Traditional mud dwellings stand up to India's big earthquake

Mohammed Yusuf proudly points to a cluster of tiny mud huts standing in a village in the quake-ravaged western Indian state of Gujarat.

Then he gestures to a pile of rubble, the only remains of a cement-and-concrete dwelling that was once a symbol of upward mobility in this tiny tribal village - but no longer.

"All the 84 bhungas [mud homes] in our village are still standing strong, while these new pucca [permanent] houses that a few among us had built just crumbled in the quake," says Mr. Yusuf, the village headman.

The earthquake that ripped through the region in January killed upward of 30,000 people in the coastal state. Only a handful of families in the poor village of predominantly Muslim Samma tribespeople had permanent concrete homes in a landscape dotted with basic conical huts of mud, twigs, and dried grass.

The 1,200-odd Samma inhabitants near Pakistan in the Kutch region, which bore the brunt of the Jan. 26 earthquake, now say they are glad they did not switch to modern homes. They say the traditional homes, based on centuries of indigenous knowledge gleaned from surviving in the quake-prone region, have proved to be much sturdier than the new brick-and-cement constructions.

Villagers in Nanatunda Navavaas, 45 miles north of the town of Bhuj, which suffered the most damage, say they got off lightly because of their traditional mud homes.

Only three residents were killed in the quake. Villager Mitta Lakhmir pointed out a few minor cracks in the baked mud walls of his family's traditional home after the quake, which reached 7.7 on the Richter scale.

"Nothing happened in here, we just felt the world around us wobble and spin, but the roof made of twigs just stayed intact," he said, pointing to the interior of the dark, cool hut.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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