made progress with the formation of the National Mission on Bamboo Applications, a coalition focused on working towards enlarging the bamboo manufacturing sector and creating opportunities for employment and economic advancement.
As in so many other instances, the fragile string holding a society together is swiftly cut when natural disasters occur. The lack of government response and limited aid available has sparked riots throughout the region as anger grows over the lack of material relief from the devastating storm. Relief has been slow to reach the affected due to a rundown infrastructure and the destruction of lines of communication.
Taking advantage of the mighty bamboo plant for both housing and a means of production would allow these governments to build a stronger citizenry, and houses that can withstand the storms ahead.
For more on how bamboo is changing the world, visit Green Earths News section on Bamboo’s Worldwide Impact.