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Thank you for your question. Termite infestation can be as devastating as fire for timber, and a major issue if the timber elements are structural in any way.

First, try to confirm whether the insects are termites. Try Google/Images ‘termite damage’ to find information on a range of different termites and the damage they cause. Generally termites are shaped like large ants, but pale in colour and with longer bodies. They may have wings depending on which type of termite they are. They leave tunnels in timber but these sometimes these will only be seen if you cut through the timber.

Seek specialist advice, especially on whether there are any local laws or customs governing the disposal of infested timber, as it may need to be treated. You may also need to treat the site beneath and around the shelter to prevent the spread of infestation. Find out whether termite infestation is a widespread problem in the area as this will inform your decision whether to pursue timber as a key material in your shelters.

Secondly, decide if you must continue to use timber in your shelters or whether you can consider other materials. Alternative materials must be considered in consultation with the community to ensure any social and maintenance implications are acceptable. The cost of alternatives will also be a strong factor. For structural elements masonry walls, metal columns and beams could be considered, but include your structural engineer in this decision. Metal could also be considered for doors and windows, if available.

If no alternatives are possible, then revisit your design and specification and make sure that the timber elements will be protected from future infestation. General information can be found here:

‘Timber: A guide to the planning, use, procurement and logistics of timber as a construction material in humanitarian relief’ (http://www.humanitariantimber.org/)

Advice on designing to build out termites can be found at D.4 Termites, pests and rot p75. Section B, p19 covers specification, and treating timber can be found at B.6 Treatments p34.

However, local knowledge is a key source of information about timber types that are less susceptible to infestation and treatment methods that will work safely in the local environment.