Building quake proof and cheaper bamboo houses

Against the backdrop of a major earthquake expected in the region, the Department of Forests and Park Services is trying to popularize houses built with bamboo, which is supposedly a safe and resilient structure. In addition, a bamboo house is considered to be a cheap alternative to the conventional house structure.

Bhutan enrolled itself as member of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) in 2010. As its first activity, Department of Forests and Park Services built an engineered bamboo house which they claim is earthquake resistant.

Given the huge resource base and vast availability of the bamboo in certain areas of the country, using bamboo to build modern, safe and affordable house could come as cheap and viable option. Therefore, the authorities are planning on setting up a bamboo treatment intervention.

The Social Forestry and Extension Division aims to encourage the use bamboo in the construction of safe and affordable house for people living in high poverty incidence areas and ease timber shortages in the country.

Experts found that bamboo has a tensile strength, and by that virtue, bamboo houses are less likely to sustain structural damage during tremors. Bamboo houses are also found to withstand the shock hence providing resilience.

Records show that bamboo house could withstand an earthquake with magnitude as high as 7.8 on Richter Scale, sustaining only minor damages, unlike concrete buildings which succumbs to minimal shakes.

Hence, the government is planning to use bamboo materials for construction of public structures, such as schools and hospitals where the death toll could be high. Such effort by the government is part of its earthquake preparedness strategy.

During the Meet-the-Press session held last Friday, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that Bhutan should be prepared and there must implement various preparedness methods in capacity building.

Lyonchen said that important places, like schools, institutions, hospitals, etc., are being studied to see if they are earthquake resistant.

He added that Bhutan is fully prepared and vulnerability checks are completed in seven dzongkhags.

As per the record with Department of Disaster Management (DDM), a major earthquake in 2009 damaged 4,950 rural homes, 45 Basic Health Units, 117 schools, 281 Lhakhangs, 539 chortens, 8 dzongs, 29 RNR offices and 26 Gups office with an estimated loss of Nu 2,5 bn. In addition about 12 human lives were reported to have been lost.

According to   DDM, the underlying vulnerabilities, like socio-economic factors, rapid urbanization, unsafe construction practices, and lack of enforcement, awareness, preparedness planning and lack of culture of insurance results in heavy losses in the times of natural disasters.


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