Haiti needs rebuilding, but the right way
HOW long ago was the Haiti earthquake? Less than two months — that’s how long the story lasted. After the earthquake, it was all over the news. Rescue efforts and tragic stories, night after night; now, it’s all gone. Turn on the news and you barely have an update about Haiti. Our media isn’t built for the long term and, it seems, neither is our interest.
Most of us have stopped thinking about the situation in Haiti, and that’s a shame. They’re still a very long way away from rebuilding. That’s because news media are not about sustainability, about lasting a long time — it’s all short-term thinking.
I hope that, when the time comes in Haiti, we approach building differently, with the long term in mind. I guess the building equivalent to the evening news is throwing up a tent city — that won’t last long, either; just until the next natural disaster. Let’s replace what was lost in Haiti with something more permanent, with something that will outlast us all and be a legacy for the future.
Rebuilding a country as devastated as Haiti will take long-term planning. It’s not a quick fix. And if we want to do it right, which I do, and rebuild sustainably, then it will take decades. I don’t want rebuilding in Haiti to just be a matter of throwing up houses as fast as possible, using the same methods and materials that have always been used, and that failed so catastrophically. Yes, housing is needed immediately, but we need to go fast by going slow, so we don’t make the same mistakes again.
Sustainable building is a challenge in a country such as Haiti, where there is limited industry and few resources. Everything needs to be shipped in, which, of course, adds to the cost of building.
Does it make sense to talk about building sustainably in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere? Yes. It doesn’t necessarily cost more to build sustainably. Sustainable and energy-efficient building saves money — and not just over time.
I’ve learned in my career as a contractor that short-term thinking doesn’t lead to lasting results. Typically, when people rush into a renovation, especially in an emergency situation, they make poor choices. They often end up just replacing what went wrong in the first place with the same thing.
Haiti is still looking at months of assessment and cleanup before any building can start. Apart from shortterm emergency shelters, and building and installing latrines and showers to serve the needs of the displaced and homeless people, there is no rebuilding happening yet. Planning will start this year, along with cleanup. Construction projects could start in November 2010, at the end of the hurricane season. It will probably take a decade to rebuild Haiti.
When that time comes, wouldn’t it be great to rebuild in a regionally appropriate way, adhering to seismic building codes and by using building materials and techniques that make sense in a tropical country with high rainfall, temperatures and humidity? A country exposed to severe weather from hurricanes and, as we’ve seen, earthquakes.
Building experts from around the world can help design sustainable houses that could be cost-effective. Rapidly renewable building materials such as bamboo — which grows well in Haiti — could be used alongside long-lasting reinforced concrete. Wind power and solar power, as well as geothermal cooling, could be incorporated to reduce dependency on imported and expensive fossil fuels. Local firms and individuals would be used to provide the labour pool to stimulate employment, teach skills and build capacity in a developing neighbour country too long overlooked.
We could rebuild Haiti as more than what it ever was.
— Canwest News Service
A woman and her baby peer out from their door at a camp for survivors set up in the Petionville Golf Club, Haiti. Below, a Red Cross tent camp outside Port au Prince.