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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Rebuilding Haiti, quickly and thoughtfully

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 16, 2010

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  a neighborhood destroyed by the Haitian earthquake (by: United Nations Development Program) 

  a man walks through the ruins in Port-au-Prince (by: UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

The massive earthquake in Haiti has caused a major crisis of homelessness.  Addressing it poses almost inconceivable challenges.

People need shelter that can be built very quickly and cheaply, that can be replicated thousands of times.  It needs to be secure from the elements, and it needs to respect the culture of the Haitian people.

One of the most promising approaches that I have seen has been devised by Andres Duany, who with colleagues created the “Katrina Cottages” that provided relief (and an alternative to FEMA trailers) to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi following the 2005 hurricane and flooding.  The solution for Haiti involves prefabricated shelters that can be manufactured offsite, easily shipped in flat-pack form, and then assembled locally in a day or less.

  design for Haiti shelter (by: DPZ via Inhabitat)

According to a story in the Miami Herald written by Andres Viglucci, the genesis came from another project in the Duany Plater-Zyberk portfolio:

“The material is a composite that Duany calls ‘totally miraculous’ -- thin but strong, durable, fireproof, waterproof and mold-proof. The idea grew out of a project Duany was already working on in Miami's Little Haiti, to erect eight larger prefab houses using the same technique and material.”

The structure is only part of it, of course.  In Viglucci’s story and in the fascinating video below, Andres describes challenges relating to sanitation, sewage, local customs regarding cooking, eating, and windows, and more, all in the context of extreme poverty.  There is clearly a learn-by-doing aspect to this as well.  (As a personal aside, this passionate fan of Georgetown basketball was pleased to hear Andres refer in the video to the fundraising work for Haiti being done by former Hoya and Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.) 

Glancing at the design initially, I was tempted to deem it too cold and simplistic.  I was wrong.  Watch and learn: 


  Rebuilding Haiti from Marvin Joseph on Vimeo.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 


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Rajendra DesaiFeb 17 2010 05:46 AM

In societies where people are handy and are used to working on their houses, the fastest and the cheapest way to build "mid-term" shelters that would house the people until the long-term shelters are built is to use peoples' skils and ingenuity to utilize the materials salvaged from the collapsed houses supplemented by additional materials given in the form of external assistance.
In the 2001 Earthquake in Kutchch area of Gujarat State in Western India, many affected individuals had resorted to this route and had made wonderful shelters that suited their lifestyle and needs. Subsequently, a local federation of the non-profits from the area also adopted the same approach. People got what they liked, since they made them. This approach may not be easily applicable in the congested urban centres where multi-storey buildings exist.

Kaid @ NRDCFeb 17 2010 08:00 AM

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I suspect the people of Haiti are going to need every solution they can find, including the one you describe.

Dr. Nir BurasFeb 17 2010 05:55 PM

Great blog. Please contact me re Anacostia, Haiti, DC and more.

Lucy GalbraithFeb 18 2010 04:13 PM

Another thoughtful and experienced group working on how to shelter people after a disaster:

Kaid @ NRDCFeb 18 2010 04:17 PM

Thanks, Lucy. I was impressed with what Stefanos Polyzoides wrote as well. This might be worth a follow-up at some point.

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