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June 2006 - The
Logging and Sawmilling Journal
There’s been new interest in using Canadian wood products in countries that have been hit by natural disasters—such as Pakistan and Indonesia—because of wood’s superior performance in earthquakes.
By Tony Kryzanowski
The massive 2005 earthquake in Pakistan killed about 70,000 people, about half of whom were children. That’s because the earthquake hit in the morning when children were in school. Many schools were made of concrete, including heavy concrete roofs. And when the earthquake struck, those roofs came crashing down on the children. This heartbreaking disaster was made even worse by this number of young victims.
Tragedies like this—as well as the extreme need for housing in places like tsunami-ravaged Indonesia—have created a new interest among international aid agencies for using wood as a construction material, as well as North American wood-frame building technology, because of its superior performance in earthquakes.
Missions organized and funded by Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd (FII) in British Columbia to visit with government officials, aid agencies, and the sellers of forest products in Pakistan and Indonesia have unearthed what has been described as a “significant opportunity” to market both Canadian wood products and the North American method of
wood-frame construction in non-traditional markets. FII is a branch of the BC government that is responsible for promoting BC’s forest products to the global marketplace.
“I don’t think the Canadian forest industry generally has thought of disaster relief housing as a major opportunity because it hasn’t been that prominent until the tsunami happened,” says FII chief executive officer Ken Baker.
Indonesian workers (above) discuss the installation of roof trusses on a pre-cut wood-frame home from Winton Global Homes of Prince George, BC. Winton Global Homes participated in a relief-housing initiative in the country.
Baker, along with representatives from Forintek, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and industry participated in the missions to assess the need for building reconstruction in both Indonesia and Pakistan. Forintek is Canada’s wood products research institute and has an ongoing research program aimed at helping industry design wood and wood hybrid buildings that perform well in areas prone to earthquakes.
Company representatives from West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products (Interfor), and Canadian Forest Products (Canfor) participated in the missions.
In Indonesia, about 175,000 people were killed by the tsunami that was spawned by a large earthquake in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Sumatra. It caused the immediate displacement of about 400,000 people.
Baker says that it was literally the coincidental events of the tsunami, the need for humanitarian aid, and the fact that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world that created this opportunity to introduce Canadian wood products and technology into this market.
Indonesia has a population of over 240 million people and is not a traditional market for Canadian wood products. Typical building construction for housing in Indonesia consists of hybrid construction using concrete and local wood species.
“The various aid and government organizations we’ve contacted in Indonesia are now much more interested in adopting a significant portion of wood-frame reconstruction than they were a year ago because they’ve learned about the seismic resistance that can be engineered into wood frame buildings,” says Baker, “and they’ve learned about the timeliness of reconstruction using wood.”
Canada isn’t the only country responding to Indonesia’s request to provide wood products to help with the reconstruction effort. As many as 12 other countries are reviewing the need and evaluating what they can provide.
The Canadian wood industry’s contact with aid agencies began at ground zero in Indonesia. However, since then, the industry has increased its networking and communication capacity for dealing with the large number of aid agencies and government organizations typically involved in reconstruction.
“Our success in Indonesia gave this approach a lot of credibility in Pakistan and has provided us with access to organizations like UN Habitat,” says Forintek president Ian de la Roche.
He adds that there is a commercial benefit for the Canadian industry in participating in the reconstruction effort in Pakistan. There is an opportunity to familiarize local residents, as well as government and aid agencies, with the Canadian wood construction system.
“Our priority is to convince these aid agencies that if they are reconstructing, they should try to use Canadian materials and expertise,” says de la Roche.
The recent Pakistani assessment mission met with local wood traders and suppliers, ascertaining that there is a definite interest in Canadian wood products for both structural and decorative uses.
The assessment group has identified an immediate need in Pakistan for wood materials used in post and beam construction, tools, and the technical expertise to construct buildings with built-in earthquake resistance. More specifically, the use of wooden roof trusses in school buildings would definitely be an improvement over concrete.
According to Jim Dangerfield, Forintek vice-president for western operations, who has shown a keen personal interest in advancing the process of linking Canadian wood and building technology with disaster housing relief, the Indonesians have set a target of constructing 120,000 housing units over four years. So far, only 8,000 housing units have been constructed. Another 118,000 homes are in need of repair. In some areas of Indonesia, the impact of the tsunami is almost beyond belief, with every single structure including houses, schools, hospitals, businesses and mosques, destroyed.
Following the tsunami in December 2004, there was a huge outpouring of aid to victims of the Indonesian disaster from both individuals and governments. Private donors and national governments have pledged about $6 billion US in aid, with Canada committing $425 million, administered through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Britco Structures provided these pre-cut, 38 square metre, woodframe homes for residents of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The homes are resistant to termites and—because they are constructed of wood— much more resistant to earthquakes.
Once the needs assessment mission returned from Indonesia, the participants decided that the best approach would be to use local labour to construct some demonstration houses based on ready-to assemble packages pre-cut and treated in Canada. FII secured the Indonesian Ministry of Environment’s agreement to accept a donation of these houses to the village of Labui, a community for which the Ministry is responsible for all aspects of reconstruction.
Companies interested in participating in the donation were made aware of specifications for the type of housing needed in Indonesia and invited to make proposals to FII. “The whole objective was to try to get recognition that wood systems can be efficient, perform well, and provide excellent shelter,” says Dangerfield.
There was good response from the pre-fab home industry and ultimately the Indonesian Ministry of Environment decided to accept four different home designs from four BC-based companies: Britco Structures, Winton Global Homes, Chateau Building Products Ltd, and Simon & Co.
Upon review and acceptance by the Indonesians, FII purchased 10 pre-cut demonstration homes, shipped them to Labui, and had them assembled and completed by an Indonesian builder. Local village leaders, government officials and aid agency representatives were reportedly very impressed with the finished products. “We’ve just gotten word that the Indonesians are considering a quote from us for 10,000 additional units,” says Dangerfield.
While the opportunity in disaster building reconstruction is significant, Baker says it is important to keep its potential in perspective. He says this project is more of a long-term marketing effort to increase awareness of the North American wood-frame construction method, with a strong emphasis on the Canadian brand, in non-traditional markets in need of low-cost housing.
“We think that Canada has an excellent story to tell in terms of wood frame technology that has been developed over the last 100 years in North America,” he says. However, Canada would be doing those in need of disaster relief assistance for housing a great disservice if it did not tie marketing of wood products with proper construction methods.
Gaining an opportunity to build demonstration wood frame housing following a disaster should be perceived simply as a door opener. While the need for 120,000, 400-square-foot houses is a large project, it is quite small compared to the two million annual housing starts based on an average home size of 2,450 square feet in the United States, and the 175,000 built annually in Canada based on approximately the same square footage.
The long-term return for this investment in disaster reconstruction is market diversification by creating ongoing interest for low-cost housing in a non-disaster setting, as well as greater use of wood in non-residential applications, in areas prone to earthquakes. The Canadian industry is already co-operating to promote the Canadian brand in booming and earthquake-prone markets like China.