It has been almost two days since the powerful 7.0 earthquake hit the impoverished nation of Haiti. Since then more than 40 strong aftershocks have struck the island nation and a loss of life estimated to be in the tens of thousands. But the second disaster is only days away.
My organization, Architecture for Humanity, was about send a team of design and construction professionals to Haiti to partner with local NGO Yele Haiti to design and build a youth sports facility that doubled as a temporary disaster response center during Hurricane Season. Since the quake we've connected with both Yele and our close friends at the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG). We are partnering with both groups and have a first draft action plan for long term rebuilding.
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 India I witnessed asbestos laden sheets being installed on homes as a 'safe' alternative to metal roofing.
Collaboration is Key
It is also the responsibility of ALL agencies responding to be open, transparent and collaborative in the rebuilding effort. It is hard to step on each others toes when you can see each others feet. Regular reconstruction meetings, like Oxfam held in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, makes sure not all the effort are going to one region, while others are left to fend for themselves.
As aid is flowing to larger international NGO's do not forget the local groups who have working in country and have first hand knowledge of the lay of the land. While folks like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders can instigate successful large scale operations they are there only for a short time. Groups like Partners in Health, Yele Haiti, AIDG and many others call Haiti home.
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.
If you want to support immediate needs, please give to the Red Cross, Partners in Health or UNICEF. If you are looking to support the long term reconstruction of Haiti in a more sustainable way please think about supporting Architecture for Humanity and our work with Yele Haiti and AIDG.