Disaster Housing: Solutions Conceived by the Hexayurt Project

Vinay Gupta of the Hexayurt Project has done much work in the area of emergency housing, something I have explored in some postings here at Bubbleconomics — see “MSF’s ‘Plug and Play Hospital’ in Haiti,” “Haiti Disaster: Housing for When the Bubble Pops,” and “Where will people live after the Big Bubble pops?

Gupta articulates the need for inexpensive, rapidly-deployable solutions for housing in emergencies in his article “Hexayurt Country.”

In an infographic called “Six Ways to Die,” he sketches out a map of the infrastructures that keep us all alive and illustrates how lives are threatened when those infrastructures fail or are disrupted.

Built around that “Six Ways to Die” framework is a presentation called “Dealing in Security: Understanding Vital Services and How They Keep You Safe.”

The Hexayurt is a sheltering solution made from flat panels that can be quickly and cheaply constructed but are much more durable than emergency tents. Here is a very useful video, “Ending Poverty With Open Hardware,” in which Gupta explains some important concepts about how to prevent loss of life using open technology.

AB — 23 January 2010

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MSF’s ‘Plug and Play Hospital’ in Haiti

Yesterday I was discussing the potential value of rapidly-deployable emergency housing in disasters — see “Haiti Disaster: Housing for When the Bubble Pops.”

Today, BoingBoing published a fascinating interview with Laurent Dedieu, logistics supervisor for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, aka Doctors Without Borders), about the inflatable hospital the organization has deployed in Haiti. (See “Haiti: HOWTO set up a plug-and-play hospital — Doctors Without Borders.”)

Just the fact that MSF has a job title “Logistics Supervisor” makes a statement about the character of the organization and the way it thinks about relief work. The group also has an R&D organization, which has developed the “plug and play hospital,” described by BoingBoing as “a series of inflatable tents with generators and sanitation equipment designed to be mostly independent from the water and power systems typically unavailable after a catastrophe.”

Follow this link for a gallery of photos showing how the hospital was set up.

In the interview, Dedieu describes the hospital:

The mobile field hospital is 9 tents, and each is about 100 square meters, so the total is about 900 square meters. The land we’re using is a former football field, so it’s the perfect space for this, nice and flat.

[The hospital consists of the] 9 tents, 100 beds, including hospitalization and ICU and recovery beds. A triage and emergency tent, and two operations theatres. The idea is that within the tent we have a complete kit we can deploy including energy supply, water supply, all the sanitation, and all medical equipment inside the tent. In Haiti, everything needed to run a hospital including beds and biomedical equipment is included.

We want to be as autonomous as possible with regard to energy. In this case we have one 30 KV generator and one 60 KV generator. Plus an electrical board, and equipment to ensure electrical safety. And then you have all the electrical wire you need to set up lights inside the ward, and set up plugs for the medical equipment.

Here he gives some insights into how MSF’s R&D and innovation processes work:

We are working with standard MSF equipment, we have R&D centers and storage in Europe, in Bordeaux and Brussels. When the equipment reaches the field, typically you have to face some technical issues, some small problems, but the big issues have been solved. One of the problems we had the first time we used this hospital in Pakistan in 2005 was that there was a big difference in temperature between day and night, at night the tents were deflating. The pressure inside the tent was not enough and was creating a problem. Now we have gauges that constantly measure the pressure and trigger compressors to re-inflate if it goes too low.

MSF’s solution speaks to the need for technologies that can be rapidly deployed in crisis situations to deal with medical needs. Previously I wrote out some thoughts about the need for solutions for post-bubble housing needs — see “Where will people live after the Big Bubble pops?” from June 2009 and “Haiti Disaster: Housing for When the Bubble Pops” from earlier this week, 20 January 2010.

What I’m trying to get at is that, if the Bubbleconomics premise is correct, then the world is going to see increasing needs for large-scale relief solutions, as the global situation worsens and economic bubbles pop at all levels. This emerging regime will call for innovative efforts on the parts of governments, NGOs, and businesses to create solutions that can be deployed rapidly at large scale to meet such needs as housing, medical care, and food.

AB — 21 January 2010

Haiti Disaster: Housing for When the Bubble Pops

Seeing the devastating effects on the lives of the people in Port au Prince, Haiti, in the wake of the recent earthquake emphasizes the potential value of emergency housing solutions for recovery.

In such a disaster, survivors are thrust into chaos and forced to live in unstable, unsanitary conditions, seeking out housing any way they can. It seems to me this suggests a need and opportunity for emergency housing solutions that can be quickly and massively deployed by governments or NGOs.

An article in Wired from October 2007 includes a gallery of interesting designs for such situations — see “Instant Housing and Designing for Disaster.”

Just having the housing technology, though, isn’t enough, as demonstrated by the difficulties of getting medical and food assistance to the people in Port au Prince. The problem isn’t necessarily getting relief resources in the first place, but in getting them implemented and distributed.

Deploying emergency housing for potentially hundreds of thousands of people would require a tremendous amount of advance expenditure and organizational infrastructure. So the solution that’s called for is more along the lines of an urban-planning project rather than just an architectural problem.

Suppose it were possible to manufacture in advance the components of a massive portable community that could be stored in advance and deployed rapidly anywhere in the world?

Just thinking out loud — see my previous article, “Where Will People Live After the Big Bubble Pops?

AB — 19 January 2010

Great infographic shows whether the world is getting better or worse

The following infographic linked from New Scientist aggregates various data sources to show multiple world trends. The upshot is that, overall, conditions for people are getting better (though obviously not for everybody — you know how statistics work). However, the environment is shown to be getting worse (click on the image to get to a full-size version you can actually read):

Is the world getting better or worse?

Is the world getting better or worse?

AB — 10 Sept. 2009

Where will people live after the Big Bubble pops?

If the Big Bubble proposition turns out to be true, the world could be faced with hundreds of millions or even billions of people homeless or under-housed. Where might people live if they lose their incomes and can’t pay rents and mortgages?

Some might have the ability to live off the land, join with relatives, or form intentional communities. But it’s easy to imagine large displaced populations lacking housing.

(Note: I don’t necessarily think the Big Bubble is going to pop inevitably. It’s entirely possible that those who are trying to keep the economy running will find ways to do so in spite of the human and environmental consequences. Bubbleconomics is in the way of an exploratory project, so the ideas presented here are tentative.)

When it comes to housing, I think it’s useful to look at alternatives that are emerging in various corners of the earth where people are already suffering from scarce resources. Interesting solutions often arise from such conditions.

Recently I learned about a housing solution being developed by Tata Group, a $62.5 billion Indian company that operates in multiple businesses, including IT, communications, energy, chemicals, and other industries. Tata is the company that has developed the Nano, an auto that sells for as low as US $2,800.

In that same spirit, Tata Housing is building a “nano-housing” complex consisting of very small units designed for affordability. The project, called Shubh Griha, is in Boisar, a suburb accessible to Mumbai. The living units advertised by Tata are 283 square feet, 360 square feet, and 465 square feet.

Here’s a link to a floor plan for the smallest unit:

From Tata’s price list, it looks as if the smallest unit would sell for about 400,000 rupees, or about US $8,500. Tata describes Shubh Griha as “an integrated township with all the basic amenities” and “a clean and green environment.” The development is planned with a footprint allowing 70 percent devoted to common area.

In the U.S., “tent cities” have received some press over the past year as increasing numbers of people become homeless. In some areas, such communities have received assistance from governmental and non-profit organizations — for example, see information here about tent cities in the Seattle, Wash., area. Dignity Village in Portland, Ore., is an example of a former tent city that has evolved into an established intentional community with its own administrative and security infrastructure.

Here’s a link to an image of one of Dignity Village’s common buildings:

The organization says it has five basic rules:

  1. No violence to yourself or others.
  2. No theft.
  3. No alcohol, illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia on the property or within a one block area.
  4. No continuous disruptive behavior.
  5. You must contribute to the maintenance and operation of the Village.

One of the scariest outcomes from lack of housing is the development of huge “shantytowns” around many large cities in the world. These communities are called favelas in Brazil, which lays claim to some of the best-known of such areas. Here is a link to an image of Favela de Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro:

A few years ago I read in Awake! magazine about the cage apartments in Hong Kong, where where over 53,000 people live, according to Christopher DeWolf writing on his blog UrbanPhoto — see his article “Life in a Cage.”

In Awake! (“A Day in My Life in Crowded Hong Kong,” Nov. 8, 1991), Kin Keung writes about

thousands who live in Mong Kok district and who rent “cage apartments,” stacked three high and measuring six feet [1.8 m] long by 30 inches [0.8 m] deep and 30 inches [0.8 m] high. They have space for a mattress and a few personal belongings. No furniture.

thousands who live in Mong Kok district and who rent “cage apartments,” stacked three high and measuring six feet [1.8 m] long by 30 inches [0.8 m] deep and 30 inches [0.8 m] high. They have space for a mattress and a few personal belongings. No furniture.

Here is a link to DeWolf’s photo of someone living in a cage apartment:

A non-profit organization called EDAR Inc. has developed a portable shelter for the homeless called the EDAR unit. Here is a link to a video that demonstrates how EDARs are used:

All of this is written not to scare the pants off of people, but to point to the issues that arise for individuals when their personal bubbles deflate, and what could happen to masses of people worldwide if the Big Bubble collapses.

The need for housing alternatives points to an area where innovation could benefit millions and where an opportunity exists for governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and entrepreneurs.

AB — 6 June 2009

Does Bubbleconomics offer solutions, or is it all negative?

Someone with a critical eye might look at Bubbleconomics as a negative endeavor. So this is a valid question: Are we just mouthing off about how bad the human economics system is, or do we offer solutions?

One answer to that is that Bubbleconomics is very much an exploratory project. Our ideas are in discovery and might be looked at as trial balloons or straw men — certainly not sacred cows, if you will permit another cliche.

While we are not interested in recommending government policy, we do recognize that governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and individuals might undertake projects to combat the negative human effects of economic bubbles or to exploit the resultant entrepreneurial opportunities. Such projects could take place on a large or small scale.

For example, I was thinking this morning about the growing phenomenon of homeless tent cities in the U.S. The tent city in Sacramento, Calif., has received much recent attention due to its being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Naturally the recent upsurge in such settlements brings to mind the Hoovervilles that emerged during the U.S. Great Depression. But we might also consider favelas or shanty towns like the ones in Brazil, or refuge camps. (See this panorama view of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro.)

If the Big Bubble hypothesis is correct, the world could see an increasing need for such settlements as economies collapse and populations are displaced. What might be the needs and opportunities arising as a result? What are the possibilities for creating intentional settlements, low-cost housing, products, and technologies targeted at the increasing needs for such encampments?

These seem like fruitful areas for exploration, and I am certain that innovators, entrepreneurs, charities, governments, and researchers are already investigating them.

One recent example I came across is EDAR (Everyone Deserves a Roof), a non-profit organization that distributes mobile shelters that have been compared to covered shopping carts.

AB — 15 March 2009