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Constructing refugee camps might cause massive carbon dioxide emissions

Architect Matti Kuittinen developed a model for low-carbon rebuilding, which will facilitate constructing in accordance with sustainable development.

Villagers from St. Mathieu, Haiti building a school out of crushed concrete. Photo: Matti Kuittinen

Climate change has emerged as the main cause for humanitarian crises and may result in a billion people becoming refugees by 2050. In the worst case, refugee dwellings will increase the greenhouse emissions of their residents by over 4 000 per cent.

In his dissertation study, the doctoral candidate, Architect Matti Kuittinen of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, familiarised himself with low-carbon humanitarian construction.

'It is not ethical to conduct humanitarian aid work without knowledge of its effects on climate change', Kuittinen emphasises.

Although disaster construction may be catastrophic to the environment, in places, it is much more ecological than previous construction.

'Systematic environmental assessment is not conducted when constructing refugee camps. Aid agencies do not, therefore, have a concept of which measures could be used to make the camps low-carbon or which implicit, wrong choices lead to major emissions.

In his research, Kuittinen developed a model for low-carbon rebuilding whose starting point is always the prevailing situation.

'When rebuilding will hopefully soon begin in Syria, the model could help in constructing in accordance with sustainable development. The model will set a ceiling for the emissions of construction and living based on national CO2 statistics. This will enable calculating the emissions of the country's entire building stock.

Crushed concrete in Haiti and log houses in Japan

In the aftermath of the tsunami of 2011 in Japan, 300 000 people were housed in barracks with non-existent thermal insulation. Kuittinen was there, investigating the energy efficiency and carbon footprint of different refugee camps.

'The tsunami wiped out a lot of forest from its path. The fallen tree trunks were quickly sawn into logs, which were used to build refugee camps. The carbon footprint of these buildings was notably smaller than was the case with the pre-manufactured barrack housing with steel frames.

The fallen tree trunks were quickly sawn into logs, which were used to build refugee camps. Gohyakugawa, near Fukushima. Photo: Matti Kuittinen

In 2010, Kuittinen's work for Finn Church Aid took him to Haiti, in areas destroyed by an earthquake.

'I developed a construction method utilising the crushed concrete that was left behind from the collapsed houses. We designed a number of school centres, many of which have already been built in collaboration with local people.

According to Kuittinen, climate change mitigation should be included in the conditions for granting humanitarian funding in the future.

'There would be a lot of use for Finnish environmental competence in repairing the aftermath of global disasters. I think this kind of exported expertise is far more efficient than the often suggested shipping of construction materials from this side of the earth to the other.

Public examination of the doctoral dissertation

The doctoral dissertation of Architect Matti Kuittinen, Carbon footprint in humanitarian construction. What are the CO2 emissions and how to mitigate them?, will be publicly examined at Aalto University on Monday 30 May 2016 at 13, in lecture hall A2, Otakaari 1 X, Espoo. Professor Aoife Houlihan Wiberg, NTNU Department of Architectural Design, History and Technology, will serve as the opponent.

Orders for the dissertation can be placed with the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture’s online bookshop: shop.aalto.fi. Inquiries: [email protected], and tel. +358 50 313 7086.

Further information:

Matti Kuittinen
[email protected]

tel. +358 50 594 7990

 

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