This week’s blog covers the trip to Harkapor in the district of Nuwkot with Franky a civil engineer who has been working on some new traditional house designs which provide a more earthquake proof building.
Franky, Sunju, Phil and little Phoenix set off from Kathmandu early Monday morning picking up Nicole (Another volunteer who wanted to join us) and Prabin one of the young men from the village we were visiting along the way. The drive took around 3hrs with the last 45 minutes winding up the valley side on dirt roads through green terraced paddy fields and broken traditional homes. We arrived just up from the village as the road that takes you directly there had been washed away over the monsoon months. We jumped out of the 4×4 just and where met by Baso and Hari two of the fathers of the homes we are helping. After 30mins or so walking down we arrived to a very warm welcome and as always tea and biscuits from our hosts. I have known the villagers for nearly 3 years now and stayed many times but this was the first time I have stayed with them since the earthquakes. I have been up twice to drop supplies and volunteers but never stayed so this was a chance for me to see how life has changed.
The first thing I noticed was of course the tin shacks that they now call home and the pile of rubble that was their home before but looking past that they have managed to get themselves back on track rather well. The rice was planted in June and will be harvested in three weeks and they all still had their livestock and some basic supplies so all appeared fine at first. Then when I started to spend a little more time with them in their shacks and found that they were all in one room now with limited spaced to store food and supplies. With the onset of the rice harvest about to start they all need room to store the next year’s rice and supplies but with the old house gone and no room in the tin shacks they are now worrying about where to store the rice. If it’s kept at ground level there is a higher chance of rot getting into the rice plus more rodents feeding on it so it has become more of an issue living in the temporary tin homes. Then we started to talk about Dashain the main festival of the year for Hindus in Nepal and all of them said they could not have as many family visit this year as they have nowhere for them to stay and are limited on what food they can offer. Now to many this may seem like a trivial problem but to a Nepali being able to look after people when they visit is an honour, In Hindu tradition all guests are God’s so not be able to respect them can be a big embarrassment for them not to mention being heart-broken at not seeing their loved ones at such an important time of year. Add to this a rising prices on food and supplies due to the protests in the south and Indian Government refusing to supply Nepal with fuel they are finding it much harder than I first imaged. One thing I have learned about Nepali’s is that they are very reluctant to complain and will always put a brave face so you really do have to dig deep to understand what’s really going on.
By now I have been in Harkapor for one day and got to know some of the issues they are facing but both Franky and I were very keen to see how they would respond to the new structural designs. The homes in rural Nepal tend to use local materials to keep cost down plus getting building supplies to remote villages is not an option in some cases so they have learned to become self-sufficient. The main walls are nearly half a meter thick and made of odd shaped stones and bonded with clay which proved to be very inefficient at dealing with earthquake. What Franky has come up with a simple change to the traditional home that involves weaving a bamboo fence panel that is fixe in-between the thick wooden main supports. This is also supported by some pole every half meter that all fix to the foundations. Then they build an identical bamboo wall on the inside leaving an air gap of around 30cm for installation and plaster over the bamboo wall inside and out with the red terracotta clay that they love so much. The second part to the construction is that under no way should they use large stones to hold the tin roof sheets on, these must be fixed only with screws to reduce weight. The end result is a much lighter structure which looks nearly identical to the last home but has hollow walls and a frame of wood and bamboo giving it flexibility which is key to withstanding a large earthquake. They did seem to have trouble putting so much trust in bamboo and the cost of good hard woods in Nepal is not cheap but EHN will help cover some of the costs if they promise to stick to the design. We have also got plans which included putting the stone wall in-between the bamboo wall panels but this will increase the amount and size of the bamboo and timber used for the structure. One example how little they regard bamboo was when I asked how much weight a piece of bamboo could take, I was holding a piece about 3inches thick. Answer was 3 to 4kg but when I told them it was in excess of 300kg they very surprised but still not convinced so we made a 1m by 1m piece of the bamboo wall panel and I jumped up and down on it without any part breaking. This seemed to get the point across and helped prove our point. Now we are looking at a 6m by 4m structure with 70cm thick hard wood poles to take both floors with 3 to 4 cross beams to run the second floor on. In-between the timber will two panels of woven bamboo panes locked into place with bamboo poles on each floor. The second floor will be the same bamboo laid over the timber and then covered in the red clay to finish and a bamboo, timber or light steel roof trusses with zinc sheets roof panels. The 3D model that Franky has done shows this structure can take up to and possibly past a 9 ricter earthquake without any problems to the building apart from some new plaster on the bamboo wall panels.
We are at the stage of working out exactly what materials they are happy to use and whether or not they will go with the hollow walls or not as they still have a tendency to think thick stone walls are stronger. That being said the seed has been sown and the points put across for safer home design now we just need to find volunteer with some building experience to come and help them rebuild from mid Nov onwards until April 2017.