Cablegate: Sichuan Quake Donations Demonstrate Green Building

DE RUEHCN #0304/01 3482332
P 142332Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


CHENGDU 00000304 001.2 OF 002

1. (U) This cable contains sensitive but unclassified
information - not for distribution on the Internet.

2. (U) SUMMARY: Guangyuan, one of Sichuan's poorest prefectures,
is the site for a demonstration of earthquake resistant,
environmentally friendly bamboo shelters. The standards being
employed in post-earthquake reconstruction in Sichuan are only
equivalent to those applied in non-quake-prone U.S. states like
Arizona, i.e. nowhere near those of quake-prone California, a
USC engineering professor believes. Cooperation on bamboo
structures might be a useful addition to the continuing
U.S.-China dialogue on earthquake-resistant structures. END

A Chinese-American Professor's Donation

of Bamboo Shelters to Quake Schools


3. (U) Prof. Xiao travelled to Guangyuan in November along with
Zhang Jiqiang, Vice President of Programs for the Blue Moon Fund
(a Charlottesville, VA-based foundation that was previously part
of the W. Alton Jones Foundation); EconOff accompanied. There
they visited schools using modular bamboo shelters designed by
Xiao and donated in the immediate aftermath of the May 2008
quake, with Blue Moon support and donations from Hunan
University faculty and students. (See also More than a year after the quake
rendered the old school buildings too damaged to use, the new
buildings are nearing completion, and the modular bamboo
structures will soon be dismantled. The materials would be
re-purposed for use in home reconstruction and building an
agricultural-study center for one school's students.

4. (U) Note: Guangyuan is one of Sichuan's poorest prefectures,
one of four where annual per capita GDP falls below 10,000 RMB
(USD 1,470), and with incomes only slightly higher than in the
neighboring Tibetan minority autonomous prefectures of Aba and
Ganzi. Its mountainous terrain at the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet
Plateau makes transportation and economic links a challenge for
its mostly rural population. Only about 500,000 of the
prefecture's 3.5 million people live in urban areas. Qingquan
County, one of the most severely hit areas of the 2008 Wenchuan
earthquake, is under Guangyuan's jurisdiction, but earthquake
damaged to the road network made relief work there especially
difficult. End note.

Advocating New Materials to Increase Quake Resistance, Reduce
Environmental Impact, and Increase Rural Incomes

--------------------------------------------- ----------------

5. (U) During this November trip, Professor Xiao and Blue Moon
sought ways to leverage the temporary shelter donations - and
the relationships developed with local government and school
officials - to promote the use of the materials in permanent
structures. Zhang told EconOff that Blue Moon has also provided
funding to the Beijing-based International Network for Bamboo
and Rattan (INBAR) to promote the use of bamboo as an
alternative to cement throughout China. (For more information on
INBAR's programs see

6. (U) The temporary classrooms were the first larger scale use
of Xiao's building materials. Other demonstrations have
included a number of model houses around the country and what he
described as the world's first bamboo bridge able to accommodate
truck traffic in Hunan Province (see
Now, Xiao and Blue Moon envision doing a large scale
demonstration project, hoping that its success will convince
local governments in Sichuan to build permanent bamboo-based

CHENGDU 00000304 002.2 OF 002

structures on a wider scale. Xiao expressed particular interest
in pursuing a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, which has
launched several homebuilding projects in the quake zone since
last year (reftel).

7. (U) Note: Quake reconstruction is overwhelmingly dominated by
cement-based structures, with smoke-spewing cement factories --
a huge source of greenhouse gases -- booming as they produce
replacement construction materials for the region. However,
there are also experimental projects scattered in the quake
reconstruction zone and other researchers are also working on
alternative construction materials and methods. See, for
example: ( End note.

Professors' Criticisms of Post-Quake Shelters and Reconstruction
Standards; Believes Bamboo is Superior Alternative

--------------------------------------------- --------------

8. (SBU) Professor Xiao shared his criticism with EconOff of
both the standard temporary shelters in the quake area --
overproduction resulted in a "huge amount of waste" and
pollution -- and the permanent construction underway the
construction standards being employed are equivalent to those
applied in non-quake-prone U.S. states like Arizona, i.e.
nowhere near those of quake-prone California.

9. (U) Professor Xiao believes that bamboo materials can often
replace cement and steel materials in construction. Xiao
described the advantages of bamboo-based construction as
producing dramatically fewer emissions than cement and requiring
far less deforestation than traditional wood. Flexible
bamboo-fiber based materials are significantly more
quake-resistant than most cement structures, he said. Moreover,
he argued that, if it were to become a major source for
construction materials, bamboo cultivation could also contribute
toward rural poverty alleviation by providing rural peasants
with a larger market for a bamboo crop. (Comment: While bamboo
has important advantages over cement or wood, if natural forests
were to be replaced by bamboo groves a shift to large-scale
bamboo use in construction could have important environmental
consequences if they were a less effective carbon sink than
traditional forests. Currently in Sichuan, the vast majority of
bamboo supplies, for both building materials and paper
production, are grown by individual farmers around their homes.
End comment.)

Little Room for Alternative Building Materials in Quake Zone?

--------------------------------------------- --------------

10. (SBU) A meeting between Xiao with his Blue Moon Fund
supporters and the principal of Biejie Elementary, one of the
shelter recipient schools, highlighted the hurdles they face in
attempting to convince decision makers to opt for bamboo over
cement. Although the school principal expressed gratitude for
the materials - and noted that they had proven to be far
superior to the standard shelter materials - the school has
proceeded with rebuilding in cement and steel, in accordance
with a design provided by Beijing University. Blue Moon's Vice
President nonetheless appealed to the school officials to help
them persuade the local government to take on a more substantive
pilot project for use of the materials, noting that Blue Moon
can provide support for design and training in the use of the

11. (U) Comment: The perception that only cement and steel can
build sufficiently strong permanent structures appears strongly
entrenched at every level, despite the fact that so many such
structures collapsed during the quake. Cooperation on bamboo
structures might make a useful addition to the continuing U.S. -
China dialogue on earthquake-resistant structures. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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