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New R&D project focuses on novel approach to post-disaster response

By RAMONA KUNDT

BRUSSELS – A new EU-funded Security Research project that targets the “smart redesign” of stand-by emergency response in post-disaster situations will, if successful, speed up the emergency response chain by providing the ‘seeds’ for self-recovery in disaster-affected areas.

For four years until February 2016, the project known as “S(P)EEDKITS” (Rapid deployable kits as seeds for self-recovery) will develop a new emergency response system of modular deployable shelters, facilities and medical care for easy pre-positioning and mobilisation at short notice. The kits will be as light as possible, optimally packageable, transportable and cost effective – all based on high-tech design but low-tech use, according to project officials.

The project is the brainchild of a multidisciplinary team led by Centexbel, the Belgian Textile Research Centre, which is based in Ghent and functions as the R&D wing of the country’s textile industry. The new S(P)EEDKITS consortium counts among its membership the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Dutch research entities known as WASTE, an urban environment and development foundation, and PRACTICA, another foundation focused on the commercial application of water and energy technologies in developing countries.

The project’s main objectives were presented during one of several workshops at “AidEx 2012” – a global humanitarian and development aid conference that took place here on 24-25 October 2012. (see related story in this issue)

In its first phase, the project will roadmap the volume and weight constraints posed by current emergency response units (medical care, sanitation, energy provision, water supply) used by humanitarian organisations. Novel materials and design concepts will then be applied to reduce transportation volume and weight in order to speed up delivery times.

The future kits will also be “insertable” into a range of relevant target sites – whether an affected region or city, improvised camp or rural setting – to initially restore economic and social life as quickly as possible. “The planned kits have the potential to improve the life of millions of people during the first hours, days and weeks after a major disaster”, explained project coordinator Guy Buyle of Centexbel.

Some of S(P)EEDKITS’ other planned innovations include: lightweight, durable and thermally-isolated tent materials; new approaches to energy supply (i.e., biogas from sanitation waste); textiles to line pit latrines; lightweight textiles to store and distribute water; and smart packaging of materials such as the “Matryoshka doll” idea of placing smaller units inside medium ones inside larger ones, with the smallest unit transportable by individual persons.

For example, the research group plans to explore several options such as biogas. One of their ideas is to convert excreta into energy through biogas production, which could also be used as fuel for cooking. Currently, no rapid deployable solutions for biogas generation exist, according to the project partners. Their goal: produce a sanitation-biogas system to collect faeces and other household/kitchen waste from 200 people and turn it into biogas.

A system of this size would thus produce about 15-20 cubic meters of biogas per day from faeces and/or collected household kitchen waste. While this is a relatively small amount of gas, it would enable a central kitchen to cook food for the same amount of people. It also means that little or no wood or charcoal would be needed, thus reducing costs, environmental impact and threats to human respiratory health.

The first prototypes [of the biogas/excreta system] will be executed by PRACTICA and WASTE, while Centexbel and Belgian textile company Sioen Industries will develop the required coated textiles, with assistance from other project partners.

For information about S(P)EEDKITS: http://www.speedkits.eu/

     THE UPSHOT: Humanitarian organisations working on disaster response are always in need of anything “lighter, faster and cheaper”. S(P)EEDKITS’ approach to textile-based emergency relief items could provide much-needed flexibility and robustness in areas where logistical and transportation capacities are scarce or badly affected by disasters.
Whether new textiles – or any product for that matter – can accelerate post-disaster “self-repair” as quickly as their supporters argue is very much an open question. Anyone who has worked in the developing world knows that disaster relief, even when the best equipment is available, is often a messy and chaotic affair due to all the underlying sociological factors: corruption, creaking or non-existent transport networks, poor indigenous training and low education levels, lack of “maintenance cultures” for equipment and systems; the list goes on and on.
Nonetheless, each innovation helps… and can have unexpected benefits. We will monitor S(P)EEDKITS’ work to keep our readers informed of its progress.

About Ramona Kundt

rk@seceur.info'
Ramona Kundt was deputy editor at SECURITY EUROPE from 2008-2012.

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