Posted by Karl Johnson on Jun 21, 2010
Related program: Haiti Rebuilding Center
We've talked before about transitional schools but by far the largest recovery effort in Haiti right now is transitional housing. "T-housing" is temporary buildings for folks waiting for any number of things precluding permanent construction.
An adviser from the United States Agency for International Development and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA...what'd I tell you about soups!) visited our headquarters last week to give us the run-down on shelter relief in Haiti. There are more than a few misconceptions, as well as plenty of potential for great success of creative design solutions.
The first misconception is that any shelter is good shelter. Problems arise when people consider refugees housed in less-than-permanent shelters. For instance, the fastest shelters to go up this year were made of bedsheets–good protection from the sun but little help as the rains began in May. Donated tents turn out to be little better. While ideal for week-long camping trips, your standard nylon tent has a short lifespan–only a few months in strenuous conditions–and won't hold up to the stronger storms that Haiti can experience. USAID had to re-cover many donated tents with additional sheeting to keep water from spilling in.
Prefabricated solutions also carry more risks than you might think. A basic problem that goes overlooked is one of equity–if a prefab house (built in foreign factories and shipped or air-lifted to relief zones) is delivered to a family or a community, and other families and communities receive nothing, jealousy becomes a considerable problem.
But that's not to say these solutions should be ruled off the table. Some sturdier canvas structures offered by relief groups have been much more effective. And prefabricated solutions have so much potential for quick and sensitive relief that, with the introduction of enough units, a trend could develop a message of ongoing, and involved relief, and buck the trend of point-relief that some aid organizations have established in the past!
Another delay for reintroducing housing in cities like Port-au-Prince is that affordable transitional solutions (18m2/family for $2400) are right now limited to single story structures, and that a 2-story structure at the same price psf would be very popular by the relief efforts. If a design surfaced reconciling the structural and financial challenges of a 2-story transitional house, it could really take off and change the face of transitional relief housing forever.