Discussion with Kerala’s fabalabs about 2018 Kerala floods

Meeting repor

In Fablab ULB – Belgium, a group of 44 students, mostly architecture students but also physics, engineering and fine arts students, are working on the natural disaster that happened in Kerala in August 2018. The purpose is to find solutions to help the Indian population through Fablabs and the Fablabs network. The wish is to collaborate with Indian Fablabs in order to work on several solutions for eventual emergencies or prevention.


This document was written by the DFS students after a video-conference between the DFS class and different actors of the fablab network in Kerala. This document will be shared with the Indian fablab actors to verify its exactness and then shared across the Fablab networks. The goal of this document is to learn about how Kerala’s Fablab and the global fablabs network are reacting to the disaster. What works ? What does not work ? What can we learn from this disaster ? From that document and the contact that were made with Kerala’s Fablabs, the DFS students will develop about 15 to 20 projects which goal is to help Fablabs to respond in the case of this catastrophe or similar. These projects will be documented and shared in open-source at the end of the class.


Date of the video-conference: Friday October 26th 2018 at 10:30 am (GMT+2) – 2pm (IST)

Video-conference actors :

Fablabs in Kerala – India :

Fablab ULB – Université Libre de Bruxelles ULB – Belgium :

  • 44 students from 2018 Digital Fabrication Studio (DFS),
  • Victor Levy  (viclevy24@gmail.com) – class coordinator
  • Denis Terwagne (Denis.Terwagne@ulb.ac.be) – class coordinator


Introduction :

In August 2018, floodings ravaged Kerala, a region of India located in the south of the country. In response to this devastating event, a class given in the Fablab ULB from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) started exploring the possibilities to help Kerala’s region using the tools and the knowledge they have, in case of emergencies situations. The class is called Digital Fabrication Studio (DFS) and is formed of two teachers, Victor Levy and Denis Terwagne, and 44 students from different fields, such as architecture, arts, engineering and physic. The purpose of this studio is to work on prototypes conception. The goal is to find solutions to improve the quality of life in an emergency situation, such as the floodings earlier this year in Kerala. The making process will be documented and shared in open-source on the internet in order to be able to receive incomes from Fablabs worldwide and therefore, improve the different projects. During the process, the possibility to build and use the created solutions will be important to keep in mind. The projects must be doable.


The international call :


In order to have a better understanding of the emergency situation that occured in August, a video-conference was established between the DFS class and different actors of the fablab network in Kerala. This region has a lot of fablab resources; in fact, in a network of 22 fablabs, it has 2 bigger ones: Koshi (https://www.fablabs.io/labs/fablabcochin) and Trivandrum (https://www.fablabs.io/labs/fablabtrivandrum) and 20 smaller fablabs that they call “mini-fablabs” which have smaller machines. All of these Fablabs are well equipped with differents machines like 3D printers, laser cutter, CNC, SandBlaster, which is less common in Fablabs, but is very useful to engrave glass or polish surfaces. This community can also receive materials and send them to affected regions, which is useful during emergency situations. However, as we were explained, in the case of the Kerala floodings, because of the intensity and how fast it happened, Fablab were not able to help the population as much as they wanted to. Mainly because of transport delays, materials not available and scale problems.


Kerala’s Fablab Network


Concerning the impact of the disaster, the entire region was affected by the floods but not all regions suffered from the same intensity nor damages. In fact, cities were flooded but the water current was stable, and citizens could rapidly be taken care of. However, the countryside did not have the same situation. The floods intensity was bigger, the currents stronger because of the topography and communication was practically non-existent. In the highlands they experienced landslides, transportation was harder to provide and basic needs were disrupted. People were not informed of the potential flooding and those who were didn’t have enough time to prepare. The communication was so bad, because of the magnitude of the disaster and the amount of water, that they were not able to contact their families. The flooding happened in a region where it had never happened before. People were not prepare to face this type of catastrophe. Moreover, because of the lack of preparation concerning  disasters and the heavy rainfall, a few tenth of dams were opened which resulted in a massive amount of water flowing in their surroundings, resulting in inundations everywhere in less than a week. In order to help the population, the army intervened and relocated people in relief camps in schools, colleges and worship center, but because of the amount of people touched by the tragedy, these were rapidly crowded or full.

After such a flood, a lot of infrastructures were damaged or completely destroyed and fields (which represent an access to food for the countryside) drowned. The reconstruction of the region is evaluated to one to two years in order to return to rebuild everything that has been touch.

Right after the crisis, it is important to act really fast. Response time has to be thought carefully.

As we were informed by Sibu and Ganadev, fablabs developed different prototypes to help reconstruct and help people return to their lives, for example a gravity lamp, a water purifier and domes. It all happened in the fablab network on a telegram discussion (Fab for Kerala) started by Sibu. They decided to put their energy in the dome structures. Domes would be used as shelters, so they developed this idea, collected the money necessary to start the project among the Fablab community and ordered the materials to start the construction. However, because they were not local, the materials arrived late and not all at the same place, therefore they couldn’t be used and the project didn’t work out. Here it seems that the response speed is really important to meet the urgency of the first needs.

Right now, the population is returning to their houses and starting to reconstruct their lives by themselves. The relief camps are closed and the people that need it the most, were helped by authorities or organisations. The conclusion from this situation is that the prevention work is more important right now than the emergency help; people need to be prepared for another eventual flood, and have solutions to help them be able to manage the next emergency situation. One of the most important and urgent necessity right after a disaster is a shelter, we received the idea of a foldable shelter which could be an easy and quick way to have a shelter in time of crisis, when the buildings are not safe, or are drowned. However, as Jogin informed us it is important to remember that people are not necessarily open to the idea of new building methods, so we need to take in consideration the culture, the local materials, what is already used and make sure that it is a resistant solution. Generally, in cities, buildings are built with concrete, in the countryside however, natural fibers, bamboo and mud are more common. We were also told that mud houses didn’t resist to floods, mostly because of the height of the water which destroys these constructions.

    Also, in order to answer the communication problem during the disaster, Jogin presented the idea to find a quicker way to communicate, without the need for data (3G/4G). At this time, useful projects for Kerala would be to help with the  and to think about appropriate ways to answer faster in case of an eventual ereconstructionmergency, such as this one.


Local fablabs responding to the floods


To begin, more general questions were asked, such as how could the local fablabs help with the floods. They answered that initially the fablabs had ideas to help the communities that were affected, but at the speed that the water was rising they did not have the time to act fast enough. The Kerala’s fablab network tried to find solutions but the problem kept getting bigger and bigger. So at the end, the people that were affected by the flooding had no choice but to be relocated. At least, great ideas for future projects came out of this and some of them are really similar to ideas the DFS class had before the video-conference. Many of the projects the fablab started developing have the potential to be use in other situations or in a future flooding, such as gravity lamps, housing structures (domes) or systems for water purification.


Floating spaces


The intensity of the flooding was a real issue, so it was important for the DFS students to learn more about the flooding itself. For example, knowing about the duration of the flooding and the strength of the current. There are two monsoons during the year : one in July and the other one in October. The temperature varies between 21 and 29 degrees in average throughout the year and the humidity is quite high especially during summer. This year the rain was way more intense than the previous years causing massive floods. The floods have occurred in places where they never had before, so people were not prepared for this kind of situation. Even though the current was not really an issue in the city, because the water was stable, people were standing in the water for long periods and feet infections were not rare. In answer to this problem, it could be a good idea to create something that keeps people dry or to find a way to dry quickly the blankets and the clothes that people already have. However, we have to be careful with floating spaces in the countryside because there is a lot of current caused by the small streams of water that become huge rivers when it rains. In this case, the idea of personal boats can be very useful, even if it’s not everyone that has access to them. In relation to the boat, it could be a good idea to design floating structures for communities (for example : houses on stilts that rise with the level of water inspired by Dutch structures) that people can reach with their boat (for example : Orukayak is an organization that makes foldable kayaks). Also, if everyone has their small boat there will be no cultural problems.


Emergency kit


Personal belongings and the need to protect them is an issue during floods. Water and humidity can affect people’s stuff really quickly. It could be a good idea to create something that can protect people’s personal belongings such as computers, diplomas, important papers, because many people have lost things. In relation to their needs, the first thing people affected need after or during floods is food, energy and a communication system.




For the recycling system, there is a problem in term of waste management. In fact, in the relief camps there are no place to put the garbages away. There is no separation of the different wastes. For now they recycle plastic by using it to make roads. The good thing is that they already moved all the remains of the buildings and the debris out of the villages.




Religion is a big part of people’s life, the concern was that with the flood, people might have lost access to temples or worship spaces. But it seems as if the flooding had a positive impact on that part. It brought people with different religions together. People were opening their doors to others to give them a place of prayers.


Relief camps


The relief camps are now closed and people are returning to their life, but when they were still open, it was really crowded inside and people often had to sleep on the floor. The increase of infections and diseases was a big problem. There were doctors in the camps and the medical stuff was being taken cared of. It could be interesting to work on a project that would increase the quality of life in these camps and help decrease the spread of diseases.




To conclude, the conversation with the fablab in Kerala was really useful and welcoming. Many details were in the same direction of the projects the class had in mind. The word to remember is prevention. From now on, the main subject of the class will be to elaborate propositions of fablab oriented projects to help populations during emergencies such as the floods in Kerala. We hope the fablab network will expand and other fablabs all over the world, like ours, will want to participate in this issue. To have access to information more easily, it could be interesting to upgrade the communication system between the fablabs of the network. There is a big potential and hope for the future.


If you have any informations or project to propose, feel free to contact us!


DFS – 2018

Potential projects that have been talked about during the video-conference :


Foldable Kayak :



Gravity lamp :



Alleppey – Venice of East (Alappuzha) : Floating houses




Amphibious houses and different systems of floating houses on stilts that rise with the level of water :





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