For Elizabeth Hausler, safe housing is a basic human right. When quake-vulnerable housing collapses in a disaster, she argues, humans - not nature - are to blame. By thoroughly overhauling the approach to homebuilding, Hausler is working to make safe construction a reality.
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When I saw the tragedy unleashed by quake-vulnerable housing I knew what I had to do
My father ran a construction company, so construction and building things were familiar to me from childhood. Naturally I studied civil engineering in undergraduate and graduate school. I loved solving technical problems. But I wanted to do something that brought me in touch with people.
In 2001 the Indian state of Gujarat was hit by a massive earthquake. When I saw the huge loss of life caused by poorly built housing, I was shocked. Everyone should have the right to live in a safe home. This was no natural disaster -- it was a man-made tragedy. I had all this knowledge and experience in building and I was casting around for a way to deploy it.
In 2003, I went as a Fulbright scholar to India, and while helping with post-earthquake recovery I studied the reconstruction. I realized the problem was not purely technical. NGOs donated housing, but people were very unsatisfied with their new homes. No attempt had been made to adapt the homes to local climate and customs. For example, in this area people were accustomed to having their toilets outdoors, but many of the donated houses had indoor toilets. This sort of aid, I thought, was utterly meaningless.
Overturning conventional wisdom about homebuilding to end man-made disasters
Instead of trying to impose foreign-designed houses on local residents, I decided it was essential to work closely with local residents and get them involved in rebuilding. By training locals in basic architecture and construction, they were empowered to take responsibility and monitor safety, and help spot misuse of funds and corruption; reducing man-made disasters. Also, by hiring local engineers and builders, we contribute to local economies.
I wanted to completely transform the approach to homebuilding, so in 2004, I founded Build Change. Our main activities are providing low-cost, highly earthquake-resistant designs, and training locals in the essentials of safe construction. Whether the trainee is a poor farmer, an engineer or an NGO worker, our methods are designed to be accessible to all.
Safe homes and schools for 10 million people. But that's just the start
Build Change's first project was in Indonesia after the tsunami, in 2004. Since then we have expanded to Haiti, the Philippines, China (through 2011), Colombia, Guatemala and Nepal. We are now active in six countries. To date we have built 48,738 disaster-resistant buildings, making 245,026 people safer. This has generated jobs for 10,956 engineers and builders, and we have provided training to 25,363 people. But this isn't enough. Our next goal is to build safer housing and schools for 10 million people over the next 10 years.
Until now we have devoted our energy to getting the technical aspects right, and haven't been able to focus on publicizing what we do. But it's critical to get our message and techniques out there. There are still huge numbers of people in need of safe homes and schools around the world. We will keep working to ensure that, more people can live in safe homes, work in safe buildings, study in safe schools.
Traveled to India in 2001 to assist with and study reconstruction after the Gujarat earthquake. Realizing that local residents needed to be armed with knowledge of safe building techniques to prevent building collapse, she founded Build Change in 2004. 70% of managers at Build Change are women. Many trainers the company employs are also female. To ward off jet lag, Hausler relies on running and yoga.