Greetings everyone from HATS-Haiti once again.  This blog is filled with information on Haiti and the after results of the earthquake at this time.  This has been written by a friend of mine, Dr. Judith, in PAP.  Judith gathers all facts carefully before sending them out and I am passing this updated information on to you the HATS supporters.  You will see that according to the experts there is a high risk of an even bigger earthquake hitting Haiti.   (Actually there were two in Haiti in recent months but the loss of lives and damage was low.)

Here we go…

Rubble and bottlenecking

Now nine months after the earthquake, piles of rubble still spill over to nearly block Port-au-Prince’s traffic- and pedestrian-choked streets. Clearing of debris is crucial for rebuilding; but, rubble removal is not a hot issue for donors, thus funds are not readily available for this primary task.  Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been removed, and the disposal of the estimated 20 million cubic meters of rubble lacks a dump site and the equipment to move it.  Some could be used in rebuilding, but the main task at hand right now is to remove it so that life can go on.

On the brighter side…here is a company that thinks it can be done: This website also shows a recycling setup in place.  Apparently these can be moved from area to area to crush debris; and they believe that the Haitian debris could be readily incorporated into house slabs and as a base for roads–another sorely needed commodity!  And here is another good, recent article that gives perspective on the problems involved:

Infrastructure damage

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) identified 105,000 completely destroyed homes and over 208,000 damaged ones. These represent about 51% of the structures in Port-au-Prince.  Close to 80% of the buildings in the city of Léogâne, the area closest to the epicentre, were damaged or destroyed.

The earthquake seriously damaged the control tower at its International Airport and the Port-au-Prince harbor.  Temporizing measures are in place, but these will still need to be rebuilt–along with most of the government buildings (the Ministry of Health building completely collapsed, killing 200 of its employees–all told, about 17% of the government workforce perished).  Roads, already extremely congested, inadequate and unmaintained, are still semi-blocked by debris and with ever increasing amounts of traffic.   The undersea telephone cable for landlines was damaged losing national phone service.  Cell phone companies also suffered damage, but they are back to normal.

The toll of the earthquake is valued at US$ 7.8 billion, roughly the Gross Domestic Product for 2009.  Private sector damage and loss are estimated to be 70%.  Nearly 5,000 schools were damaged in PAP, representing 23% of all the schools in the country, and affecting over 1 million students and 55,000 teachers.  Another 38,000 students and 1,500 teachers perished in the earthquake.   About 60% of the hospitals were damaged or destroyed; 67 were impaired following the quake.

Building assessments

One of the main activities of the last few months has been to assess the damage to the PAP structures.  Seismic engineers from Miyamoto International have teamed up with UN workers and Haitian government engineers to develop structural assessment program and mason training. The latter emphasizes previous practices known to compromise structural soundness, such as: stretching cement by adding extra sand to the mortar mix;  using the readily available and less costly mountain sand (from across from my house!) that lacks compression strength; and other practices such as not pouring a full column at a time or inattention to proportions when mixing cement.  They are also preparing national technical repair guidelines.  Another group, Open Architecture Network, in conjunction with Architects for Humanity, has prepared a similar manual that is available in English, French and Créole.  It’s quite good.  I’ve had some trouble reopening the Open Architecture site; so here’s another that will directly download a copy in Créole:…/Liv+Pou+Rebati+101.pdf

Here’s another site where you can download the English version:

Here’s an article about Architects for Humanity:  By the way, they have an office here in Pétion Ville and are willing to assist with technical advice for anyone who will be helping to rebuild.

The assessments have been carried out on about 375,000 buildings.  Priority was given to homes and schools near the most populous camps.  The 280 government engineers, accompanied by social workers who explain the evaluations methods and results, walk through the areas, entering their findings in handheld electronic devices that will later upload the information into the Government’s central registry.  The latter has become an important tool for planning reconstruction of the city as well as for census and planning services.  After roughly 270,000 assessments (of  total of 350-400,00), about 51% of the homes have been classed as green (safe), a little more than 25% are yellow (need repair before occupancy), and about 25% are red (to be demolished).  One caution is in order, the assessments do not evaluate for future seismic resistance, merely the ability to inhabit the structure in its present state.

See the following site for the story on housing assessment:,,contentMDK:22664684~pagePK:34370~piPK:34424~theSitePK:4607,00.html

Internally Displaced People (IDP)

The camps are presently accommodating about 13 percent of the entire population of Haïti.  As of September 14, the International Organization for Migration (IOM, an UN group), had registered more than 300,000 families residing in 1,193 displacement sites. IOM will soon complete an initial registrations in all of the estimated 1,215 settlements, most of which house from 100 to 1,000 households.  A second registration phase aimed at data verification will continue through the end of 2011.  The initial data is no longer reliable given the marked movement in and out of the camps.  The settlements have continued to grow, partially from those returning from the provinces, partially from others leaving relatively suitable quarters with the hopes of receiving more benefits by becoming camp dwellers.

In anticipation of an increase in demand for identification cards (for general use as well as for the upcoming national presidential election), ONI (National Office for Identification), with OAS (Organization of American States) support, has set up 40 mobile units that travel throughout the country and have the necessary personnel and equipment to process applications for new identification cards, reprinting lost cards, and requests for changes of address. The units are believed to be able to complete the delivery of cards ahead of elections scheduled for November 28.  This program actually began in 2005 and was very helpful to provide identification for the previous presidential election.  It also has greatly increased the ability of the average Haitian to have identification since only some have had adequate documentation to obtain a national identity card.  This in fact has replaced the national identity card; however, without adequate information, it will be difficult to cull the records of those who died following the earthquake, a true concern about identity fraud.

The Government estimates that about 2.3 million people left their homes for at least a portion of time following the earthquake.  Most settled near their homes as either individual households or in small household groupings–some right on the debris-clogged streets.  Others, about 600,000 left for the provinces to be with relatives and friends, swelling local families to two to three times their usual size of 4-5.  Now at least 40% of those who went to the provinces have returned.  As an aside, Odelin and I walk up the mountain with the dogs most Saturdays to one of the main lookouts over PAP.  It has been striking to see the regular, relentless increase in the number of tents that have gone up just the last two months.

Some very interesting information has come from the tracking of mobile phones since the earthquake; and the data has helped relief workers funnel resources towards the areas of the country that were receiving more people.  Presently, there are 6.6% fewer mobile phones in PAP than before the earthquake, roughly equivalent to 260,000 people.  This most likely represents many of those who died.

Other concerns for the IDPs have been the precariousness of the areas where they have settled, often in flood-prone zones.  Even under the best of conditions tents and tarps are not ideal nor durable living solutions; but now after several months of constant use, hot sun, and heavy rainfall, many are damaged beyond continued use.  This is especially true following the unanticipated mini-hurricane that passed through PAP  24 September.  Gratefully, the Shelter Cluster teams had been anticipating tent and tarp replacement, so materials were quickly made available to help.

Food security has improved thanks in a large part to a good harvest.  More products are available and at a better price.  The cash-for-work projects have allowed more cash flow to the very poor.

Camp issues

About 10% of the camp residents have been threatened with eviction, and about 1/5 of these have lost their camp sites. Many landowners, fearing that the tent cities will become entrenched slums, say that they need to reclaim their properties.  Aid to help camp residents regain their homes is hit or miss, and the camp census showed that 57% were renting their dwellings before the earthquake, which greatly complicates resettlement issues.

Many camp dwellers are willing to leave their home areas if they could become landowners–and a number are under the misconception that moving to one of the long term resettlement areas will entitle them to land.  However, most of those who owned land prior to the earthquake would prefer to return to their former home, regardless of the condition.

The bottom line is, however, that camps as they are cannot stay, they are too dangerous for their inhabitants, and the wrong habits will rapidly become ‘acceptable’ as residents continue to adjust.  The ability to adapt to one’s surroundings has been a longstanding strength of the Haitian people; but in this case, it would be very harmful.  The camp conditions are not at all conducive to good living, not in terms of health nor socio-cultural mores for the people.

Temporary shelters

There are about 60 NGO members to the UN inaugurated Haiti Shelter Cluster.  Most of the transitional shelters have been established thanks to these groups.  As of June 28, 3,264 transitional shelters, by 11 August 8,069, and by 27 September 16,000 interim family dwellings had been constructed.  A total of 220,000 are expected to be completed by August 2011, up from the original estimate of 125,000 from June.  This increase may be partially due to the ever-increasing number of people returning from the countryside.

Now a plea: Please, please advocate that there be a standardized approach to rebuilding, even at the temporary shelter stage!  The style, materials, and price of these homes vary enormously.  It will be very important to provide something of comparable size and construction even if the plan differs slightly from one organization to another.  They all should be of relatively the same value.

Second plea: Please do not come with bright ideas for materials that will ‘change the face of Haïti’.  Straw bales, foam blocks, pressed bricks, and the like will not be well received even if they are proven superior products against earthquakes.  The solutions should be based on traditional building techniques and materials, even if they are not the most efficient/effective.  I also make a plea to avoid wood supports.  Haitians will simply refuse to have the columns in their homes constructed with anything less than cement and rebar.

See the notes below on Habitat for Humanity.  It and the Episcopal Church are providing temporary shelters that give the basics for a permanent home.  In areas where land tenure is not so much an issue, this is a very good and admirable approach.  It also splits the cost of building between the organization and the future homeowners.

Land issues

The longstanding problem of ill-defined property ownership and the extremely large influx of persons into PAP these last couple decades has led to a large proportion of persons who own no land and now have no place to live.  Estimates range from 57 to 70% of the IDPs were either squatters in slum areas or renters before the earthquake.  Many no longer have the funds needed to rent space in some of the existing structures thus are obliged to live in the camp settlements indefinitely.

Less than 5 percent of Haiti’s land is officially registered in public land records; and there is no proper land registry system.  Most land titles have been passed down orally from one generation to the next.  Likewise, Haiti’s clogged and less than equitable court system had taken an a average five years to resolve property ownership cases pre-earthquake.

A recent United Nations-HABITAT report noted that because of an informal land tenure system (with many titles being passed through oral tradition), large numbers of now deceased landowners, contradictory laws, and weak institutions for enforcement, there is a deep lack of land tenure security which will significantly impede rebuilding.  Without secure land tenure, families could be evicted from their new homes and have no legal recourse.  The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs wrote, “Organisations need clear guidelines supported by local authorities, to allow legal construction of transitional shelters on land where ownership remains unclear. This process is likely to create a bottleneck in the implementation of transitional shelters if not addressed. A national policy on the matter is urgently required…”

Insecure property and land rights is also stifling local enterprise.  Many Haitian business leaders are struggling to obtain bank loans because they are unable to prove that they own land. It is also causing potential foreign investors to be wary.

Before the earthquake, the Organization of American States committed $70 million to set up, over a period of seven years, an electronic land title registration system in Haiti.   Legislation will also be needed to support customary as well as acquired tenure rights.

Habitat for Humanity has been inventive in finding ways around the land issue for right now.  It has distributed emergency shelter kits with tools for immediate repairs as well as future construction to home dwellers.  It has also begun temporary shelter construction right outside of one of the large areas of land donated by the Government for displaced persons and also plans to help families to remove and recycle debris.  Unaffected families in their catchment area will be asked to host internally displaced families during temporary shelter construction; and the materials employed in the temporary homes will be able to either be reused or recycled into permanent housing. These materials will be owned by the shelter recipients regardless of the status of land ownership.

Habitat plans to build upgradable transitional shelters with a permanent foundation for families who own their own land. This approach helps families to meet their immediate need, allows them to upgrade over time, and permit Habitat the funds to build more units.  It is helping families to acquire land as well as advocating for a clear, equitable land rights system.

At the end of September, the UN Cluster agency responsible for the land tenure issue reported on its strategy to address this problem with three options, in order of preference: 1) Return IDPs to their original neighborhoods; 2) Resettle them outside of Port-au-Prince or with host families;  or 3) Resettle families at a planned site, such as Corail-Cesselesse, a large area set aside by the Haitian Government compassing a segment of the semi-arid land located between Bon Repos and Cabaret on the Route Nationale 1.

The Cluster cites some of the following as requirements for this 3-pronged approach:

  • Registration of the displaced population.  This would entail issuing ID cards without adequate documentation; yet without IDs, relocating persons back to their old neighborhoods would be difficult
  • Standardization of the types of temporary shelters provided while continuing to monitor health and nutrition in the camps AND avoid creating dependency (a tall order, to say the least!)
  • Return camp residents to ‘green’/‘yellow’ houses.  Since roughly 50-70% would have been renters, they may require rent subsidy for a time
  • Repair ‘yellow’ houses: Since many are to be rented, the owners may also need subsidies to repair them
  • Prioritization of rebuilding concerning ‘red’ vs ‘yellow’ homes, schools, and government edifices
  • Since the emigration to PAP has been extremely high over the last several decades, quadrupling its population since 1950, many homes have been constructed in high risk areas.  This begs the question of whether the Government should relocate these residents rather than to ‘build back the risk’.  Any relocation would have to be coordinated with other decentralization plans, which had actually begun before the earthquake
  • To date 5,900 people have been moved from high risk sites to Corail-Cesselesse. The question is whether this is a temporizing solution or a permanent resettlement. Much will depend on the rebuilding plans for Port-au-Prince

Concerning the question of dependency…Compared to overall living conditions,  camp-dwelling IDPs now appear as a ‘privileged’ group in a rent-free, serviced environment because access to basic necessities is so limited in many communities. How can this be reversed to create healthy community dynamics and responsible ownership?

Who is in charge of the reconstruction process?

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) oversees the allocation and spending of donations to Haïti worth over $500,000.   It has its own board, and is co-chaired by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.  The Commission is modeled after the one organized following the 2004 tsunami, and it will oversee all building permits for larger edifices like schools and hospitals, development projects, advocacy for foreign investment, and job creation in the agriculture, manufacturing, and textile industries.

During its first meeting last month, the IHRC approved more than $50 million in projects aimed at creating jobs and providing safer shelters. But critics note that key posts are still vacant, and there are disagreements among donors about its structure.  Its mandate is to end in October 2011, at which time its operations will be transferred to he Haiti Development Agency (HDA), that will be tasked with long-term recovery efforts.

In partnership with Microsoft Corporation and Infusion, IHRC will help the Haitian government develop technology to provide secure communications, host critical information systems and recover key databases lost in the January 12 earthquake.  The group, HIGP, will use ‘cloud computing’ (i.e., using software found on the internet rather than on computer hard drives) with open architecture (so one system can be set up to ‘talk’ to another) to foster collaboration so as to avoid building multiple, small IT systems.

One of the key features of the system will be a web-based data display on details concerning the reconstruction process that will be available in Haïti’s three languages, . Créole, French, and English.  With a plethora of Government functionaries and about 10,000 NGOs presently in country, this will serve to promote coordination and collaboration among all the main actors to allow Haïti to be ‘built back better’.  However, it will be very important that Haïti escapes the tendency to cede to the “Republic of NGOs” and the resultant dependency that creates.

Although the UN Cluster system has worked reasonably well, coordination of activities among the over 10,000 NGO now in country has been daunting.  However, some better coodination efforts are in the wings.  The UN recently tested a concept it terms EJOINT, a sort of humanitarian coordination hub, following the short but fierce storm that hit PAP 24 September.  The leaders from all of the UN Cluster groups convened to synchronize assessments and responses.  USAID also contributed one of its officers to assist with information sharing and coordination.  This meant that most of the major funders were well represented in the coordination, and efforts went well.

Future earthquakes

This is another daunting issue.  About one month ago researchers released their initial findings on the geophysical events leading to the earthquake.  They discovered that the earthquake had not been along the well known Enriquillo fault, but it was from a combination of three previously unknown faults operating together.  The main one has now been dubbed “Léogâne fault”.  Continued research is showing that there is still a great deal of pressure on this fault line, thus another significant earthquake is very likely–perhaps even one stronger than the 7.0 one in January.  Here’s a good article for those of you who would like to learn more:


About 4,800 schools were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, but many were cobbled together well enough for classes to resume in late spring.  Classes ended late, in August, so that the children would have a chance to complete the school year.  The new school year thus was delayed 1 month and began today.

UNICEF and now Digicel Foundation (one of our main telecommunications networks) have committed to building either schools or school-friendly temporary buildings.  The Digicel project will build modular classrooms by employing youth through the USAID-funded IDEJEN project that provides out-of-school youth ages 15 to 24 with basic, non-formal education and vocational training. Up to 100 young people will work at a pre-fabrication plant or at on site assembly.  The project is expected to improve finances of Haitian families in need, stimulate the economy, and help develop a workforce able to participate in reconstruction efforts.

Despite these generous gifts, many schools will not reopen this year; and others are finding creative ways of filling their coffers by charging school fees for the months that children were unable to attend.  By holding families hostage, especially to receive report cards or enrollment in the national primary school exam for 6th graders, school officials in the private sector (which comprises 90% of the education sites) are reclaiming funds but in a less than ideal manner; and  Government officials have turned a deft ear to this awful form of extortion.

In search of economic opportunity… Some believe that merely moving earthquake survivors out of the Port-au-Prince camps, where they receive free services and pay no rent, will be pointless.  Unless the Haitian government can offer real jobs and income opportunities, the IDPs will eventually return to the destitute conditions that they have learned to adapt to.  This is not likely on its own, given that about 70% of the population was unemployed before the earthquake.

The IHRC is actively at work to create thousands of ‘real’ jobs (as opposed to informal ones, like reselling goods on the side of the road) through the development of a internationally competitive industrial park with major manufacturing operations in northern Haiti.  A memorandum of understanding has been signed by the Haitian government, Hansoll Textile Ltd (Korea), the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United States Department of State.  This initiative could create up to 120.000 jobs. In comparison, Haitian apparel exports to the United States amounted to approximately 10 percent of Haiti’s GDP in 2009, yet that was a fraction of the levels achieved in the early 1990s. The textile industry currently employs about 20,000 Haitians, but there were about 60,000 in the early 1990s and 150,000 in the 1980s.   Thus this initiative will be a step in the right direction albeit not yet to the level that the industry once was in Haïti.

Another group, Mercy Corps, will be doing an innovative cash-for-work project that will allow the workers to receive vouchers that can be stored in their mobile phones.  They will then be able to withdraw funds entirely or in part, transfer funds to family members directly, and/or pay for goods directly from their phones through affiliated merchants. Approximately 100,000 Haitians in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions will benefit from Mercy Corps’ programs over the next 9 months, which will use Voilà’s wireless network to make as many as 250,000 transactions.

Stability and the upcoming presidential elections

Before the earthquake, the U.N. troops helped to break up criminal gangs in Port-au-Prince who were killing, kidnapping and extorting. Some 850 gangsters were among the over 5,000 convicts who escaped when the main penitentiary partially fell on 12 January; and U.N. and Haitian police are working to stop them from regrouping.  Also several hundred million dollars of suspected laundered drug monies have appeared in the local banking system since January, and there is evidence that some arms have been shipped in country.  Yet to date things have been relatively quiet, gratefully!

According to a recent poll of representative potential voters, if the presidential elections were held today, the top three contesters would be (in order of popularity) Mme Mannigat, former First Lady; ‘Sweet Mickey’ Martelly, a famous Haitian rock star; and Charles Baker, a wealthy businessman.  Wicklif Jean was disqualified because he did not meet the residency requirement.  Others among the 19 who are eligible include two former Prime Ministers, several former Ministers, a Haitian pastor/community developer, a physician, an architect, and other politically minded candidates.  Nevertheless, Mme Mannigat, Sweet Mickey, and ‘Charlito’ Baker are the clear front runners.

I will be a little surprised if the election is decided on the first ballot on 28 November.  And, although not perhaps totally evident, this is a more balanced and fair representation of candidates then there has been for a while.  Sweet Mickey, of course, is the unknown among them, and there are the never ending jokes about his candidacy.  But what if he does show himself to be capable and compassionate?  More to come…