Even before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti this January, most of the country's residents were living in conditions of poverty and surviving on less than $2 a day.
To compound this, many lacked access to clean water or adequate housing. The quake exacerbated these problems, but they also galvanized many organizations already working in Haiti to help the country recover in a way that would empower its residents to rebuild with an eye towards a more sustainable future.
Building to last
Many of the structures destroyed during the earthquake were built using substandard concrete and masonry, making them more susceptible to collapse.
Several organizations with an emphasis on sustainable architecture have been working with Haitians and volunteers from around the world to assess damage and to train masons to build more structurally-sound buildings.
Frederika Zipp, senior program manager for Architecture for Humanity's Haiti Rebuilding Program, has been working in Port-au-Prince to construct temporary and permanent schools. Thus far, much of the work has involved assessing the condition of the various school buildings that were damaged by the quake.
"We've been conducting GIS site mapping, site assessments, land surveys and soil testing at several locations," Zipp explains. "In some cases, the schools can undergo a sensible and safe retrofit of the existing structures. Many of the schools we've evaluated, however, will have to be demolished and rebuilt altogether."
The residents of Haiti are eager for schools they can occupy, and Architecture for Humanity is working to meet these needs by building temporary structures with strong infrastructures that can be retrofitted at a later date to become permanent schools. In addition, the organizations is taking several steps to ensure that these structures are built sustainably.
"We're careful to build structures that are easy and affordable to maintain, and we're open to the use of alternative building materials and technologies such as solar and wind power. We also make sure that we can reuse as much material as possible in the final product."
Education and empowerment
Sage Shingle, a Seattle-based structural engineer also volunteered to go to Haiti. His company, KPFF Consulting Engineers, has partnered with Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) to provide similar building assessments as well as training for local masons.
In just one week, Shingle and his group were able to assess about 300 buildings as to whether or not they were safe to live in, in need of repair or beyond repair. In total, more than 2,000 buildings have been assessed and 1,000 masons have received training.
"Many buildings are built by masons or individual homeowners, so there is often a lack of structural engineering design," says Shingle.
"In a lot of cases, the geometry of the building and the materials used are not ideal to resist an earthquake, so we have been teaching correct material mix proportions and techniques that will help make buildings more earthquake-resistant in future construction projects."
Both Zipp and Shingle agree that it is important to empower the local community to play a crucial role in the planning and rebuilding process.
"The involvement of the stakeholders in all our projects is very important to us," says Zipp. "The educational aspect of our endeavors focuses on a variety of topics, ranging from CAD training to health/safety on a job site to correct brick laying, for example. It is essential, in our opinion, to empower the local workforce and provide economic opportunities in addition to building safer structures."
Supplying the basics
Access to clean water is also a huge cause for concern for the people of Haiti. Charity: Water, which was working with implementing partners in Haiti such as Partners in Health and Concern Worldwide before the quake on mountain spring protection projects, has continued its efforts to bring clean water to many Haitian residents who would otherwise lack access.
Since the quake, their focus has intensified to bring even more water to the rural residents of Haiti, many of whom are now housing displaced residents from Port-au-Prince.
Sustainability and stakeholder involvement is crucial to the Charity: Water model as well.
According to Lane Wood, the Water for Schools program director, "Each area with a water project is overseen by a water committee made up of community members. Committee members are trained on use of the water project, extensive hygiene information, and basic maintenance, so that they are able to oversee and maintain the project."
Community members are also educated about the importance of clean water with help from the organization's implementing partners.
Help and hope for Haiti
Although Haiti has experienced immense loss and devastation, now is also a hopeful time for the country.
"People in Haiti want to see progress and are looking ahead to long term improvements," says Zipp. "This is a moment of opportunity to redress and better many things in Haiti."