Construction charities wait for Haiti's boats

9 February 2011

One year on from the earthquake that killed 230 000 people in Haiti and left between 1 and 2 million homeless, the rebuilding effort has yet to start in earnest. According to a report from Oxfam published last month, less than 5% of an estimated 20 million cubic metres of rubble has been cleared, and only 15% of the temporary housing needed has been built, writes Michael Willoughby.  

The inflow of aid funds has been slower  than expected, Oxfam says. At a March 2010 international donor conference in New York, $2.1 billion was pledged for 2010 by 30 countries, but the UN says only 42 per cent arrived.

Just one major rebuilding project – the 1889 Iron Market building in Port-au-Prince – has been completed, with designs by UK architect John McAslan & Partners and funding from Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, who donated $12 million. 

UK aid organsiations delivering reconstuction in Haiti point to the country’s inter-related problems. The lack of building codes was implicated in the collapse of many structures, while the need to compile new ones is delaying progress. The country lacks suitable building materials and has been comprehensively deforested. Plus, there’s a power vacuum resulting from a contested election and a cholera epidemic.

But agencies are split on how fast they should proceed. Robert Muir, trustee of UK charity BuildAid, says the most important thing is not to repeat the same mistakes. “There needs to be a complete change of legislation, an improvement of skill sets and a change of attitude otherwise they will put it back the way it was.” His organisation is raising £250 000 to build an orphanage and healthcare facility in a rural part of the country. 

Ian Pearce, programme manager for charity Habitat for Humanity, estimates it is three months behind schedule in a programme to reach 50,000 families over the next five years, but is nevertheless moving ahead with a programme of deploying  permanent buildings.

Designed with consultant Arup, they can survive the earthquakes, mudslides, floods and hurricanes from which the country suffers, although Pearce could not say how many of these had been built. 

Robin Cross, director of projects at UK charity Article 25 (CM, July/August 2010), said that its team is  repairing seven damaged schools this year and aims to complete one new build project, working in conjunction with education charity Outreach International.

Cross said: “I wouldn’t criticise any organisation that’s struggling. It’s a very inhospitable environment. The disaster was so comprehensive and the supply of materials - plaster and wood - is a problem. The fact they are an island means there’s limited manufacturing capacity, so people are left waiting for boats to come in with a load of cement. It’s not surprising that work is delayed.

“Haiti has had 300 years of colonial exploitation, bad government and corruption, and an earthquake doesn’t make that go away. It’s not surprising people find it hard to get things done.”


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