Haitian Shelters From Coming Storms Display Innovation : The Two-Way A question many of us have had is just how would the Haitian government, with the international community's help, build sturdy enough shelters to house hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the coming weeks and months before more permanent housing ...
NPR logo Haitian Shelters From Coming Storms Display Innovation

Haitian Shelters From Coming Storms Display Innovation

As Chile still continues searching for and rescuing survivors from its magnitude 8.8 earthquake on Saturday, Haiti is well into its recovery efforts, which in part means trying to find housing for millions of Haitians displaced when their homes were destroyed.

A question many of us have had is just how would the Haitian government, with the international community's help, build sturdy enough shelters to house hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the coming weeks and months before more permanent housing can be erected.

Housing homeless Haitians is an urgent concern now with the rainy season only weeks away and the hurricane season starting in June.

As NPR's Greg Allen reported on Weekend Edition Sunday, there are different efforts by outside groups aimed at rehousing Haitians in which the organizations are paying close attention to the desires of the dispossessed.

They're especially attentive to those driven by the island-nation's culture, since the goal is to not just build housing for the sake of doing so but to construct shelters Haitians will actually live in.

As Greg reports, the Haitian government had initially wanted to resettle tens of thousand of Port-au-Prince residents out of the crammed city and into the countryside.

But aid groups had urged the government not to do full-scale resettlement but to allow many Haitians to rebuild their lives where their old neighborhoods.

An excerpt from Greg's report:

GREG: Randy Lyness, with CHF (International), says the group has developed a simple structure-about 60 square feet-made of wood, plastic sheeting and corrugated iron. Each structure costs less than a thousand dollars and can be put up in 4 hours.

It's a housing design that's being used by many other aid groups and which Lyness says that eventually may lead to something more permanent.

The CHF website has a blog post on the building of a pilot transitional shelter in January.

This passage from the CHF website provides more background on them:

... Transitional shelters are temporary homes built to international standards and designed to be resistant to earthquakes and storms, where a family can live for up to two years while permanent housing is rebuilt. CHF has in the last few years built thousands of transitional shelters in Georgia, Gaza, Peru and Indonesia.

Milton Funes, our Country Director for Honduras and a civil engineer by trade, has been in Haiti to oversee the beginning of this process. Milton has responded to earthquakes in Peru and El Salvador in the past and is experienced across many countries. The purpose of the pilot project is to begin the process of training local Haitians in how to build these structures. At the site, community members came and helped out, and volunteered when they saw the project. Through this, CHF was able to identify a skilled carpenter that we have now hired to help with this process.

It takes approximately 4 skilled people and 3-4 community helpers to build such a shelter. CHF is using locally available materials which makes the shelters both possible and helps to stimulate the local economy. The building has a slanted roof with a gutter, so that rain water can be recycled for drinking, and we are looking into including solar lamps to upgrade the shelters. The size of the shelter responds to international standards of 3.5 square meters per person. CHF will partner with local mayors to identify areas where we can work with the community to build transitional housing lots for families.

As Greg added in his report:

GREG: CHF hopes to build 2000 shelters by June 1, the start of hurricane season. The International Federation of Red Cross is trucking in enough material to begin building 1000 similar shelters.

But where? That's a decision for the Haitian government which, up to now, has been actively encouraging earthquake victims to leave the overcrowded capital.

This past week, Haitian authorities had a new message for the hundreds of thousands of people living in tent camps: go back to your neighborhoods.

Lyness says aid groups have been encouraging the government to allow people to build transitional housing on the site of their old homes-once the rubble is cleared away. An alternate proposal-resettling tens of thousands of Haitians to new camps outside the city, he says, is unworkable.

Innovation is the key with all these shelters, especially when you have to build them relatively quickly and in an area that can't rely on the heavy machinery used for construction that's taken for granted on building sites in the developed world.

One organization whose name connotes innovation, Miami Beach-based InnoVida has come up with a fascinating solution to the housing problem, cabins made of insulated, fire-resistant materials that are waterproof and can withstand earthquakes. They almost sound too good to be true but apparently they are.

More from Greg:

GREG: In Miami, another plan for housing in Haiti was rolled out in a news conference this week. Innovida, a company that builds modular homes, announced it was donating 1000 specially designed cabins for people left homeless by the earthquake. The company also announced that it's building a factory in Haiti that will provide jobs and produce ten thousand houses a year.

Innovida founder Claudio Osorio says the houses are built from specially-designed fiber composite panels.

OSORIO: So, very light, no heavy equipment. And literally with unskilled labor, the walls are put up. That can withstand hurricanes, that is waterproof, and also very important, it is 21 degrees flexible, which means that in a seismic event, the building will do very well.

Again, these are no ordinary cabins but super cabins from the sound of it. Retired NBA star Alonzo Mourning has signed on to help underwrite and raise money for the shelters.

Osorio evidently had plans to provide housing in Haiti using his new materials years before this year's earthquake. In a YouTube video from Oct. 2007, President Bill Clinton, visiting Osorio's house, explains to an audience that Osorio planned to build 10,000 houses at $5,000 apiece for impoverished Haitians.

Anyway, As Greg explains, the cabins were designed by Miami architect Andres Duany, who he describes as "a leader in the new Urbanist movement."

Greg reported:

GREG: It sounds high-tech, but actually looks simple-a boxy, blue, flat-roofed structure with two bedrooms and a small kitchen. And, it sleeps 8.

After spending weeks talking to Haitians and others who study the culture, he says he made many design changes. He says he's seen too many failures in the past-homes built after disasters that ultimately didn't get lived in.

Marketplace, the program produced by American Public Radio, interviewed Duany last week and he explained some of the cultural considerations that went into the design of the houses to host Bob Moon.

MOON: Those images of the shanty towns down there have been really striking. Can these types of homes be sustainable in the long run?

DUANY: OK, well, that's a question, that's an interesting question. If one only provides the technical solution, which the U.N. has been doing for decades, and you study what the outcome is five years out, for example, in a book called, by Ian Davis, called "Resilient Cities." And he says, if you don't fit the culture, people will inhabit the buildings at first, because they do need the shelter, but then they'll trash them and abandon them. Even within the category called the poor in Haiti, there at least four classes, and they behave differently. Some of them eat outside, some of them eat indoors, some of them eat in front of the house, some of them cook and eat in the back of the house, some of them have windows, and some of them don't want windows because they believe the spirits enter through the windows. All these things because they're contradictory have caused us to design not one but four different houses.