By: Greg Higgins, Architect and Managing Director HabiTek, LLC
It is the numbers that make Haiti’s great earthquake the “worst urban disaster in history.” Estimates vary, but most would agree that at least 200,000 perished. Then there’s the remaining one-half million people still living in tents and squalor, down from an estimated one million after the quake. Unfortunately, the drop in numbers does not mean there is a half million people now living in safe secure homes. And rarely considered are the people living in thousands of transitional shelters (t-shelters) erected by NGOs. They were designed, by admission of the sponsors, to last 3-5 years, at most. So before long it is likely the number of homeless Haitians will actually grow. Effective long term solutions must be indentified and implemented now.
Apparently the United States Agency for International Development thinks Caracol EKAM is the solution to housing internally displaced persons (IDP), as discussed in Dispatch #1, and the attached Architectural Peer Review. What was not mentioned in the peer review is that a combination of reinforced concrete and concrete block construction, if executed properly, commands highly skilled masons, and continuous supervision and inspections. This is true even in the United States. It is also slow and expensive.
In March, 2010 I wrote a comparison between the prevailing building method in Haiti, confined masonry construction (CMC), and a new approach developed by my company, HabiTek, LLC. Although CMC is not as costly and difficult as the method being used at Caracol EKAM, it is similar, and is the main reason why the tragic numbers are so high – casualties and homelessness.
You may have heard this before: “Earthquakes do not kill people, buildings do.” I might add the same adage applies to hurricanes, but to a lesser extent. Central to disaster mitigation and preparedness is an approach to rebuilding that virtually eliminates losses, both human and property, from future potential disasters. This is the reason why Aldy Castor, MD offered to host my trip to Haiti last September. Dr. Castor wanted to learn more about the HabiTek framing system, and fly our technology by architects and builders he knows there. My presentations were well received, enough so that I am here on HRDF’s web site sharing information on why a do-it-yourself, bolt-together, pre-fabricated, steel framing system should be part of Haiti’s rebuilding.
Beyond its unequivocal strength, the main reason Dr. Castor and I share a conviction that the HabiTek System should be used in Haiti is because 80-90% of Haiti’s homes are owner-built, as stated in the findings of a March, 2010 workshop hosted by the US State Department:
Owner-built construction represents 80 to 90% of the construction within Haiti, and thus building back better in Haiti requires improvements to the owner-built construction process.
Almost any able bodied Haitian can participate in erecting a HabiTek chassis. Haiti needs a fresh genuinely people centered approach, and one that can not only house the homeless quickly and safely, but also create a real sense that there is indeed hope.
It is essential that some method is introduced to end-round, as it were, the propensity of Haitian’s to build with weak concrete and concrete blocks (see Dispatch #2) – which will not change anytime soon. Attached to this Dispatch is a document that explains more specifically why HabiTek’s innovative system can help house the homeless. Future Dispatches will discuss how we hope to bring fabrication capability to Haiti to manufacture HabiTek’s components. We will also be exploring opportunities to demonstrate HabiTek’s framing model in Haiti as soon as possible. Check back.