The 3Rs for Haiti: Response, Recovery and Reconstruction
TreeHugger is full of ingenious ideas for rapidly deployable designs that can be shipped, dropped or inflated to house the homeless after disasters. One might think that an organization called Architecture for Humanity would be home base for this kind of thing, but AFH founders Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr emphatically say NO.
When disaster strikes the second disaster that looms is the efficiency and impact of the three R's - Response, Recovery and Reconstruction. As seen by the poor response by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, lives are lost when a coordinated effort is not conducted. In a developing country like Haiti the biggest danger is the effects of bad post disaster planning and construction. Waterborne diseases spread like wildfire in temporary camps and dumping sub standard materials not only is dangerous but undermines an existing yet fragile construction industry. Additionally without proper oversight structures are usually rebuilt in unsafe ways by well intentioned volunteers.
In his regular PowerPoint show, Cameron shows endless numbers of high-tech architect-designed oddball designs that have been abandoned for the indigenous designs and construction types.
Cameron Sinclair calls for Community Led Reconstruction:
In a few weeks attention to Haiti will die down, just as the real work begins in reconstructing affected areas. After Hurricane Katrina our architecture and construction professionals spent four years living and working in Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. By setting up community housing resource centers and working directly with families we could create not only the appropriate and sustainable structures but homes that fit the lives of its' residents. In order serve the families suffering right now we need to develop long term reconstruction initiatives that include the voices of those affected at the heart of the plans.
Top down solutions will cause tragic consequences for generations to come. This cannot happen in Haiti. They have suffered enough.
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Kate Stohr said much the same thing in Wired two years ago:
"Shipping costs are prohibitive -- it can sometimes cost twice as much to ship a design as it does to build it," says Architecture for Humanity's Kate Stohr. "Designs that are scalable, built using local materials or can also be used as core housing -- as a hub for basic services like sanitation, communication, supplies -- that basic dose of shelter, are key."
Kate also notes that housing units are not the only thing that are needed; "You can't design for disaster after the fact," notes Kate. "Unless it's strategically thought about in advance of disaster, these ideas don't work." Often, what's needed most is a central station where basic necessities -- water, food, medical supplies and information -- can be doled out.
Gimme Shelter: Designing for Disaster
Cameron reiterates at AFH that volunteers who just show up to help rebuild often do more harm than good. He says that you have to work with NGOs who know the turf, ensure that volunteers really have the skills and knowledge to build in seismic and hurricane zones, and are trained in site safety. And that most importantly, everyone take the time to do it right. He tells us that in a few months they will organize a volunteer group but:
for now we request that you do not 'go to Haiti' unless you are a registered member of an emergency services team. We will be doing transitional and long term reconstruction, much like our work after Hurricane Katrina....We can leave a legacy of innovative locally appropriate solutions to protect from future disasters (inc. hurricanes and climate change)
If you want to support immediate needs, give to the Red Cross, Partners in Health or UNICEF. If you want to support transitional and the long term reconstruction of Haiti in a more sustainable way then donate to us.
I did last night, and hope you will too.
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