Nov 15, 2016 | By Tess

In April 2015, Nepal was devastated by a powerful 7.8 earthquake which not only destroyed many towns, but also killed almost 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. Since the disaster, the country has been struggling and working towards rebuilding itself with the help of charitable organizations such as Oxfam. What is notable about the organization’s participation is that, in addition to traditional reconstruction efforts, Oxfam has placed a particular focus on new, more technologically advanced rebuilding tools such as 3D printing.

Included in the new methods being introduced to the Himalayan rebuilding effort by Oxfam are the use of recycled plastic bottles for home insulation, new mobile mapping apps, and—importantly—the integration of 3D printers in remote rural locations. The aim is to use these 3D printers to manufacture much-needed parts on the spot, giving locals unprecedented access to tools and parts they may need to repair homes and the like.

The new rebuilding initiative follows over a year of more traditional recovery efforts, which involved providing hygiene kits, input vouchers, and immediate aid. Beginning in December, however, the focus will turn towards insulating homes with shredded recycled plastic bottles. Specifically, Oxfam Nepal will dispatch personnel to insulate 50-100 homes in the Kathmandu Valley, one of the regions most affected by the earthquake. The initiative will be a pilot project to see how viable the plastic insulation is on a larger scale within the country.

In addition to the bottle insulation idea, Oxfam will explore the potential of installing 3D printers in remote parts of the country for in-situ manufacturing of spare parts. This initiative is in partnership with Field Ready, a nonprofit organization that specializes in using 3D printing for disaster relief. According to Oxfam and Field Ready, having a 3D printer on site in a disaster zone could open up the possibility of creating much needed replacement parts for things like water pipes, as well as for medical equipment.

Currently, Oxfam is hoping that 3D printing will have a part to play in its water and sanitation programs. As many villages rely on a single water pipe for their water supply, being able to 3D print a proper plastic fitting for the pipe, rather than use makeshift covers like plastic bags, rubber, or even bamboo, could help to ensure not only safe drinking water, but also a constant water pressure. Field Ready has even demonstrated the effectiveness of the 3D printed water pipe joints in a displaced persons camp in the Sindhupalchowk district.

In line with this idea, Oxfam is hoping to establish a number of small or medium-sized businesses in affected areas which would be equipped with 3D printers to print the water pipe fittings on the spot, as well as molds for the fittings which could be used to create silicone fittings (marginally less effective, but cheaper and faster). “Imagine if you could push a few buttons and create a pipe fixture, as opposed to having to walk a day down to the market to see if they have something, finding out they don’t, then walking another day and another day until you get to Kathmandu to spend time searching there,” explained Annie Killefer, Oxfam’s humanitarian technical manager.

The 3D printing initiative in Nepal is set to take off in 2017 and could prove to be a big step forwards for new rebuilding and disaster relief strategies. In addition to that project, Oxfam is also planning to set up a number of mobile apps to demonstrate how its aid is helping people and where it is being distributed across affected areas. As Killefer explains, the new projects are opening up the possibilities for disaster relief tools, which until now have tended towards a “cut and paste” model.

Oxfam has been granted a certain amount of freedom in its emergency response within Nepal, largely due to its appeal funding and the $50 million that was donated to it by people from around the world. And while there is still much work to be done to help the people of Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, Oxfam’s new experimental methods could help to advance the relief effort and provide an innovative model for future relief efforts.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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