Mongolië is voor veel mensen nog een mysterieus land dat vooral beelden oproept van woeste ruiters, uitgestrekte grasvlakten en nomaden. Het is een land waar de tijdstil lijkt te hebben gestaan. Als Jill Lawless arriveert in Mongolië treft ze een hoofdstad aan die veel westerser is dan ze had verwacht. De trendy geklede jongeren en moderne discotheken van Ulaanbaatar staan in schril contrast met de nomadische bevolking die nog in tenten op de ruige vlakten leven.
Het wilde Oosten is het onthullende reisverslag van Lawless’ verblijf in Mongolië waarbij je als lezer alle wetenswaardigheden over de lokale politiek, de diverse tradities en de historie van dit intrigerende land leert kennen.
De Canadese Jill Lawless werkte als redacteur in Mongolië bij de enige Engelstalige en onafhankelijke krant The UB Post. Zij schreef ook diverse artikelen over Mongolië voor internationale dagbladen. Momenteel woont en werkt ze als verslaggeefster in Londen.
For most of us, the name Mongolia conjures up exotic images of wild horsemen, endless grasslands, and nomads — a timeless and mysterious land that is also, in many ways, one that time forgot. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongols’ empire stretched across Asia and into the heart of Europe. But over the centuries Mongolia disappeared from the world’s consciousness, overshadowed and dominated by its huge neighbours — first China, which ruled Mongolia for centuries, then Russia, which transformed the feudal nation into the world’s second communist state.
Jill Lawless arrived in Mongolia in the late 1990s to find a country waking from centuries of isolation, at once rediscovering its heritage as a nomadic and Buddhist society and simultaneously discovering the western world.
The result is a land of fascinating, bewildering contrasts: a vast country where nomadic herders graze their sheep and yaks on the steppe, it also has one of the world’s highest literacy levels and a burgeoning high-tech scene. While trendy teenagers rollerblade amid the Soviet apartment blocks of Ulaanbaatar and dance to the latest pop music in nightclubs, and the rich drive Mercedes and surf the Internet, more than half the population still lives in felt tents, scratching out a living in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.
Mongolia, it can be argued, is the archetypal 21st-century nation, a country waking from a tumultuous 20th century in which it was wrenched from feudalism to communism to capitalism, searching for its place in the new millennium.
This is a funny and revealing portrait of a beautiful, troubled country whose fate holds lessons for all of us.
The unfolding Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, while caused by the collapse of the financial system, also presented an opportunity to apply the lessons learned in the late 1990s. The crisis was a roller coaster ride and provided a front row seat to what happens when too much debt and fraud overwhelms the financial system. A conference in Switzerland on African trade opportunities in 2008 was disrupted by the crisis as participants received frantic calls from London and New York and grabbed their bags and fled. Later that year I joined Associated Press foreign correspondent Jill Lawless in Reykjavik, Iceland as demonstrations erupted resulting from the collapse of the country’s banks.
It has been a year since the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China that killed more than 70,000 people.
China’s strongest earthquake for more than half a century, with a magnitude of 8.0 (en.wikipedia.org), it devastated large parts of the province of Sichuan. More than 10 million people were made homeless, most of them poor and elderly villagers (cities were not badly damaged).
Getting Sichuan back to normal is critical for not only the province’s people, but for all of China. Sichuan is China’s rice bowl, growing more food than any other province. But despite the abundance of food, Sichuan remains poor and has seen its working age population move away for work. If it is to have a viable future then its communities need to get back to normal as fast as possible – and its farming economy back to full production.
The unprecedented media coverage of the disaster meant people across China saw the scenes of devastation and have since contributed large donations to help with the reconstruction. The Chinese government has pledged to spend US $151 billion on reconstruction projects.
Finding ways to re-house people after large disasters has become an urgent issue over the last five years. From the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina in the United States and multiple hurricane disasters in the Caribbean, restoring communities is critical for the health of the people and the economies they rely on. Experience has shown that temporary shelters have many drawbacks, being usually of poor quality for long-term habitation and a source of health problems.
The temporary shelters erected for the Sichuan homeless are unsuitable for long-term housing: the 12 square metre grey boxes – two sheets of aluminium sandwiching a polystyrene core for insulation – have no heating. The occupants roast inside in the summer and freeze in the winter. They are also located away from the main source of income: the farms.
The dilemma is how to build new, long-term houses that will not cost too much. Inflation has increased the costs of conventional building materials: bricks, cement and steel.
But the use of traditional building materials and home designs offers an alternative. By drawing on the abundant bamboo and wood in Sichuan and by building to traditional designs, cheaper but sturdy and beautiful homes can be built.
An average home now costs around 80,000 yuan (US $11,688). The Chinese government estimates the price is now 820 yuan per square meter for a new home: bamboo homes cost between 300 and 400 yuan per square meter. Government compensation is between 16,000 yuan (US $2,337) and 23,000 yuan (US $3,360) per family. The bamboo houses range in size from 75 to 200 square metres, and in cost from 22,500 yuan to 80,000 yuan for a very large home.
In Daping village, Pengzhou Town, original homes destroyed by the earthquake sit at the edge of a forested hill. Their frames are more or less intact, but the walls and roofs have collapsed. The new houses replacing them are large, two stories high and have solid grey clay tile roofs. The beauty of the designs stands out and sits in stark contrast to the temporary shelters and concrete buildings.
“There are 43 houses and two public buildings being rebuilt in this project,” says team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology. “The design and the main building material are based on the ecological and sustainable habitat idea. The place (Sichuan) is rich in bamboo and wood. These natural materials are cheap and friendly to the environment. In some buildings we use light steel which can be also recycled.”
The new homes are built to earthquake resistance standards. Led by Professor LiuJiaping, a team of 15 people from the research centre and two from a design institute developed the home designs and supervised the training of local people. They were joined by 10 people from an NGO called Global Village of Beijing, who managed the project to completion.
“All the designs were discussed with the local people,” continues Hu. “We trained a local construction team, which means the local people would build their own houses by themselves. Both our research center and the local people were involved in developing the home design.
“To get the trust from the local people is a challenge in the project. We resolved it by showing our respect to the local people. Before we started our design we discussed with the local people many times to know what kind of house they like. We built the first house to make them believe us.”
Hu believes it is possible to replicate the homes across Sichuan.
“The design is suitable for other villages in Sichuan which have a similar climate and culture with this village. To rebuild sustainable houses after a disaster we should know well about the local life, environment and culture – try to find the useful technique which was used in their traditional houses and upgrade the traditional house to meet the need of their modern life.”
Others have not been as lucky as these villagers. In the village of Yuan Bao, Chen Jingzhong, 66, has had to build a makeshift shack: “They wanted to get us to build our own houses but they didn’t give us enough money,” Chen told the Telegraph Magazine. “All we could afford was this shack, which we built ourselves, with our own hands and without any help from anyone.”
ResourcesArchitecture for Humanity: By tapping a network of more than 40,000 professionals willing to lend time and expertise to help those who would not otherwise be able to afford their services, they bring design, construction and development services where they are most critically needed. Website: www.architectureforhumanity.orgChinese Red Cross: The Red Cross Society of China is accepting donations for disaster reconstruction and is coordinating rebuilding efforts in Sichuan Website:http://www.redcross.org.cn/ywzd/Gerd Niemoeller has developed flat pack, cardboard homes that can be deployed quickly after a disaster and can become permanent homes. Website:http://tinyurl.com/6t6jtf and the company Website: http://www.wall.de/en/homeGlobal Greenhouse Warming is a website that tracks extreme weather events around the world: drought, flooding, severe storms, severe winter, tropical cyclone, wildfires, and extreme heat waves. Website:www.global-greenhouse-warming.comThe Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:www.bshf.org
The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.
More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.
But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.
In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.
The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.
Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.
This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.
In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team.
“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.
“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.
“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”
Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.
Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.
“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”
Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”
“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.
The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.
“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.
“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”
Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.
“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.
But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.
“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.
And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.
“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”
The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website:www.rdiland.org
Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. Website:www.51xuewen.com
Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. Website:www.eartharchitecture.org