Haiti and EcoMateriales

Report: Ecomaterials 4 Conference, Bayamo, Cuba

Bryce Gilroy-Scott, University of Glouchester

The devastating earthquake in Haiti early in 2010, tragically emphasized the vital importance of empirical and social research into the development and application of appropriate, sustainable and affordable building materials - the theme of the Ecomaterials 4 Conference held in Bayamo, Cuba, November 22-24, 2009.

The conference had broad international participation with the majority of participants attending from Latin America (particularly the Caribbean region) and from Europe. The range of topics was a stimulating and varied spectrum of papers outlining materials development, field testing and applications of materials, refinements of production and construction processes, investigation of economic and social factors affecting the holistic applications of Eco-Materials development and finally, the presentation of new materials and material derivatives for possible inclusion in the Eco-Materials field.

The event organizers made specific efforts to include a strong social and cultural program to the conference, something frequently overlooked during academic conferences. Each evening of the conference had a cultural program: a Cuban samba band,, a cultural evening highlighting the local arts of Bayamo (complete with a horse-drawn cavalcade to the theater) and a final night cabaret extravaganza.

For my part, this cultural inclusion highlighted the important difference between EcoMaterials 4 and other academic conferences - a social engagement. While the importance of impartial inquiry and research is integral to academic discourse, the larger milieu within which this search for and application of knowledge exists, is frequently overlooked if not forgotten by a singular emphasis on pure rationalism. The structure of the EcoMaterials 4 conference thoroughly repudiated this mechanistic tendency and maintained the focus of the conference and the work presented squarely upon the central tenant - developing sustainable and affordable building materials to meet the needs of people and communities. The quality of academic inquiry and rigor was in no way diminished by this emphasis upon social engagement and in fact, the opportunity to meet other conference participants in an informal but shared social environment, provided a rich shared experience. An experience that created much stronger social bonds and relationships to form the foundations for potential future networks of collaboration.

The social aspect of the conference seemed, in my experience, to increase the commitment and quality of researchers to their academic work and I can only attribute this to the fact that people were engaged with helping others and working towards a goal that has social meaning, the improvement of the quality of life for families and communities via better housing and services.

The enormity of the tragedy in Haiti terribly emphasizes the urgency of the research that was presented, shared and discussed at the EcoMaterials 4 conference. An urgency for the global community (or networks of communities within their own regions) to have the technical knowledge and physical infrastructure required to be able to rapidly respond to crises. An urgency even larger in scope than emergency response but for a vision of a world where people are able to afford and build homes that are responsive, sustainable and safe, so that the vicious cycle of tempest and quake does not periodically destroy families and communities. The knowledge and ability to build resilient communities does already exist, it is the willpower and resources to put it into practise that is lacking. I found the EcoMaterials 4 conference to be an event where people and organizations who are committed and working very hard to change this situation, could meet to exchange knowledge and expertise but also to build networks of mutual support and even to provide that most intangible quality in academic environments - inspiration.

Bryce-Gilroy-ScottBryce Gilroy-Scott is a Lecturer at the Graduate School of the Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology, University of Glouchestershire

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Fernando Martirena
Civil Engineer, PhD. Professor.
Spanish, English, German.
Research and investigation of materials, specifically alternative cement and cement products.


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