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Haiti - one year on. An interview with CARE's Kate Crawford
Kate Crawford

What specific support does CARE International provide to the people of Haiti in terms of constructing the transitional shelters beyond supplying the raw materials?

We made a decision to import timber (because of Haiti’s deforestation) and hurricane strapping (because this metal strapping for roof ties is not available in Haiti). We also had the structural designs checked by engineers in the Netherlands because a) so early in the emergency it was difficult to identify engineers locally who could do these calculations for timber frame structures and b) our partner NGO CordAid, who produced the design after looking closely at vernacular rural housing in Haiti, is based in the Netherlands and had the consultants standing by to do this quickly. Otherwise, we try to make sure that everything else happens in Haiti by Haitians.

1. Pre-assembly of the frames is by local private sector manufacturers in Haiti. One previously made high-end furniture and another was a coffin maker but both companies reorganised or extended their plants and staff to produce T-shelters. Set up of the factory requires skilful formwork, carpentry and organised production lines: this was all done by Haitian foremen and their carpenter teams
2. Our senior project management engineers were trained on how to train technicians and carpenters on the installation of the kits (correct concrete mixture for good foundations, levelling, plumblines and squaring off the structure etc)
3. Our social mobilisers worked closely with families to make sure they were able to get permission to put the shelters back on their original plots and families were given technical support on clearing and levelling sufficient space for the kits
4. During the installation, families provided up to 5 volunteers (usually neighbours helping each other, house by house) and CARE’s trained technicians managed 5 sites each with teams of 2 carpenters erecting a shelter in about a day and a half

Engineers, technicians and carpenters were all drawn from the affected population and have had other training

 

on GPS and Google Earth for tracking progress and monitoring construction.

Our team of 90 staff includes only 5-6 expatriate staff which are responsible for donor reporting, financial management, procurement and other tasks that relieve the admin burden from our operational engineering teams.

Each shelter costs $1,750 to manufacture. How are the costs of the materials and labour funded?

Our funding comes from a variety of sources. Some donors are willing to pay for materials and others also fund the support costs (the overheads of running the CARE Country Office – HR, logistics and vehicle hire etc) and some donors fund both. Our main donors have been DEC, CordAid (in kind donation of shelters), DfID, CARE France/Canada/USA.

How long will CARE continue to work in Haiti?

CARE has been in Haiti since 1954 and is there for the long-haul. Our presence before the earthquake was in extremely poor rural areas so we are operational in those areas for the cholera response and health and education – the lack of which has traditionally forced people to move to the big cities where services and work opportunities are marginally better.

We have good relationships with communities and local government in Carrefour and Leogane and we are committed to continuing where gaps remain with a focus on helping communities to map their own neighbourhoods, show us the hazards, hopes and priorities that they see for the 2 years and identify which families are struggling – i.e. tenants unable to move back into damaged homes that they do not own and cannot afford to repair.

We do not see our role as constructing permanent housing directly but working with other specialist organisations and communities to train for builders and householders, pilot repair projects, test and improve construction materials at the source.

What is the potential for these transitional shelters to be used elsewhere in the world for similar large-scale disasters, such as the current flooding in Australia? Has this been undertaken before?

The concept has been used before and can apply elsewhere. However, it is important to see housing as a process rather than a product: often people in the poorest parts of cities invest slowly and incrementally in housing as income becomes available. So what people build depends on what they do for a living, how secure they feel as tenants or squatters, what sort of house they actually want, what they see as the biggest priorities (i.e. spending money on a concrete roof that is good for hurricanes or a lighter timber roof better for earthquakes or something else altogether like food or their children’s education!) and what materials and skills are locally available. We need to understand how all these things are

 

flowing along when we look at how to intervene – the T-shelters we built in Haiti work because the areas we have built them in tended to be populated by poor people with small single storey houses and they are designed to be upgraded, extended, reused, relocated or recycled into permanent housing.

The disadvantages of this approach are that it is not so good where people previously lived in housing with more than one storey or in very densely packed urban areas because there is simply not enough space to accommodate everyone previously living on a given plot. The other issue is if you concentrate too much on only one kind of response (T-shelter for families who used to own a house) other people such as squatters, tenants or people whose houses are damaged but not destroyed tend to miss out.

In Australia – where the disaster was a flood not an earthquake – the impact will be different: people might have to move away while water recedes, the damage might not mean that structures are totally destroyed and there may be a variety of public buildings or private rental accommodation in other places where people can stay temporarily. Plus, people might have insurance which will mean they’ll have some cash to tide them over.

The shelters have been described as ‘hazard resistant’. What exactly does this mean?

No structure is ‘earthquake proof’; the T-shelters are designed to resist winds of up to 120mph and ground accelerations associated with a severe earthquake. In particular:

- hurricane strapping – bands of metal tying down roof trusses to walls and purlins to trusses – help to keep roofs on in high winds, protecting the shelter and people outside from flying corrugated iron sheets
- heavy foundations to weigh the building down but with the connection to the ground made of metal strips so that the timber frame is not in contact directly with the ground (rotting hazard)
- ventilation under the eaves to keep the space cool (hot climate hazard)
- treated timber (termite and damp hazard)

Kate Crawford is an active member of CARE in Haiti, working onsite as a humanitarian shelter field advisor for many months following the earthquake and returning to her native UK December 2010.

Editorial


 
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