In the wake of earthquakes, tropical storms and hurricanes, bamboo shelters provide sturdy, humanizing and cost-effective ways to house residents recovering from the ravaging Mother Nature can inflict. And while we haven’t seen these structures pop up in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the international community is embracing the trend for use in man-made disasters as well. (Although some would certainly argue that global warming being man-made was a cause for recent super storms.)
A man-made crisis is indeed converging on the refugee camps within Ethiopia. While most Westerners would think it is a country to run from, it actually provides a safe haven for Eritrean refugees in the north, South Sudanese refugees in the east and Somalian refugees in the south. Currently the numbers are around 56,200 vulnerable peoples displaced within their borders.
The Norwegian Relief Council arrived on the scene in 2011 with the three main goals in mind: shelter, education and Camp Management Training. Their goal in terms of shelter is to ““improve living conditions for refugees through the provision of shelters in the refugee camps….advocating for sustainable, adequate (according to SPHERE-standards) and culturally appropriate transitional shelters.”
They quickly took the lead in sheltering with their use of locally-sourced bamboo and mud to build transitional housing for the refugees. The kit approved by the Refugee Task Force is now the standard for all three areas. While some would argue that tents are easier to distribute and quicker to set up, their use actually contributes to an extreme shelter gap. While new tents are needed for the 70 – 100 new refugees streaming into camps daily, almost as many are needed to replace worn tents for existing residents.
Recently, the NRC held a workshop in Dolo Ado, the main camp for Somalian refugees, teaching refugees and host community members to build their own shelter kits. Over 17,000 people have fled to Dolo Ado, the second largest refugee complex in the world offering a safe haven from harassment and fear of forced recruitment by armed gangs in Somalia.
These environmentally friendly shelters are produced using local resources. Bamboo is one of Ethiopia’s main exports and thankfully for the increasing numbers of displaced residents, it grows rapidly and can be harvested easily by cutting at the base rather than tearing from the ground. The bamboo is used to build the walls of the houses while corrugated metal (also produced in Ethiopia) provides for roofs and lockable doors.
Not only are these shelters more permanent and sturdier than tents but they provide a boost to the local economy and a chance for livelihood among the camp residents, many of whom are struggling to support their families. Compounding the misery of displacement is the long period of drought in the region. While bamboo is a resource that can sustain through the harsh conditions, unfortunately much of the livestock that the pastoral community rely on cannot. Many in the area are without a way to feed their families or earn money to do so.
Working with refugees, NRC has constructed over 3,000 shelters so far this year and plan on having more than 4,000 built by the end of the year. From a Westerners viewpoint, perhaps bamboo is a resource worth looking at more closely. Not only would it provide a resource for housing people, albeit temporarily, when disasters strike but the hearty crop could bring an economic boost to areas like the Delta where cotton no longer is king.
For more on how bamboo is changing the world, visit Green Earth News’ section on Bamboo’s Worldwide Impact.