Rebuilding Effort in Haiti Turns Away From Tents

In the race to shelter an estimated one million Haitians displaced by the earthquake, aid groups have begun to de-emphasize tents in favor of “do-it-yourself” housing with tarpaulins at first, followed by lumber.

Officials from the International Organization for Migration said they were hoping to give people the means to create temporary housing with sturdier structures, and the power to build where they wanted. They acknowledged that it could be five years before most people moved back into houses, which means that under the current best-case situation, Port-au-Prince will soon be blanketed with hundreds of thousands of simple structures that designers describe as “garden sheds” and others see as shanties.

The idea comes in part from the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2004 and follows the model of Sri Lanka, where residents using building materials and design guidelines from aid groups built 56,000 transitional shelters in seven months, housing 92 percent of the displaced families in about a 550-mile area. The transitional shelters were quicker to set up and allowed people to stay put while continually improving their own homes over time.

In Haiti the challenge will be greater because hurricane season starts in June and because, compared with Sri Lanka, there are many more Haitians without homes trying to survive in a densely-packed urban area with rubble crowding nearly every street. A spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, Mark Turner, said that the shelter plan would work only if demolition and debris removal moved quickly.

The tent camps will continue to be part of the plan at a few locations. But to avoid creating huge refugee camps permanently dependent on foreign aid, officials said the camps would become the exception, not the rule. So far, aid groups have given out more than 10,000 family tents, and there are 55,000 more in stock or being sent to Haiti, according to the migration organization. There are already more tarpaulins in the pipeline: 100,000 are in stock or have been handed out, and 176,000 are on the way. Lumber has been making its way by ship and over land to be distributed as quickly as possible.

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/world/americas/04haiti.html?hp

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