Boing Boing Video
Duration: 7 minutes 53 seconds
“Earthquakes don’t kill people,” says John Mutter, a seismologist and disaster expert at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “Bad buildings kill them.” And Haiti had some of the worst buildings in world. There are building codes, but in a country that has been ranked as the 10th most corrupt in the world, enforcement is lax at best. The concrete blocks used to construct buildings in the capital are often handmade, and are of wildly varying quality. “In Haiti a block is maybe an eighth of the weight of a concrete block that you’d buy in the U.S.,” says Peter Haas, the executive director of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG), an NGO that has worked on buildings in Haiti. “You end up providing buildings quickly and cheaply but at great risk.”
Compared to the sensationalist reporting and scaremongering from other major news organizations, Amy Goodman and her team covered the situation on the ground with a great deal of sensitivity. I very much appreciate their balanced reporting as a counterpoint to dominant narrative being put forward at the time by CNN.
There are also significant problems with the quality of building materials used, says Peter Haas, head of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a US-based non-profit group that has been working in Haiti since 2006.
“People are skimping on cement to try to cut costs, putting a lot of water in, building too thin, and you end up with a structure that’s innately weaker,” said Mr Haas, who was on his way to Haiti to help assess the safety of damaged buildings.
“Concrete blocks are being made in people’s backyards and dried out in the sun,” he said.
Mr Haas said there were also “serious problems” with the enforcement of building codes in Haiti.
He said the government did not function at all in several parts of the country, and many communities lacked basic services such as electricity, sanitation services or access to clean water.
“So the problem of code enforcement is low down on the list,” he said.
New York Times
At the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a small nonprofit organization in San Francisco, projects are also developed from the ground up by providing support to local entrepreneurs, said Peter Haas, its founder.
Mr. Haas spoke while traveling to Haiti, where, before the earthquake, his group had been set to announce a competition for local entrepreneurs to develop plans for infrastructure projects. The competition has been delayed, and the group has added a new category: earthquake-resistant housing.
In Haiti, Mr. Haasâ€™s group has already been helping Coopen, a business cooperative in Cap Haitien that will collect organic waste and human waste from public toilets and convert it to biogas, a fuel, for cooking. And in Guatemala, the group has aided a small company, XelaTeco, that builds hydroelectric projects for rural villages.
â€œWeâ€™re really not trying to dump some new expert solution on the population,â€ Mr. Haas said. Working through local businesses, he said, ensures that ideas that do not work do not stay around. â€œIf a business fails and the market doesnâ€™t accept the product, it disappears,â€ he said.
In a telephone interview, Haas warned that victims of the earthquake are fanning out from the capital to smaller centers across the country, raising the potential for problems beyond Port-au-Prince. To avoid a long-term refugee crisis, he said, the central government and its international supporters must help not only victims in the capital but those who have fled elsewhere.
Haas estimated that several thousand people a day are arriving in Cap Haitien from the capital and are largely left to fend for themselves.
â€œI think the immediate concern is intake and tracking [the displaced] for support,â€™â€™ he said. â€œThen they can be moved to temporary shelters and more permanent residences.â€™â€™
He sees ways to combine the postquake relief work and the longer-term rebuilding. For example, he has been talking with a Virginia company called Shelter 2 Home that builds prefabricated shelters designed to serve as a refuge in a crisis and then be improved to become a permanent house.