and peace with Nature
Rossi - TFF Peace Antenna
conversations with peace visionairies around the
are listed at her CV page here
and collected here.
May 22, 2006
Peace Antenna interview
with Dr. Evgenyi Shirokov, Head of Belarusian Division
of the International Academy of Ecology, Head of
Belarusian HABITAT Center.*
The Belarusian Division of the
International Academy of Ecology (IAE) is a
non-governmental organization, which was founded in
1992 by Belarusian scientists concerned about
environmental sustainability. The Belarusian Division
of the IAE currently has 68 members. It aims to
support sustainable development in Belarus through the
implementation of various ecological, anti-nuclear and
Dr. Evgenyi Shirokov is the head
of the Belarusian Division of the International
Academy of Ecology and also the head of the Belarusian
HABITAT Centre. He has written about straw-bale houses
The United Nations Human
Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United
Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated
by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and
environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the
goal of providing adequate shelter for all (1).
Facts and Figures
In 1800, only 2% of the
world's population was urbanised.
In 1950, only 30% of the
world population was urban.
In 2000, 47% of the world
population was urban.
More than half of the
world's population will be living in urban areas by
By 2030, it is expected that
60% of the world population will live in urban areas.
Almost 180,000 people are
added to the urban population each day.
It is estimated that there
are almost a billion poor people in the world; of this
over 750 million live in urban areas without adequate
shelter and basic services.
The population in urban
areas in less developed countries will grow from 1.9
billion in 2000 to 3.9 billion in 2030.
In contrast, in developed
countries, the urban population is expected to increase
very slowly, from 0.9 billion in 2000 to 1 billion in
Rossi: Which projects are being co-implemented by the
Belarusian Division of the International Academy of
Ecology and UN-HABITAT?
The Belarusian Division of the
IAE was selected as a finalist for the 1999 World Habitat
Award for outstanding human settlements. Candidates for
the World Habitat Awards are expected to present projects
that offer sustainable futures for resident-dwellers by
providing practical and imaginative solutions - large or
small, urban or rural - to current housing problems with
a view to encouraging their replication in other
The Belarusian Division of the
IAE's national project for healthy, natural, low-energy,
social housing made from local renewable materials was
awarded a finalist's certificate, signed by Dr. Klaus
Topfer, acting Executive Director of the UN Centre for
Human Settlements (UN-HABITAT). The project focused
around Chernobyl residents and various other socially
unprotected groups in Belarus.
The main idea behind the project
was that residents could build really sustainable,
healthy, economically viable and energy-efficient
straw-bale homes by themselves or with the support of
construction firms using "soft" state loans - "soft" in
the sense that loan repayment conditions were 5% per
year, to be repaid over a 40 year period - or minimum
capital investment - 40% less than usual.
In 2002, we took part in a special
UN-HABITAT mission in Belarus dealing with the problems
that have resulted from the Chernobyl disaster. The main
challenge is how to provide social housing for more than
150,000 people, who have had to move out of the
Rossi: To what extent has the Belarusian Division of the
International Academy of Ecology been involved in
Shirokov: In conjunction with
our partners, we were the first to construct straw-bale
houses in Belarus and the former USSR. We worked with
Solar Energy International, an American NGO, as well as
with Heimstatt Tschernobyl, a German NGO. We inspired the
architects, construction firms, the Ministry of
Architecture and Construction and other officials to pay
attention to this sustainable technology and to work with
Now we have become the focal point
for straw-bale housing and we are transferring our
experience and know-how to other countries. This
information work that we are currently carrying out to
promote straw bale housing and energy efficiency is
supported by Acid Rains, a Swedish NGO.
Rossi: When were the first straw-bale houses built in
Belarus? What was the stimulus for this
In conjunction with Solar
Energy International, we constructed the first straw-bale
house in 1996, during the seminar entitled "Transfer
Straw-Bale Technology". The stimulus was the need for
healthy, inexpensive, low energy housing for Belarusians
affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe. It was essential
that these homes could be constructed in a very short
time period and that they would meet the principles of
sustainable development. In 1997-98, four official
straw-bale houses were constructed, this time by the
State in the Gomel region of Belarus and, after some
formal tests had been carried out, the Ministry for
Architecture and Construction recommended that straw-bale
technology become more wide-spread.
Rossi: So, are the straw-bale projects, which are
currently being implemented, NGO lead and financed, or
are they mainly government initiatives?
The first straw-bale
construction project was implemented and financed by our
NGO together with Solar Energy International. The next
four houses were constructed and financed by the State
with NGO information support and participation.
Straw-bale homes constructed since then have been
projects of the State, business and private owners.
This year, 2006, the local
authority in the Gomel region plans to construct more
than 150 straw-bale houses. Our NGO now works as an
information centre for straw-bale housing: it holds an
annual international straw-bale seminar, prints practical
guidance for straw-bale construction, etc.
Rossi: Could you give me 3 or 4 ways in which traditional
houses potentially have a negative impact on the
environment? In what way is the situation better with
Shirokov: Straw-bale housing is
better for the environment than the more conventional
"fossil fuel technology" for many reasons,
straw-bale needs less than 150 times the amount of energy
for construction and 3-4 times less energy for
Straw is an extremely
renewable and healthy material;
Once the home's "life cycle"
has ended - after about one hundred years- there is no
problem with waste.
Rossi: I believe that in Belarus the temperature can fall
as low as -25C in winter. Bearing this in mind, which
technology is being used to heat straw-bale homes? In
which ways is this technology cleaner and more energy
efficient than more traditional methods of
This winter, temperatures fell
as low as -30C in Belarus. Straw-bale houses require 3-4
times less energy for heating purposes than houses built
from bricks or other traditional materials. This is
because of the huge capacity for heat isolation that
straw-bale walls provide. In a straw-bale home, it is
possible to use any heating system and there will always
be a saving in the consumption of energy. However, we
recommend the use of a woodstove/air heating system - the
fuel is renewable, local and inexpensive.
We also have projects with a
seasonal solar accumulation system and passive/active
solar heating. However, currently, in Belarus, most homes
use conventional heating systems run on fossil fuel
imported from Russia. This situation is unsustainable
from an economical, environmental and political
Rossi: I have heard that straw-bale housing provides
particularly healthy living conditions for those who live
in them. Can you clarify in which ways this is
Yes, that's right. Children
from families affected by the radioactive contamination
from Chernobyl, who live in straw-bale houses in Belarus,
find that their health improves more rapidly than those
who live in brick or wooden houses. Straw is a natural,
bio-positive material, used widely in former times in
holistic medicine, construction, roofing, etc.
Rossi: Straw is a fire hazard in the minds of many
people; does that mean that straw-bale houses present
more of a fire risk?
A pile of straw can be easily
destroyed by fire in the same way as a stack of papers
can. Straw pressed into a bale can also be destroyed by
fire, but there is less likelihood of this - think about
how difficult it is to burn a big book. Straw bale walls
with stucco [a lime/cement mixture] have a high
resistance to fire, categorized as F119 - the highest
level of fire resistance after special testing under load
(roofing load or similar). A metal frame, by contrast,
has a fire resistance level of F15 and can be destroyed
under load in 15 minutes.
Rossi: What is the attitude of the people in Belarus to
Shirokov: At the beginning they
used to smile - everybody knows the tale of the 3 piglets
- actually my initial reaction was the same. But later,
once they had visited our website www.belecodom.com,
or had been to see one of the existing straw-bale houses,
their comments changed to "it's unusual and interesting".
Then, when they had made the
calculations for the savings on costs, energy consumption
and the added health advantages of straw-bale houses,
their comments were "it would be nice to live in a
Rossi: Do you see a limited market for straw-bale
housing, or are you of the opinion that it is something
that could have a more widespread appeal in the
When we began with straw-bale
construction 10 years ago, we were motivated by the idea
of providing social housing - this is still true today.
However, more and more people are becoming aware of
climate change and sustainability issues as well as the
rising cost of fossil fuels. Further, people now aspire
to healthy living conditions. As such, every year, more
and more people attend our straw-bale seminars - and not
only from Belarus and CIS countries - then they order or
construct straw-bale houses themselves. Belarus and
Russia will enter the WTO next year -between now and then
gas/fossil fuel prices will triple in Belarus. The global
tendency for a rise in the cost of fossil fuel is clear
to everybody. So straw-bale housing is set to have a
great future, I think. The show must go on!
*This interview was obtained
through the email exchange of information.
information, please contact:
Dr. Evgenyi Shirokov
Head of Belarussian Division of International Academy of
Masherov str. 29 -409
1. See here.
2. See here.
with Straw Bales in Belarus
First Straw Bale Building in CIS
Europe - International Network for Sustainable
of energy-efficient and environmentally-sound housing in
Belarus and other countries
with Bales in Belarus
for Environmental Activists
S. O. & Myhrman, M. Build it with
World Fact Book - map of Belarus
free articles &
TFF & the author 2006
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