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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Natural Disasters: Earthquakes in Turkey

Searching for Sustainable Solutions: Searching for Sustainable Solutions Each year the World Bank awards start-up funds to the winners of the Development Markeplace competition for creative ideas that seek to solve local development challenges. Dr. Ahmet Turer, a structural engineer at the Middle East Technical University (METU), is one such winner for his creative use of recycled tires as a means for poor people to reinforce masonry houses themselves. He thinks that encasing house walls in discarded car tires will make them stronger and able to withstand seismic shocks. In other words, bricks won't crumble causing the roof to cave in onto people. Turer's idea holds promise as one that is low-cost and accessible to most people. Since people already have built their houses themselves, it would be easy for them to retrofit their houses as well. It is easy to find discarded car tires, so except for transporting the needed tires and cheap connection gadgets, there are no other costs. This approach is also ecologically-friendly since it recycles otherwise useless materials. Using tires to reinforce heavy infrastructure has been tried in similar situations. Researchers at Ottawa University successfully demonstrated that confining columns using car tires can work. The concept of reinforcing house walls with tires to guard against earthquakes is similar. If tires can improve the strength of reinforced columns, they should be also to strengthen masonry walls.
Think Local, Act Global?
Using car tires to reinforce houses could be replicated in other poor countries where earthquakes are frequent and people live in masonry houses. Examples of such countries include India, Pakistan, Iran, and South American countries on the Pacific coast. "If this approach works, just think how many lives could be saved and how much material loss could be prevented on the global scale," says Turer.
Getting the Word Out
This idea is based on a "do-it yourself" approach, so the project will succeed only if people embrace it. A publicity campaign is one of the most important phases of the project. The project will initially target poor people who live in high seismic zones that did not have an earthquake in last 20-30 years. This makes these areas more likely to receive an earthquake in near future. Pilot projects areas will be determined by overlapping high seismic zones with heavily populated areas where most people live in masonry houses. With the help of national and local television stations, Turer will film his laboratory experiments, in which he will reinforce houses and then destroy them in a simulated earthquake. He plans to show these test results on local TV channels that broadcast information of interest to farmers and poor people. He is also preparing television programs that explain the approach and demonstrate the benefits it could yield by showing "before" and "after" reinforcement tests. "I want people to see these improvements with their own eyes, so that they themselves will be willing to do those improvements," Turer explains.
Measurable Benefits From Recycling & Reinforcing
Since 1992, more than 18,000 people have been killed in earthquakes and some $20 billion has been estimated in damages. If people start reinforcing their house walls, many lives would be saved and many masonry houses would remain standing following an earthquake. "If only one percent of people start using this approach, we would save some 100 lives and $3.5 million over the next 10 years," says Turer.
Where is the project now?
The agreement is recently signed on Feb 23, 2004, and the methods that will be developed by the project will be available on early 2005. Turer and his team at the Middle East Technical University are working hard in their laboratory to refine the idea. They must create walls to test the resistance after retrofitting them with tires. They want to optimize how many tires are needed per wall, and what is the best pattern to use when applying tires. Then they will apply their findings on real buildings in pilot tests. They plan to start their publicity and education campaign by the end of 2004.

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