Earthquake survivors have a name for poor building practices: Tofu Construction
In China, the term tofu dregs (the messy bits left after making tofu) is used to describe shoddy work that is a poorly executed by someone who is responsible for a building project. With Tofu Construction you get a structure that may not withstand the next disaster. In under-developed countries there are “tofu-work” projects completed by even the largest and most well-meaning organizations.
Vice-President Biden’s visit to China this week is just another reminder of the risks that Tofu Construction presents to governments and organizations. Chinese officials made sure that they picked a school without any “tofu-work” issues that might sour their image.
No group wants the bad PR that would result from the failure of this tofu construction work. It would be like watching a video of a USAID plastic-wrapped shelter blowing across a Haitian tent city during a hurricane.
The term Tofu Construction does works well in describing the cement-based construction materials that are sometimes used in the rebuilding effort in Haiti. Wikipedia teaches us that Tofu “is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks”.
Soft White Blocks… Doesn’t this also define many of the concrete building blocks created from the white sands of Haiti? The poor quality sand, the skimping on cement, the mixing on the ground, each combine with the primitive molds to press out what is like a “tofu” construction product.
The millions of cubic yards of rubble contain the remnants of this disastrous construction process. And the loss of life and property will never change until we stop accepting this practice and replacing it all with a better concrete construction supply system.
The leaders of Haiti and the building crews from all the charities must realize that Tofu Construction is at the very foundation of the construction problems of the country. Until we upgrade the process, this will continue to leave a bad taste in our mouths.