The scale of the reconstruction job facing Haitians is huge. Nearly half of all buildings in the Caribbean Island’s main cities were damaged or destroyed. It will take years to re-house everyone.
The most urgent priority, is to get as many houses habitable before the rainy season begins in May.
It is estimated up to 1 million people are living without shelter in the streets and parks of the capital Port-au-Prince.
euronews’ Sophie Desjardin spoke to Patrick Coulombel, an emergency housing expert in disaster zones.
Euronews: ‘‘Mr Coulombel,you are the president of ‘Emergency architects’ a foundation that has been to 24 countries since 2001. You are back from Haiti. Could you explain in a few words what your team is doing on the ground there?’‘
‘‘Generally, our ground teams during the emergency phase work to make buildings safe. The idea is to return people as quickly as possible under the safest possible conditions and also evacuate buildings that are considered dangerous,’‘ Mr Coulombel said.
euronews:’‘In the long run, will the buildings still standing in Haiti hold? Do you think it will be necessary to rebuild from scratch?’‘
Mr Coulombel: ‘‘No, I think we should be more optimistic than that. There are several ways of working. First, there are the buildings which have collapsed, those must be rebuilt. There are damaged buildings that can be repaired and in which there are only conservative measures to take, so they are not dangerous. But we’ll also have to do what we call reinforcements. This is real work. It has to be done with competence, skill, but it’s completely do-able.’‘
euronews: ‘‘But is it possible to rebuild at an affordable cost another type of building that is more solid?’‘
Mr Coulombel:’‘Well, What’s interesting in Haiti and particularly in Port-au-Prince is that we’ve noticed that the old houses that are made from wood, what we call ginger bread houses, were completely able to withstand the quake. Where as the houses made from concrete just next door collapsed. It isn’t that concrete structures are all bad, it’s not that. They’re only bad when basic building regulations are not respected. That means using special technical materials – how they’re implemented and also the design of the building. If these key things are not respected, we have real problems, particularly in an earthquake.’‘
euronews: ‘‘In your opinion, how long do you think it will take for all the victims there, it’s said to be 1 million, to find housing?’‘
Mr Coulombel:’‘Housing is essential and there are people in Haiti who’ve lived in unsanitary conditions for a very long-time. They have access neither to water nor electricity and they are on land which they do not own. It’s these temporary structures that we really want to work on. This will take time and could last years. If we are pragmatic and compare here to what happened with the Tsunami – that is not on a completely comparable scale, it’s quite a different kind of disaster – however, it took about 5 years to sort out a lot of things in a city like Banda-Aceh. If we have the means to do it we can say in 5 years time we will also be able to do a lot of things but its a question of means. You must realise many Haitians have left, those who could afford it left Haiti because it was too difficult to live. If we want these people to come back, if we want these Haitians that have skills and some money not to leave, we really have to help them.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Mr Coulombel, thank you very much.’‘