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A New Approach to Disaster Recovery for an Urban Millennium

Published 08/18/2011 by Global Communities

A New Approach to Disaster Recovery for an Urban Millennium
By David Humphries, Director of Communications
This was my fourth trip to Haiti, although my last trip was exactly a year ago. I had the privilege of visiting Haiti in November 2009, six weeks before the earthquake, then again six weeks after the earthquake, then last August. Returning a year later, the most noticeable aspect was how much it once again resembled pre-earthquake Haiti. David Weiss, CHF’s president, wrote about this in his recent blog in the Huffington Post.

CHF believes that the key to sustainability is the community. If they are part of a project from the beginning, if they are involved throughout and if it meets their needs and priorities – then they will care about the project, upkeep it, and make it last. On that basis, I had the pleasure of visiting our Katye project (Haitian creole for Neighborhood) in Ravine Pintade. Ravine Pintade is one of the areas of Port-au-Prince most brutalized by the earthquake – two-thirds of the nearly 1,000 families living in the area were made homeless by the disaster. Funded by USAID/OFDA, CHF is undertaking a unique project in Ravine Pintade, one which is both an innovative, community-based intervention and an opportunity for the whole world to learn about how to recover from urban disasters.
Traditionally, most disasters – storms, tsunamis, earthquakes – have affected rural areas. But with more than 50% of the world’s population now living in cities, increasingly we are seeing and are going to see urban disasters: densely populated cities with little living space, strict land tenure laws and stretched or non-existent services. Those of us who work in disaster response have learned that a new approach is needed. CHF and our partners are working with the community to reconstruct their neighborhood in an integrated, planned way. We work with the communities to decide on key infrastructure such as access roads, green spaces, parks, space for markets, water and sanitation, sewage and solid waste removal. Where services are not yet available, we plan for them for the future, putting in the provisions that will be needed. We are also working to ensure protection of vulnerable residents – women, children, elderly. Finally, with our partners we are planning for and constructing homes for people to live in. There are a variety of models, from two-floor, steel framed T-shelters (an approach that maximizes space) to timber framed, stucco walled shelters that provide a sanitary, safe home for a family. We are also exploring other models to maximize space, access and protection for residents.
When I visited the Ravine, I had the pleasure of listening to our Deputy Program Director, Aram Khachadurian, describing one of the innovations that deal with land tenure while also helping to create a long term economy for the area. Standing in the CHF office, a hot hut full of plans and maps of the area, Aram explained our approach: where we identify a landowner who has space for an additional T-shelter style home, we offer to build a home on their land for a homeless family. The deal is this: the family live there rent free for two years; after two years the landlord can begin charging rent. This provides the family in need with vital shelter while they get back on their feet, but also lays the foundations for the revival of the local rental market. Simple, innovative and effective.
For me, personally, it was great to visit Ravine Pintade and see such a holistic program at work that addresses the broad needs of the community. It’s clearly a welcome innovation in urban disaster reconstruction. We will be examining every step of the way to see what the whole development community can learn from the project.