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Rising from the rubble: Irish housing project aims to rebuild Haiti from the ruins

Grim reality of clearing Port-au-Prince rubble means risk of uncovering remains of last year’s earthquake victims remains.

Constructing a rubble house in Haiti's capital.
Constructing a rubble house in Haiti's capital.

AN ESTIMATED 20 MILLION cubic metres of rubble was created when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital on 12 January 2010.

Fifteen months later, less than 5 per cent of that rubble has been removed.

Irish charity Haven, focused solely on reconstruction projects in Haiti, is pioneering a method of construction which aims to re-use the rubble, while providing long-term housing for the people affected by the quake.

Around 680,000 people remain in makeshift camps, according to the latest figures by migrant tracking group the International Organisation for Migration.

The capital is still littered with broken buildings and many which are structurally unsound and condemned have yet to be pulled down. In Oxfam’s ‘one year on’ report in January, it cited the slow removal of rubble as an integral factor preventing effective reconstruction in Port-au-Prince.

Irish engineers working for Haven developed the charity’s rubble house design in collaboration with an architectural engineer from New Zealand who specialises in seismic design.

Sifting through the rubble

At Haven’s project in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the rubble arrives on site in truckloads and must be broken down into smaller pieces and sand by hand.

Baskets crafted locally out of wire are filled with these smaller rocks, then laid in the same way as cement blocks and plastered over to create strong walls. Hurricane straps along the roof are an added protection to hold the house together during stormy hurricane season.

In Port-au-Prince, this method is heavily labour-intensive as machinery which would drastically reduce the time taken to prepare the rubble is expensive and uneconomical – unless a much larger project was being rolled out.

However, Siobhán Kennedy, an engineer with Haven, said that locals are reassured by seeing that the rubble is sorted by hand, as it ensures that a certain standard of material is used.

It also ensures that remains of people buried in the earthquake are not accidentally included.

“That’s the nature of it. Anywhere you’re clearing debris, there is the potential for body parts,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said she believes the technique could be particularly useful in road building. A similar technique is already being used to make motorway dividers in Ireland.

[caption id="attachment_117000" align="alignnone" width="266" caption="Local worker and chief rubble organiser Porqui Morné working at the Haven site. (Image by www.seanandyvette.com)"][/caption]

Cost-effective building in Haiti is hampered by the country’s heavy reliance on imports, with most machinery and raw materials being shipped in from the US.

Building expert John Morgan of EAGA told TheJournal.ie that he believes that the solution to long-term housing for Haiti’s homelessness lies in training local workers to build these rubble houses effectively:

The only way it’s going to last is by building sustainability into the community so they can build their homes, so they can use the natural waste, and turn it into a viable economy.

However, he said that while using rubble works in principle, whether the quantities of material and cost involved is viable on a grander scale remains to be seen.

The scheme could potentially solve the dual problems of rubble removal and a housing shortage. Still in its early stages, the project has not yet been priced on a wider-scale which could reduce the per-unit cost. It currently costs around $6,000 (€4,000) per house.

[caption id="attachment_117002" align="alignnone" width="296" caption="The rubble in situ inside the wire cages. (Image by www.seanandyvette.com)"][/caption]

Susan Ryan is reporting from Haiti with the charity Haven

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Susan Ryan in Haiti

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