Department of Interior and Local Government
regional governments of the Philippine Islands
National Housing Authority
The rainy season is once again upon us. In the Philippines, we would expect the wet spell until November this year.
There is really not much change in our life style if we are part of the small percentage blessed with a comfortable environment – homes in high elevations, available rain gears, enough emergency funds, cars that fly, etc. But majority of Filipinos (and even our developing Asian neighbors) don’t have the luxury even of a shelter they can confidently consider safe to withstand natural forces such as continuous, heavy downpours. Remember Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda last year that affected the Visayas, or Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy in 2009 that also destroyed some areas in the Visayas, or Typhoon Thelma/Uring in 1991 that devastated Ormoc?
In Manila alone, we experience floods in many areas due to contributing factors such as poor drainage systems, undisciplined behavior of dumping garbage anywhere clogging canals and water systems, or land elevation lower than water levels. The main causes in the provinces are mainly illegal logging, kaingins and loose soil. And we see almost yearly in the news how torrential rains devastate significant areas and affect the bigger population partly as result of our own acts and partly due to our location in the Pacific.
This article is written not to whine over what is not being done, or talk about what the government needs to do in all areas to prevent disasters in a large scale. After all, the government can’t do it all. It’s a joint partnership between the government and the citizens.
The aim is to offer awareness on possible, alternative housing – one specific area that becomes an immediate need following the aftermath of a strong typhoon. Sure, the house provides a status symbol among other reasons; thus, we invest a chunk of our funds to building our dream house. Again, this group is just part of the small percentage. The bigger percentage, in reality, would just be satisfied with a simple structure where they can be protected from the forces of nature. But what if we can combine aesthetics and simple materials and still come up with a decent house that would cater to our needs for security and comfort even during heavy rains?
There are relief goods provided – clothes, food, medicine, money to fund security and clean up – but after the rains, what happens is to each his own. The family goes home from the gym or school that served as their temporary shelter for a day or week to find an empty lot where their house once stood. Some find their belongings covered in mud or drenched in knee-high water. Come the immediate task of cleaning up and salvaging items that can still be used. The after-effect of such a disaster takes a heavier toll. Remember, A-Z typhoons visit the islands almost continuously and we are unsure as to when the next one will strike.
Paper tubes structures – Shigeru Ban, well-renowned architect
I first met Shigeru Ban in a TEDx Tokyo convention video where he talked about his structure designs using paper tubes. He is a soft-spoken Japanese architect who came on stage clutching a paper tube and started talking about his projects.=
He is a multi-awarded architect, designing buildings, monumental architectures and pavilions for governments and wealthy clients. His style is both simple and sophisticated, fusing Asian and Western design approaches.
His defining moment was when he realized that he wasn’t giving back to society that needs it the most. So, he opened his doors to disaster relief projects.
By far, he has helped countries deeply affected by natural disasters and displaced by wars such as Rwanda during the armed conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus, Christ Church in New Zealand in the aftermath of the earthquake, his local Japan during the tsunami and even the Philippines last year.
In these projects, tying up with the government, NGOs and locals, he works within the budget allocated, using paper tubes and local materials to build temporary and permanent structures. The results are simple, affordable housing.
Initially, he helped build temporary structures as part of the transition periods for the locals but some of his structures were adopted permanently.
He had a team of locals, architectural students and his protégé when building. If the locals present during the buildings can tap on his technique, then they can start building affordable and decent structures for devastated communities.
Possible location/s: provinces and cities
Earth bag houses – Illac Diaz, social entrepreneur
Social entrepreneurship is not yet widely known in the Philippines as the major courses being pursued such as medical, technology and engineering courses.
I learned this from reading and watching about this guy’s efforts in this young field.
Illac is a privileged man, raised in an affluent family and had the doors open for a possible acting profession. He was a commercial model in his younger years but stepped away from a promising show business career. He chose to venture into a fresh route instead, creating value for and giving back to society.
One of his major contributions was the introduction of the earth bag shelter in the Philippines as part of his MyShelter Foundation Projects. This building technology started in the Middle East, developed by Iranian-American Nader Khalili. War materials (soil in straw sacks and barbed wires) along with little cement are used to create the foundation of houses and school buildings.
The purpose was to address the shortage of houses and classrooms for those who can’t afford the common basic building materials such as cement, hollow blocks, wood and galvanized iron (G.I.) sheets.
As with Ban-san’s structural method, anyone who is willing to help can join in building the structures. Just a little assistance from professionals is needed maybe for the blue print.
Possible location/s: provinces and cities
We’re glad we have resourceful minds around us who are always thinking of ways to make things happen.
Remember the shipping container in the docks waiting for its next big haul? What if it’s already regarded as unusable and the shipping company decides to throw it in the trash? Imagine added garbage which for some is gold. It can be sold in junk shops enough to afford a month’s or a few month’s meals for an urban poor family.
But some genius minds also thought of recycling and reusing it as a bunker, dorm, office space or home. You’re helping save the environment one junk box at a time and creating a space using alternative cheaper material.
And if you think box houses are unappealing, check out the link below for possible ideas.
I’ve seen some installed and being used already in Baguio and Bonifacio Global City as office spaces. Some created it as rental space. Here’s the link to the city hub dorm in Mandaluyong.
We can push it one step higher by creating decent homes for the urban poor such as this initiative in progress (by a foreigner for the Philippines) besides providing undeveloped houses in faraway relocation sites:
Possible location/s: provinces and cities
Learn from the Ivatans
Batanes is a very small island in the northernmost part of the Philippines.
It is the entry point of most of the major typhoons. Because of this, the Ivatans have adapted to the changes in weather and became increasingly resilient by building their homes as thick and as strong as possible. These are again made from simple earth materials such as limestone, reed and cogon.
Provinces being battered by typhoons yearly can leverage from Batanes.
Possible location/s: mainly on provinces
The unifying theme is the use of local and cheap earth materials.
Some would raise concerns on areas such as:
All the structures use local earth materials which can be purchased at very low rates or none at all than the basic housing materials bought at construction stores.
As mentioned by the links, no major professional intervention needed. A helping hand and a willing soul is all it takes to spark the interest and idea to spread and build.
All suggestions presented are made from low-cost materials and would only need low-maintenance ways. All materials are also found locally; thus, reducing the need to ship in foreign materials.
- Environmental Impact and Raw Materials Cost
Hollow blocks are made out of powdered cement, water, sand and gravel that go through a refining process before the final output is sold at construction stores. And what is concrete made of? Portland cement, water, sand and rock. Galvanized steel for roofing? Zinc, Iron, other metals. All of these need some processing at a manufacturing plant before the product for building a structure is commercialized. The impact is higher cost for every material needed which not everyone can afford, and we’re just talking about the simple manufactured materials. No tiles, bricks nor marbles.
Since the low-cost housing materials are sourced locally and organically, waste is minimized, by-products are eliminated, raw materials such as zinc or iron are not mined to depletion; instead, used for other needs in society.
If only a big percentage of the overwhelming monetary donations could be allocated to innovations that could significantly benefit society such as alternative housing, secondary to major clean ups after a typhoon, the Philippines could set a very good example in societal development using simple solutions that can be replicated to other third world countries that face the same sentiments.
We change our mindset, take action and we help change society.
SHIGERU BAN – the architect and the paper tube
TEDx Tokyo Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjHlyKT_Uug
ILLAC DIAZ – the social entrepreneur
LEARNING FROM THE IVATANS