Terrible things are happening out there… How can WE help?

22 Aug

Recently, we’ve seen floods and earthquakes all over the planet. There are disasters in Pakistan, Chile, China, and many other places.

As a result, many people have sent me email asking if the “Corten Cavalry” is going to do anything to assist these people while they try to regain control of their lives.

While we’d like to help, there just isn’t any way for us to get ISBUs to Pakistan (for example), as much as that pains us. Many of us in “the Cav”  have actually spent time there and we know that the people are good, hardworking and deserving of aid in their time of need.

We’ll focus on contributing to aid organizations that are providing medical aid… groups  like “Doctors Without Borders.”

Many more have asked about ways to contribute to the housing problem in these disaster areas, via something that keeps resurfacing over and over again, each time this chain of events occurs.

I’m talking about companies that are building what I call “shelter sheds.”

For example, after the Haiti Earthquakes, I received this in my email:

(In fact, in the last three weeks or so, I’ve gotten virtually the same email again about twenty times.)

“A solar structure manufacturing company located in Corona, California, builds a product known as “The Solar Cabana.” This cabana can be utilized as temporary housing units for the victims of the Haiti earthquake disaster.

The documentation goes on to say that;

“The Solar Cabana can be altered to provide closed sided housing to protect against the elements. These solar structures measure 11×11, and can be drop shipped to your location.

These structures are easily constructed, and can be erected within 6-8 hours. These electricity producing solar structures can be utilized independently, or tied together to create a small electrical generation plant.

The easy construction of these solar structures allows for rapid implementation, as well as reuse for future need. They can be packed and shipped to the next emergency location as needed. Battery back- up systems are also included as an optional feature. Large quantities of these systems can be packed and shipped within 48 hours of order.

Yes, helping the Haiti people as well as helping the planet…

I invite you to visit our website WWW.offtheroofsolar.com should you require more information. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.

My personal cell phone number is (XXX) XXX-XXXX.or office XXX XXX-XXXX”

Okay, why am I bringing this up?

These aren’t “Cabana’s” like you’re thinking. You can’t “live” in them globally. They are just “shade areas.”

They look like covered awnings.

Like guys like Pedro de Alba, a civil-engineering professor who specializes in earthquake engineering, I urge you to think twice about contributing into charity pools that advocate these structures. All these well-meaning people are  doing is importing expensive materials that aren’t available locally and that involve construction methods that in most cases is well beyond the population’s expertise.

Big canvas tents are a much better “fit.” You know, like the ones that you see on all those “M.A.S.H.” reruns on TV.

There are other companies going a step further, touting “converted garden sheds” (like you see at Home Depot, for instance) as “temporary disaster housing.” They advocate actually importing them into the country in crisis and then selling them to the populace.

No matter how they wrap this, this still doesn’t make any sense to me.

For example, even now as time passes after the devastating earthquake… the  average Haitian lives on less the $2 per day, so these $5000 – $10,000 “glorified garden sheds” seem a little out of the budget range of the people who need them.

This is only compounded by the fact that you’d need to deliver thousands of these to the people, in order to make a dent in the need for them. Then you’d need to set up villages of them, and provide the “rest of the picture”, things like sanitation, clean water, fuel for cooking, power, etc…

Even IF you could send a container ship to Haiti or elsewhere… filled with these “temp housing alternatives”, it just wouldn’t work.

First, who’d buy them?

$5,000 at 1% over say… 10 years is $45 a month.

$5,000 at 1% at 20 years, is still $23 a month.

The average Haitian worker makes $2 a DAY. (In Pakistan, it’s even less.) And, only one person on five was actually working, BEFORE the earthquake.

They still have to eat. They still need fuel to cook with (and even generate heat), and water.

Let’s not bring into play that these structures won’t LAST 10-20 years…

HOW is this an alternative?

For that same “$5,000 investment”, you could do something far superior that lasts for ages… by anyone, almost anywhere.

What? Brace yourselves.  I’m about to throw a wrench into the machine.

I’m hoping to see some really productive aid coming from the “Earthbag Home” people. Guys like Owen Geiger are teaching people to build shelters with what they have… like DIRT and barbed wire.

I “filched” the following from his own blog:

“Dr. Owen Geiger, Ph.D. (in Social and Economic Development), is the former Director of Builders Without Borders and Founder and Director of the Geiger Research Institute of Sustainable Building (www.grisb.org).

He is an author, engineer and licensed contractor specializing in strawbale construction, earthbag and other types of sustainable building. He co-authored the Builders Without Borders Straw-Bale Construction Guides and contributed to Building Without Borders: Sustainable Construction for the Global Village.

Dr. Geiger has consulted on numerous international housing projects and worked closely with Habitat for Humanity for seven years. He is also a correspondent for The Last Straw Journal and a Mother Earth News Green Homes Expert.”

Suffice to say that he’s an Earthbag Know-It-All! 😉

And he has this guy (with big ‘ole Earthbag shoulders) to help him carry the weight;

(Again, rather than just “make stuff up”, I ruthlessly stole stuff from their blog!;) 😉

Kelly Hart is the host of www.greenhomebuilding.com and www.dreamgreenhomes.com, and has built his own home using the earthbag technique.

He has adapted the concepts popularized by Nadir Khalili and his “superadobe” building, by filling the bags primarily with crushed volcanic rock. This creates insulated walls that are similar to strawbale, except that they are completely impervious to damage from moisture, insects or rodents.

Kelly has produced a DVD, titled Building with Bags: How We Made Our Experimental Earthbag/Papercrete House, which chronicles his adventure of building this house, and shows other earthbag houses as well.

And the shelters that they build are long-lasting, sustainable, and affordable, in most regions. And, it’s LOW-TECH.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Now, I don’t know a lot about Owen (except what I’ve gleaned thru a few private email exchanges and what I read about him, but I have to tell you that Owen and his crew are IMPRESSIVE) and  I know that he’s got a network of “Earthbaggers” out there that are literally changing the world for people.

THAT blog of his might be a good place to look, when thinking about a way to help these other families (who could just as easily be US) in need.

It’s just a thought.

Stay tuned.


2 Responses to “Terrible things are happening out there… How can WE help?”

  1. John Umland August 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    I agree, I think this is the way to go, since it’s hard to get anything through the ports, and the bags and dirt can be sourced locally, and the labor is straightforward. Good on you for deflecting some love on another method.
    God is good

    • Renaissance Ronin August 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi John,

      Good to hear from you!

      Look, it’s ALL about the fabric of families, as far as I’m concerned. And, we have to do what we think is best, in each situation. right?

      In the end, it’s just knowing that you made someone’s life better. That’s the important thing.



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