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Post-Tsunami Bamboo Housing Solutions

Village of Lepa following the tsunami
Photo: Skye Turner

The water is usually that light aqua colour
all the way to the shore. Photo: Durnford Dart

A full two weeks after the tsunami, the ocean and the sky still retained a turbulent quality reminiscent of an unimaginably intense energy phenomenon.

I write this article about a month after a severe earthquake/tsunami struck southern Upolu (the main island of Western Samoa). With respectful remembrance of all those who lost their lives, and with prayers for the strength of survivors, I will make no attempt to report about the actual event, or the emotive aspects of disaster aftermath, or the political issues related to disaster aid. I will describe only a small contribution to what is now being practically done in response to this phenomenon.

Many families, with admirable bravery, have started a new life beyond the dead brown limits of the tsunami’s reach. Food and clothing was brought in very quickly and tents and tarpaulins were supplied for those with no alternative shelter to go to. However, in the tropical heat and rain, and with large families to keep together, these tents are less than ideal for living – and rebuilding permanently takes time, especially considering all the hoops aid money seems to have to jump through before being made available for the long-term benefit of people. This is why following the tsunami, METI Permaculture staff stopped work and offered their expertise to construct comfortable, cheap and quickly-erected bamboo geodesic dome shelters.

Attaching the palm frond insulation to the finished frame of this dome.
Photo: Durnford Dart

Locally manufactured metal plates form very
simple joints for the dome shape, and traditional
roofing is adapted to fit the new domes.
Photo: Durnford Dart

Very sincere thanks must go to Durnford Dart (Mr Bamboo of Australia) who volunteered his valuable knowledge and long hours of extended hard work to make this contribution possible. With his help the team selected suitable bamboo clumps around the island and from METI’s own unique bamboo plantation, harvested the appropriate poles, and transported them to the damaged area.

The team (which generally inflates to around 15 people when the village gets involved) can now fully erect a structure like this in 2 hours. An important element in this project is the teaching of local people the construction method, thereby gifting a self-sustaining option for supplying shelters across the country.

The residents
Photo: Durnford Dart

Compared to the tents, the domes are very cool, providing shade but letting breeze flow right through. The basic structure does not include a floor, so things can get a bit wet in very strong rain, however the beauty of these simple structures is that the amendments and additions their owners can make is virtually endless – and materials are plentiful to construct a raised platform, woven walls, further insulation etc. Although the domes are intended as emergency, temporary solutions, we suspect many Samoans will be keen to maintain their domes for as long as the untreated, sometimes immature bamboo will hold up (and then of course, it is a simple matter of replacing the poles).

METI is in the process of securing funding in order to continue the project (costs are attributed to transport and materials – like tarpaulins which could be replaced with thatch over time and metal plates to join poles.)

Many other local and overseas organizations are also working ceaselessly to improve the lives of disaster-affected people.

Meanwhile, our Permaculture Demonstration and Training centre is continuing to develop to be in a position to provide all people of Samoa, and especially those displaced by the tsunami, with knowledge and resources to provide for their families abundantly and sustainably.


  1. Just to make clear for readers – Samoa’s capital, Apia, where the METI Permaculture project is based, was physically unaffected by the tsunami. Apia is on the northern coast and the wave came from the south-west.

  2. I have experience in my country. Same problem here in my country. When Jogjakarta has been impacted by earthquake, the development from all country all over the world are great all the way. By using alternative source like bamboo flooring, our country get more effectiveness and efficiency in maintaining their problems.

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