Last year, seven volunteers were sent to Jordan to work alongside the Habitat for Humanity and help build homes for the less fortunate.
Throughout 2018, four volunteers will be sent to Nepal to help the region that was damaged by a major earthquake in April 2015.
One of the first four volunteers was Nina Riehle, WSP’s Sustainable Resource Management Consultant who arrived in Nepal on the 3rd March. She worked with the Housing Recovery & Reconstruction Platform (HRRP) and other relevant government bodies for four weeks to manage the post-earthquake housing reconstruction. This enabled the residents to ensure that they comply with the required safety standards and specifications when building their homes.
One of the major issues that affects the rebuilding process is the quality and availability of building materials. Nina Riehle shared, “In the past, people used stone and timber for construction. More and more households are opting for non-traditional technologies due to cost and material availability.”
While well-made non-traditional/modern construction techniques and materials can be very resistant to earthquakes, without proper manufacture and implementation they can be much more dangerous than traditional construction. One of these technologies which is becoming more popular, and is often poorly used in buildings, is hollow concrete blocks (HCB). Due to poor manufacturing in rural Nepal, hollow concrete blocks have a very low structural integrity. HRRP conducts field visits to all heavily affected earthquake districts to collect hollow concrete block data from producers and households. They have also tested the compressive strength of more than 90 hollow concrete block samples.
One of Nina’s responsibilities was to compile the findings in a report and identify the underlying quality issues. “I found out that none of the tested hollow concrete blocks complied with the mandatory compressive strength. This may have serious implication on the future safety of buildings in Nepal. On average the hollow concrete blocks were 20-30% below the mandatory compressive strength and in some cases even 60% below the required value. I recommended that a guideline for the hollow concrete block producers be developed to standardise the HCB production process and address these issues”, Nina said.
During her second week in Nepal, Nina developed a carbon foot printing tool to compare common building materials and assess their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cradle-to-gate. She said, “Most of the housing reconstruction activities in Nepal are done by manual labour, thus, the construction stage does not result in significant GHG emissions. Cradle-to-gate includes the GHG emissions generated during the material acquisition and pre-processing, production and transportation to the supplier site.”
The tool that Nina developed will be useful to promote vernacular building design as well as alternative sustainable building materials such as compressed stabilised earth blocks (CSEB). The next step for this tool is the comparison between housing models using carbon vs. cost of construction to assist in decision making.
On her last week, Nina met with a local NGO called Build up Nepal who are working with sustainable building materials. They demonstrated the process of creating compressed soil bricks which are a mix of earth, sand and only 5% cement. The construction method has been used on over 600 houses across Nepal providing an affordable sustainable solution.
Nina considers her Nepal journey as very memorable and a great learning experience. She shared, “It was really powerful to see first-hand the challenges that the people are facing in Nepal. The main thing that really moved me was how people have adapted and fought to create opportunities from this terrible disaster, whilst empowering themselves and their families. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that I was able to use my professional skills to provide strategic solutions that will have a large impact in their communities.”
Read Nina Riehle’s blog about her Nepal volunteering experience here.