Monday, November 01, 2010

Haiti: why are people still in tents?

Hurricane Tomas is slowly heading towards Haiti.

Last I heard, it is weakening slightly, and is due to hit Haiti on Friday.

Apparently, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tents, whose fabric has deteriorated in the sun. Tomas is going to shred those tents.

This is difficult to believe, given that total aid given is $1.6 billion.

I do not know much about Haiti. I have recently come across the tweets of an amazing doctor, Megan Coffee, who is treating TB patients there, who alerted me to the tent problem.

I have also found AFACeAFACe, which seems pretty good source of info.

Despite my ignorance of details, I think it is totally wrong that people are still in tents when 95% of the rubble left by the earthquake is still lying where it fell.

There is a failure of the aid model here. The rubble should be used to make the foundations and lower walls of new, robust, earthquake and windproof houses, using volunteer community labour, people making what they need from what is available. The French have a word for it: bricolage.

They need hacksaws (to cut the ties in reinforced concrete), gloves, and hand carts.
They collect the rubble, which will mainly be flat concrete and brick slabs, and they transport them on hand carts to the site where the new building is to go up. They prepare an accurately flat area, and start laying the slabs, using the biggest at the foot, and smaller ones higher up to bring it up to about 1 metre above ground. So we have a dry wall construction, and interstices are filled with mud, mortar, or cement, as available. Walls and roofing will be of floor joists rescued from the rubble, or from bamboo or virgin timber brought in. Concrete pillars will be rescued to make struts for the houses, using triangulation principles.

Here is video of an example of this kind of construction in nearby states.

These houses will be wind resistant, and to some extent earthquake resistant, since the slabs can move on each other, tolerating the lateral movement of the earthquake. They will crumble in bigger earthquake, so facing of boards or nets should be applied to the inner surfaces of the house to stop them falling inwards onto the occupants.

I admit I am writing from ignorance of the situation on the ground, and it may be that better programmes are in process. I very much hope so.

However I suspect that the "aid" in the main has been transmogrified into grand plans to rebuild a new, concrete Port au Prince along best town planning lines, and while waiting for these plans to materialise, the people are left idle, in fragile, doomed tents, while the material for homes lies in a heap where it fell 10 months ago.

Il scent mal.

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