Tuesday, December 7, 2010 | Categories: Talk Tape
Haiti - New Homes
A downtown public park known as "le Champ de Mars" is home to about ten thousand people. It's essentially a tent city with makeshift tin and plywood huts. It is almost impossible to believe but four, five or even eight people are now crowded into every one of those tents and huts. They sleep tangled up together on sweat-stained rugs and mattresses, the little they own piled up against the walls.
Next to clean water ... housing is the most pressing issue for Haitians in areas where the earthquake hit. While there are many foreign NGOs and other agencies building shelters and homes for the displaced, it's not as simple as pouring concrete or banging together two by fours and plywood.
There is a Haitian proverb that says: The more you know Haiti, the less you understand. It is a country with many many many layers: there is culture, history, beliefs and traditions that are - like the people in those beds - all tangled up together. Trying to figure out how to best house the million people who lost their homes - or who maybe did not even have homes to begin with - is extremely complex. Housing is really about how people live their lives. As families, as communities.
Peter Haas is the co-founder of The Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group. It's a group dedicated to bringing clean water and electricity and sanitation to areas that don't have them. The group is also involved in housing design and construction in Haiti. He was in Providence Rhode Island.
As mentioned by Peter Haas, most private homes being put up are being made of concrete blocks and it can be done safely with proper training and proper design. People in Haiti are traumatized; those two-foot thick cement ceilings that crushed so many people to death are at the heart of nightmares. Those slabs are still there, tilted at crazy angles covering piles of rubble, the broken rooms where people worked and lived and died. Architects and planners are looking to build alternatives that are safe, affordable and appropriate.
John O'Kelly is from an American NGO called World Relief. He was out in the countryside in the area of Leogane that was 80 percent destroyed. John was going from site to site where relief agencies are putting up homes, looking for the kind of structure that he thinks would work in the five communities his group is involved in .John has to juggle finding a style he thinks will work with the pressure of donors back in the USA who want to see as he says "a bang for their buck." The donors are impatient to see something being built in Haiti with the money they contributed.
For prefab houses, the materials are shipped in but there is no overall plan to coordinate all the different approaches people are taking. There are meetings run by the UN known as "housing clusters" to "bring sanity to the process". Yves Tranquille is someone working on one of the construction sites near Leogane....a grassy field near a banana plantation. He was fed up with waiting all morning for a delivery of lumber from the port. And he's tired of bribing officials to get the other materials he needs. So he ordered them from Home Depot. But Yves's a dreamer. Maybe one person in a hundred could afford to buy materials at a Home Depot.
Another approach that's cheaper and uses local materials is actually re-using the rubble from the destroyed concrete homes. It's an innovative approach. There's an American Church organization that's teaching locals how to put together wire mesh cages that are then filled with rocks and the rubble from broken buildings. The cages are stacked together to make walls. Rubble housing. It is a low-tech solution that uses available material and that families can afford. They are starting to go up in a village just up the mountain from Port-Au-Prince. There is an art to making sure that the rubble bricks hold together, people in the community are trained to do it.
And another approach using local materials was straw bale houses. Martin Hammer, a California architect who is volunteering with Builders Without Borders told us more about this house. Martin put up what he says is the first straw bale house in the entire country that is being specifically designed to be built in earthquake zones.
While it's unclear how popular these houses would be but Jean-Louis is a trained as a plumber and he seemed to be a satisfied potential customer. We heard from him.
And the question remains ... What is the best thing to do now? Build temporary structures to get people out of the tents or let people sleep in the tents for now and then take time - years - to help teach local people to build more permanent structures that are adapted to where they live.
Last Word - Haiti Music
We ended our special today with some more of the music you've been hearing bits and pieces of. The band is called 2 Rasin, or Two Roots. Carla Blunchili -- David's translator and driver -- plays the violin. A man named Mona writes the songs. This song is called Sak Travay. And it asks why people with the worst jobs get paid the least while people with the best jobs get paid the most.
Other segments from today's show: