Nepalese devotees offer prayers during the Swasthani Brata Katha festival in Kathmandu

'Vegetable steel' bamboo helping to rebuild Nepal homes

Bamboo is being used in Nepal to rebuild its homes and schools after a series of devastating earthquakes last year.

Dubbed ‘vegetable steel’, Bamboo is ideal for rebuilding in Nepal because it grows widely in the area and is easier to transport than heavier materials.

In addition, building with bamboo is also around 50 per cent cheaper than with other materials.

"Bamboo is a great material. The biggest enemy [in a quake] is weight, so bamboo is perfect because it is light, flexible and very strong," said Nepalese architect Nripal Adhikary.

"It can be as strong as steel, but it's much more ecological because it doesn't need energy to produce. People call it 'vegetable steel'."

Twin earthquakes in April and May 2015 killed almost 9,000 people and destroyed nearly a million Nepalese buildings.

Following the disaster, British researchers began using mobile phone data to monitor the movement of people in Nepal to better distribute aid.

Although donors have pledged $4.1bn (£2.9bn) for reconstruction, rebuilding has been delayed by a political crisis.

Adhikary said the government had recently approved the use of bamboo to rebuild schools and was expected to approve its use for reconstructing homes.

Technological advances have improved its durability, while new systems for joining bamboo lengths mean it can be used to build larger span structures than in the past.

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan is currently working with Nepal's government and other organisations on a £560,000 pilot project using bamboo to build 150 homes and 10 schools which they hope other agencies will replicate.

Nepal is home to 54 bamboo species with coverage estimated at 63,000 hectares. Experts say its sustainable use will also help boost local employment and economies. It tends to grow extremely fast, reaching 25 to 30 metres in only six months, and can be harvested three to five years later, compared to a tree which might need 30 to 50 years.

Earthquake engineering expert David Trujillo said interest in building with bamboo in quake-prone regions had grown since a 1999 quake in his native Colombia.

While many newer masonry buildings collapsed, the older bamboo buildings withstood the tremor. Afterwards, there was a big effort to rebuild with bamboo.

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