20081227-the-goals8You may remember the fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs: when threatened by the big bad wolf, each chose to build a shelter to shield himself from the wolf’s huffing and puffing. The house of straw and the house of sticks fell away, but the house of bricks stood strong.

These days, the global “big bad wolf” is earthquakes. Unfortunately, most homes built on fault lines continue to be rebuilt with the same materials and the same construction techniques that crumbled with some seismic huffing and puffing.

20090204-modern-day-fairytaleBuild Change, a nonprofit from San Francisco (quite familiar with earthquakes), is working to change that. The amazing thing is, they impact the developing world without providing funding or materials – only consultation and training. Founder Dr. Elisabeth Hausler (pictured at left) realized after one earthquake with 20,000 casualties: “it’s not the earthquake that kills people, it’s the building collapsing.”

Build Change works with international agencies and local experts to help each region identify best practices that meet its needs, source locally available materials, and test low-cost construction methods. Once they have developed a model, Build Change conducts training and distributes construction manuals so the region can permanently change how it constructs buildings. From project to project, Build Change collects and disseminates a repository of earthquake-resistant building techniques.

Why do some buildings crumble and some buildings remain standing?

Sichuan earthquake: Unconfined precast concrete buildings crumble, while confined masonry buildings remain standing.

The Indonesian island of Sumatra has suffered three of the world’s top 10 largest earthquakes since 1900, and all three of those earthquakes have occurred in the past five years. For perspective, SF’s two famous earthquakes don’t even make the list. Build Change works in Northern (Aceh) and Western Sumatra, and is seeking support to rebuild the area damaged by the May 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province of China.

Build Change’s methods remind us of another adage which should be remembered in all developing world projects.

Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime. — Author unknown