Adobe Stands Up to Quakes
By Néfer Muñoz
A non-governmental organization in El Salvador is promoting the construction of adobe homes designed to withstand the relatively frequent earthquakes that hit Central America. Adobe is an ecological and inexpensive alternative, say experts.
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- The independent Salvadoran Ecological Union (UNES) and dozens of families in El Salvador have joined forces to fight the myth of the fragility of adobe buildings, the traditional bricks of sun-dried earth and straw.
Environmentalists and community leaders have built 70 adobe homes based on a special design for resisting quakes like those that devastated parts of El Salvador last year.
The construction technique for "quake-resistant ecological homes", conceived by engineers and architects, combines blocks of earth, bamboo cane and straw with a base of cement, reinforced by iron and a special covering to prevent rain from dampening the adobe.
The technique establishes specific portions of white soil, sand and clay to be used in making the most resistant bricks.
In the wake of the earthquakes in early 2001, several independent groups showed interest in finding new ways to improve the architecture of homes.
''The result we propose is an earthquake-proof adobe home, which is cheaper, safer and ecological,'' UNES general coordinator Mauricio Sermeño explained.
The initiative "has two purposes," said Sermeño. "The first is to protect families, and the second is to preserve the adobe tradition, which is part of our national cultural identity."
An adobe home costs 2,400 dollars, and can easily be erected by the family that will inhabit it. They just need to follow the simple instructions and illustrations provided in the manual published by UNES.
It is an ecological option because the materials used are recyclable, and avoid the use of baked bricks, the manufacture of which requires ovens heated by a great deal of wood, according to local environmentalists.
UNES seeks backing from humanitarian institutions and donors in order to expand the number of people benefiting from the anti-quake adobe construction.
The organization picked up on the adobe housing project, based on techniques elaborated in the 1990s by engineers and architects from France, Peru, Chile and Colombia for the private Central American University.
In January and February 2001, El Salvador suffered two serious earthquakes and hundreds of temblors, which claimed at least 1,000 lives, destroyed 300,000 homes and caused 1.6 billion dollars in economic losses.
Before then, UNES had built an adobe home, which withstood the series of quakes intact. It came as a good sign, and encouraged the organization and other environmental groups to obtain funds for donating construction materials to the poorest families.
"This house is very safe, very pretty and very cool. We don't feel the heat. Also, when it's cold out, it stays warm inside," Daisy Estrada, 41, told Tierramérica. She has lived in the home since March with her husband and five children in San José Villanueva, 18 km south of the capital.
Thermal insulation is one of the greatest virtues of these adobe constructions, agree residents and experts.
Estrada and her family lost their house in the earthquakes of 2001. But their new home seems to hold up well to the country's constant seismic activity. "We built it ourselves, and are very happy with it because it is of a typical but very pretty design," she said.
This new technology based on ancient tradition is available to anyone interested. Just write to the e-mail address: email@example.com.
* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent.