Here's an idea for simple, easy idea to shelter Haitians quickly, with existing resources. Authorities say Haitians are not going to get enough tents, and maybe not even enough tarps, to house them before hurricane season blows in (late spring). (See "Homeless Haiti quake victims get tarps, want tents," by the Associated Press, on Yahoo!News, linked Feb 13, 2010).
Going on my limited disaster-response training and field experience, a more practical temporary solution for Haiti's post-earthquake shelter crisis.comes to mind. But, for context, a couple of paragraphs first about the situation at hand.
The technology for quickly, cheaply constructing basic buildings is well-developed in the U.S. -- including the art of rapidly "throwing together" large, single-story, "pole-barn" metal buildings (which could be used for refugee barracks), and other rapid-building techniques -- for everthing from storage sheds to portable housing. But Haiti's combination of wet and rocky slopes and hurricane storms -- and absence of normal construction resources -- are challenges the Western world is not ready for. Nor is global disaster-relief oriented towards solid shelter.
Ideally, the world would get its act together (and Haiti, too), and organize better shelter fast. But neither the world, nor Haiti, are likely to do it in time to prevent widespread further loss of life -- from disease, from exposure, and from civil disturbances
that inevitably result from massive numbers of unsheltered refugees.
It's time to stop dreaming,
and start doing something immediately viable.
To buy everyone time to get to the next stage: decent long-term shelter, it seems more plausible and practical to look for a quick-and-DIRTY solution to the shelter issue that can be developed, immediately, to halt most of the impending loss of life
Here's the idea (critique it as informatively and constructively as possible, and pass it on):
Start gathering rocks and rubble,
and build simple shared-wall "enclosures."
AERIAL VIEW: "STREET" |_|_|_|_|_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|_|_| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | "STREET" |_|_|_|_|_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|_|_| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | "STREET"
What I'm talking about is little rows of short, topless structures created by using loose concrete/brick/stone masonry rubble, left from the earthquake, to build short walls (3-5 feet max) around a space about 3 meters x 3 meters (10 ft. x 10ft) as a temporary shelter against the coming storms -- and then using this as a wind-sheltered area to cover with tarp, or occupy with tent.
The walls can be on just three sides, with an open, or partially walled, front.
The front should have at least a token barrier "wall" at least 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) high all across the front, to deter rain, wind, and casual intruders.
Ideally, maybe even higher walls across most of the front would be an eventual option, allowing one narrow gap for a "doorway" (which includes a threshold barrier at least 6-12 inches high). But the front wall (except for the foot-high barrier) is not as critical as the side and back walls.
To be sure, this will not be anywhere nearly as desirable as a house, or even a sturdy shed, or crowded barracks. But those aren't coming in time. The rubble-wall enclosure is probably far superior to tarps or tents alone,
for a number reasons:
Efficient use of space, materials, mechanical and human effort.
Short walls can easily be arranged in efficient clusters, as shown above with my crude "text drawing"
1.a) This allows the walls to used most efficiently (about half of them shared with adjacent dwelling).
1.b) This uses existing stone-and-masonry rubble (easily available in Haiti, now), readily scavenged from existing structures. (A side benefit of this is that it dovetails neatly with the need to move the rubble, and dig out corpses and salvageable goods, further adding value to the tasks that already need to be done.)
1.c) As damaged structures are stripped of rubble, they also eventually become viable as low-wall rubble-enclosures, themselves. In other words, the process of extracting rubble from them -- to build new enclosures -- simultaneously makes the old structures useable, again, as well (at least as additional, short, rubble-wall enclosures).
2.) STRUCTURAL SAFETY:
Rubble walls are safer, more secure, than just tents or tarps alone: They provide shelter from winds, running rainwater, and minor mudslides. With storms coming, wind will threaten to wreck tents, and will tear tarps to shreds -- especially when the spring storms come. Masonry-rubble side and back walls can slow the wind considerably. Tents are implicitly sheltered by such structures, but tarps, too, can be so arranged.
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2.a.) Tents protected from storms: The walls will be more effective than tents (let alone tarps) in halting the blast of a storm wind (especially severe storms, like the four hurricanes that battered Haiti in 2008). A tent can still be pitched inside the area, where it will be vastly safer and more secure in a storm -- inside this "rubble enclosure" -- than if completely exposed.
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2.b.) Tarps also better anchored & protected from storms: The masonry-rubble walls also provide plausible sturdy anchor for tarps, compared to the flimsy poles (in short supply) and stakes currently used. No matter how tarps are arranged, the added walls provide a more secure, private, safe, and arguably healthy environment than the tarps alone.
Tarps can applied to rubble walls in several ways:
2.b.i.) Simply laid over the tops of the enclosures, and secured at the sides and back, one tarp to an enclosure. In such an arrangement hey will have to drape over the front and back of the enclosure, to allow water runoff.
2.b.ii.) A single long tarp (or rolled sheet of tin) can be stretched/draped over several of the enclosures -- and secured at the front and back of the side walls, with a single pole (or, preferably a pair of poles connected by a cross-member), in each enclosure -- lifting the tarp enough to create comfortable head-room, and to cause watershedding towards the side walls, and thence out to the front/back of the enclosure.
2.b.iii.) A single tarp can be pitched inside each enclosure, as a crude triangular tent. Water sheds entirely INSIDE the enclosure, where a occupant's hand-dug tiny trench, around the tent, carries the rainwater away from the tent, and outside the enclosure. With the tarp's edges BELOW the walls (and maybe even secured to the ground, or lower parts of the rubble wall) , the wind is less able to whip the tarp around.
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2.c.) The short rubble walls are much more practical as an anchor for the limited supply of available poles and stakes. Poles can be adequately anchored in the rubble walls, rather than being driven/buried into the ground (much easier said than done). Mud makes a poor, and unstable, anchor for a pole; large amounts of masonry are generally more sturdy and stable.
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2.d.) The short walls are comparatively safe in an earthquake (a fact as important to public trust and morale, as to public safety, in today's Haiti). People sleeping in the middle of a 10-foot-wide space aren't likely to be crushed by shifting piles of rubble that are only about 4-feet (1.1 meters) tall, and around the margins of a 10x10 (3m x 3m) space. Ideally, if the rubble is heaped carefully (a wishful thought perhaps) -- wider at the bottom than the top (and, even better, wrapped in wire mesh / "chicken-wire" ) -- it will probably be more stable in an earthquake than a simple vertical masonry wall, and eliminate most of the earthquake hazard to people in the middle of the enclosure.
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2.e.) Flash Flood and Mudslide protection:
2.e.i.) In the event of a flash flood or sudden mudslide -- both of which are especially chronic and lethal problems in Haiti -- occupants have an instant place to turn to and climb (their rubble walls) to escape threatening water or mud flows -- of up to 3 feet in depth -- radically increasing their probability of survival. While the most catastrophic mudflows and floods can easily top these short walls, most areas affected by flood and mud do not face a great depth of flow. In those cases, only a little elevation is needed to get people (and their belongings) out of danger.
2.e.ii.) Furthermore, the walls, themselves, may help retard the flow of mud, and may even slightly slow the flow of water, buying precious seconds for victims to respond and flee to safety.
2.e.iii) No tent can provide this protection, let alone any tarp. (Even flimsy wood/tin/drywall structures arguably offer less protection from this phenomenon than masonry-rubble walls).
Accommodates an emergency sanitary and storm sewer system.
This design allows for a sewer between the back walls of adjoining strips of enclosures (see the diagram above). A hole at the base of the back wall can be an emergency "latrine"/sink outlet, if absolutely necessary. Wretched and unhealthy, for sure -- but safer for people sheltered en-masse, than if they are forced to simply expel their waste into the street in front of their dwellings.
The back walls of the long rubble-enclosures will provide a long isolating wall, separating people (including children, hopefully) from the sewer. This not only prevents human contact with the sewage, it guarantees that a sewage "easement" is preserved, as the refugee camp evolves. This is not only valuable for the stability of the open-sewer system, but also provides a "right-of-way" for future sewer development in the camp, including (ideally) a completely-enclosed sewer at the earliest convenience.
Normal water drainage (and stormwater rain-runoff drainage) can be channeled through these open (but sheltered) sewers, to channel the refuse to safer destinations, such as central collectors for sewage trucks or large sewer lines, or to holding ponds, sewage lagoons, or small emergency sewage-processing facilities, and so on.
A simple large chunk of masonry-rubble can be positioned over the open sewer in strategic locations as a bridge (and is less likely to be stolen for building material than any other kind of bridge).
4.) SOCIAL STABILITY:
I've observed among the homeless in my own country that the possession of a defined, partially-enclosed space greatly reduces insecurity, theft, conflict and social chaos.
4.a.) "Stable": Each household gets it's own identifiable, possessable space to claim. No bickering over boundaries when they are, quite literally, etched in stone (or masonry). This prevents a lot of minor squabbles and space-thefts that contribute to overall stress in a refugee camp, and lead to bigger problems.
4.b.) "Comforting": Each household gets to feel that they have something solid and clearly defined -- however meager -- that is truly "theirs". This can give a much-improved of stability, safety and security -- feelings that greatly comfort (and calm) refugees who are displaced, dispossessed, and mourning horrible losses.
4.c.) "Fair": Each household gets basically the same size enclosure. The impression of fairness reduces friction in crowded living conditions, and makes people more willing to accept, cooperate, and work within the existing social structure.
4.d.) "Defensible Space": With this clearly defined "territory" -- somewhat enclosed and protected by walls (and tarps) -- people have a greater chance of clearly identifying what is theirs, and protecting it from theft or exploitation by others. It is easier for authorities to determine guilt of intruders when the space is physically defined and marked.
CAUTION: It is debatable as to whether people can defend family and possessions in an enclosed space better than an open refuge assembly. But it seems that open refugee camps lead to bands of roaming thugs, preying fearlessly on large numbers of people, easily targeted, en-masse, in the open. By comparison, separate housing structures (especially with solid walls) slow the activity, and limit the number of directions that attackers can approach a defender (and thus limit the number of useable attackers in an attack).
For these various reasons, rubble-wall enclosures are probably more intimidating to thieves than tents, or especially tarps. (NOTE: Other people, with refugee-camp experience, in camps with both kinds of dwellings, will know which is true, better than I can. Take note of their assessment, before mine, on this issue.)
4.e.) "Prevents Civil Unrest and Organized Threats": Dispersing people into these structures, rather than clustering them under tarps or in barracks, provides the social separation necessary to prevent or reduce "mob mentality" and "mob action" -- rumors, complaints and rage spreading like wildfire through a camp; mass protests; gang and factional violence; riots; and mass rebellions.
Individual, solid, dwelling-enclosures for people also (arguably) inhibit the formation of gangs and other hostile groups. (However, I must admit, some refugee experts may disagree with this idea, saying that "privacy increases the ease of forming carefully organized, secret groups, with hostile objectives." And they may argue that these enclosures also increase the likelihood of individual criminals "setting up shop" in these private quarters, protected from easy observation by police.)
5.) EMPOWERING HAITIANS:
This idea probably provides a great deal of low-tech labor that Haitians can do, to rebuild their own lives and communities .That will raise morale, and (again) increase social stability.
PROBLEMS... AND SOLUTIONS?
However, as "good" as this idea may be, for all the reasons offered above, there are admittedly some problems with it. Here are few that come to mind (and a few potential solutions):
A.) Identifying the land for the enclosures, and getting possession of it, without starting a civil insurrection. (The rubble-wall enclosures may require far more space than simple "tarps-over-refugees," and Haitians landowners may not give up the required land quietly).
Haiti has a chronic land-management problem owing to centuries of subsistence family farming, and desperate poverty, in which one's parcel of land (however tiny) was one's only truly valuable asset. Haitians (as I have been told by an aid worker) are fiercely possessive of their land, seeing it as their core resource, their personal identity, their family heirloom, and their chief legacy to their children. Giving up a piece of land in Haiti, I've been told, is almost an act of surrender to nothingness and death -- an act of suicide, not commerce.
Further, because of growing population, the large family parcels of a bygone era, which could once support a profitable family farm, have been divided among children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on, until all the parcels are very tiny -- with Haiti now a patchwork of microscopic personal territories. Buying up land could involve hundreds of individual negotiations.
If what I've been told is true, then some very sophisticated efforts will have to be developed to ease people into surrendering (or at least renting to the government) the land needed for these enclosures and their occupants. The mere declaration of martial law and eminent domain will not go over well. Some system of solid, lasting compensation -- not just a handful of one-time money -- will have to be developed to ameliorate the severe sacrifice landowners will be asked to make.
Perhaps one way would be to offer to gradually transition the land back to them, after Haiti is back on its feet (after a year or two), and to let them thereafter start collecting gradually rising rents on the temporary quarters, to ease the transition for all parties.
B.) Moving the Rubble:
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B.1) The Big Stuff:
The (masonry) rubble -- stone, concrete, brick-and-mortar -- is extremely heavy, for the most part. Many of the pieces cannot be moved, safely, without power equipment: cranes, skip loaders, bulldozers, dump trucks (or at least pick-up trucks). The use of these construction resources will be needed to provide the most expedient and stable development of these enclosures.
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B.2.) The Little Stuff:
However, much of the rubble can be moved by hand by Haitians, themselves. Small blocks can be loaded onto simple wheelbarrows, carts and wagons, and pushed/pulled to their destination by people, animals or small vehicles.
To make blocks small enough to move, Haitians can use simple tools: sledgehammers, pry bars, or even other blocks of masonry, to break up existing large pieces of rubble into smaller pieces that can be carried.
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The handling of masonry rubble is dangerous, no matter how small.
The most obvious risk is dropping it on oneself, or another person.
Specifically, foot injuries will probably be the most common problem. And of course finger, hand, arm injuries will occur, mostly from dropping chunks of material. Some blunt trauma to other body parts (including heads) will happen, too.
Also eye injuries (from fragments of masonry flying off of it when breaking it) will be common. Finally, stress/strain injuries (back, especially) will likely result.
Climbing around unstable collapsed structures is quite dangerous, and it can result in large chunks falling on people, resulting in the same crushing (often fatal) injuries as with the earthquake itself.
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B.4.) Risk/Reward Assessment:
All of these risks must be weighed against the cost of not doing this work. It may be that the injuries (and occasional deaths) may be a far smaller price to pay, than the possible injuries and loss of life resulting from not doing it at all.
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B.5.) Risk Mitigation: Although rather costly by Haitian standards (even American construction industry complains about it), safety equipment and other precautions may reduce injuries.
B.5.a.) Working in Well-Managed Teams -- led by trained, accountable, safety-trained supervisors (who are, in turn, carefully supervised for both safety and productivity).
B.5.b.) Basic Safety Equipment: (steel-toed boots, protective goggles, helmets, gloves) -- carefully checked out to workers at the start of work, daily, and checked back in at the end of day.
It's not as hard as you might think to get adequate safety gear to equip the 10,000 Haitians needed to handle the rubble. Simple protective goggles and gloves are now quite cheap -- as low as a dollar apiece or less, at wholesale prices -- thanks to decades of mass-production to equip millions of American workers. Also, I believe various militaries have large inventories of obsolete helmets; that would be one valuable "free" asset that could help here a lot. Surplus military boots, too, although not "steel-toed" would be a radical safety improvement over ordinary Haitian footwear (or bare feet).
B.5.c.) Basic Safety Training -- for all workers, with supervisors held accountable for their work site's safety condition, checked on by other supervisors and inspectors (who can be trusted not to be corrupt).
B.5.d.) Coordination with Heavy Equipment and Transport: Many injuries can be reduced by coordinating the availability of heavy equipment (jack-hammers and air-compressors, cranes, loaders, trenchers, forklifts, bulldozers, etc.), and transport vehicles (heavy trucks, dump trucks), when needed -- sharing theses resources, in turns, with other work teams.
Because such heavy equipment are in short supply in Haiti, they probably cannot remain indefinitely on any one work site. But they CAN be managed fairly and efficiently between work sites, in a manner that provides reliable support to workers when needed -- so manual laborers are not forced to take chances trying to solve dangerous problems without the right equipment.
Work teams can gather safely-accessible small rubble, and pile it up, then wait for heavy equipment operators to come and move the big stuff, to allow more work by the workers. Then, let the heavy equipment operators go to other work sites, while workers go back to handling what has been made safely possible. (This may be an optimistic scenario, but it is conceivable.)
C.) "Bodies and Booty" -- Contents of Scavenged Structures:
In scavenging rubble from damaged and collapsed structures, work teams will be encountering two things: bodies and "booty" (treasure). A civil way must be provided for dealing with each. But it is important to remember that this issue pre-dated the concept of the rubble-wall enclosures. It was going to be an issue, simply because of the need to remove the rubble.
D.) Squatter's Rights:
There is the tendency, in the long run, in a poor place, for refugee camps to become permanent, with the refugees having no means to go elsewhere.
The refugees decide to stay (become "squatters"), and defy efforts to move them anywhere else. If they are comfortable, in a personal space that they have gotten used to, they are even more likely to resist change.
One way to slowly push them out -- after the society is functioning normally again -- may be to give them a token temporary income, and require that some small amount of it be paid back as rent -- or no income will be given at all. Individuals who do not comply, are evicted, one at a time (rather than everyone all at once).
Gradually increase the rent, while gradually decreasing the income. People will become more likely to move elsewhere, gradually, one at a time -- without requiring any one moment of mass-eviction (which could cause mass rebellion).
It must be remembered that some tolerable, preferable, alternative to enclosures -- probably located some other place -- will have to eventually be developed, and made financially accessible to the refugees, before they can be pushed out of the enclosures.
E.) Getting this Idea to Decision-Makers:
Frankly, I'm not connected to anyone significant enough in the Haiti relief effort, who's in a position to push this solution onto the discussion table of the decision-makers (who are probably already awash in "good" ideas from "helpful" folks like me). But if the idea is really valuable, it needs to be carried to the attention of decision-makers while their decisions are being made, and before the storms (natural and human) arrive. If you know a way, please be my guest (or at least suggest). It's starting to rain in Haiti.