Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

Architects seek plastic bottles to build shelters for Mexico quake homeless

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 18:15 GMT

Members of the Mexican rescue team Topos climb up the rubble of a collapsed housing unit after an earthquake, in Mexico City, Mexico September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

Image Caption and Rights Information

Scheme aims to help people build cheap shelters made from bottles filled with the debris of their collapsed homes

By Sophie Hares

TEPIC, Mexico, Sept 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tens of thousands of empty plastic bottles could be filled with rubble and earth to build quake-resistant emergency shelters for people made homeless in Mexico's recent tremors, said architects who are urging people to donate bottles.

Starting in the shattered town of Jojutla in Morelos state, near the epicentre of last Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude earthquake, the scheme aims to help locals build cheap shelters big enough for two to four people, made from bottles filled with the debris of their collapsed homes.

"Right now, people are sleeping in the street, in the rubble, in the rain. So we need housing now - we can't wait for the moment the government decides it's going to help," said Ana Vanessa Rendón Zúñiga, one of three architects who set up the Viviendas Emergentes (Emergency Housing) campaign (VIEM).

"There are millions of bottles among the donations of supplies that have arrived... Our plan is to go to the communities and show them how to build these homes," she added.

Last week's quake, which shook Mexico City and surrounding states, killed 331 people and damaged 11,000 homes, with many survivors now living in tents or emergency housing.

It followed an 8.1 magnitude tremor that rattled poorer southern states, including Oaxaca and Chiapas, earlier this month, leaving about 100 dead and millions in need of aid.

The campaign's organisers have asked people to donate empty bottles with caps at collection centres in Mexico City and elsewhere, along with the tools, wire mesh and wood needed to build the homes. About 2,000 filled bottles are needed for each emergency shelter.

The flexibility of plastic bottles means they are four times more resistant to earthquakes than concrete, said Eduardo Garcia Valencia, president of the group Liderazgo Joven (Youth Leadership). It helps builds permanent homes using "bottle bricks", where bottles are filled with sand and earth.

Many of the homes destroyed in the quakes were of traditional adobe construction, using sun-dried earth and other organic materials.

Working with VIEM, Garcia's organisation plans to convert some temporary homes into permanent dwellings and raise funds to help quake-hit communities build new houses, he said. He calculates it takes up to 15,000 plastic or glass bottles to construct a two-bedroom home.

But changing people's attitudes towards bottle houses will be key, as some still have concerns about the safety of the buildings, which experts say can also withstand hurricanes.

"We've heard comments that they're not good, that it's not safe to be in a house of PET," said Rendón, referring to the material used to make plastic bottles. "But there are many people who have lived in houses like this for 20 years and the houses are still good. It's a decent way to live."

(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.