Anuradha Mukherji



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July 20, 2010, 15:45


This post is a follow up on my earlier write up on the recovery planning process in Haiti. I was in Haiti from May 11 to 17, conducting fieldwork with faculty from the Department of Public Administration at Florida International University and the Department of Social work at Arkansas State University on a collaborative research project in Port-au-Prince. This project has received a National Science Foundation Rapid Grant to document and assess the mobilization and use of community capacities for immediate shelter needs, among socio-economically diverse communities in Port-au-Prince after the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Based on observation of events on the ground in Port-au-Prince and conversations with multiple stakeholders, from within the State, non-government organizations, and the local community during our May trip to Haiti, here is what I understand about the current situation and direction of recovery planning processes in Haiti:

1. In my last post, I wrote that the post-disaster donor driven recovery planning and PDNA process had contributed to undermining State authority and capacity to an extent. During this trip however, my strong overarching impression was that though there are internal and external tensions, conflicts, influences, and inherent weaknesses in the Haitian State, plus our own critiques of how the PDNA process was designed, now that the Haitian government has got the funding (or the pledge) from international donors the dynamics are different. The Haitian State is pursuing its own agenda, albeit within framework for funding flows as decided by the international donors and the State in New York in March 2010. In short, though overall governance and planning capacities might be weak, the Haitian State understands the bigger game and is increasingly playing it their own way. Not surprisingly conflicts are emerging with international groups like the UN, which does not like what the State is doing (eg. evicting temporary camps from certain strategic areas in Port-au-Prince, without giving people alternatives, and using the UN to do the evictions). This is only one of the conflicts, there are other signs of tensions as well with multiple international players. In other words, the State may be weak with limited resources and capacities, but it knows how play with (and within) the rules to get what it wants in terms of dealing with international groups.

2. The change from planning for the PDNA and preparing for the donor conference to a post-pledge scenario has also changed the location of power within the State. During the PDNA process, the Ministry of Tourism under Patrick Delatour (and his Steering Committee) who was charged with planning for reconstruction and recovery, was at the center of all activity and power - the go to place for every NGO and stakeholder interested in this process. Now this power resides within the offices of the Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive (located in old US embassy next to La Saline Boulevard) and the very powerful but low-key Ministry of Interior and Territorial Collectivity headed by Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé (considered by some the future President of Haiti). This is because, these are the two State entities charged with the decision-making and implementation process. While the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by the Prime Minister, will channel the funds from international donors and be the decision making body, the Ministry of Interior will play a critical role in approving and overseeing any development/reconstruction project implemented within Haitian territories. As for recovery planning, this is now headed by Yves-Robert Jean, Director General, Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation, which I believe is subsumed under the Prime Minister's office. A visit to the various Ministry offices makes this change in power dynamics amply evident. While Patrick Delatour's office is now an oasis of calm - with hardly any visitors in a stark contrast to pre-PDNA times just a few months back - the office of Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé is crowded, difficult to access, and buzzing with activity and people. For researchers like us, these are very significant changes because all information on recovery planning and implementation will now have to be accessed from these two departments. And my impression is that it may be more difficult to access the very closed Ministry of Interior for information.

3. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), located at the old US embassy near La Saline Boulevard, is a key entity in Haitian recovery, by the virtue of it being charged with controlling the funds from the international community. There was some tension between the Haitian State and international donor groups regarding who would control these funds. The Haitian State wanted international monies to be channeled through the Ministry of Finance, while the international community was vehemently opposed to that idea. The final compromise was the IHRC. The IHRC is a decision-making body, not for implementation. My understanding is that it has two branches. First is the Funding Branch that is headed by the World Bank and will control the Trust Fund where donor monies will reside. Second is the Secretariat, the analysis and the policy arm, headed by a Board co-chaired by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and international representative Bill Clinton. The Board currently has 24 members, 12 Haitians and 12 non-Haitians (members of international donor groups). The list of Secretariat Board members can be found on HaitiReWired. Every proposal for reconstruction and recovery in Haiti by any national or international group will now have to go through the IHRC Board. The IHRC Board will decide whether a proposal can go forward, unless the President who has veto power vetoes it. Once the Board approves a project, the World Bank will release funds for it through the funding arm. There is however growing frustration within the IHRC regarding the slow trickle of funds from international donors, which limits the speed of recovery planning and implementation. This frustration was articulated by Yves-Robert Jean, Director General, Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation during his interview with us – who explained that they are yet to see much of the $10 billion that was pledged in New York and that they came back from New York to harsh reality. Brazil is one of the few donors who have released funds - $50 million – that are being used to set up and support the administration of the IHRC. The staffing of IHRC administration (about 40 new people) has been contracted out to McKinsey and Co. who is vetting qualified personnel for both the branches.

4.The IHRC structure has created some tension between the Haitian State and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) who are not too thrilled with the idea of dealing with the IHRC bureaucracy (it is still not clear how this process will work in practice) and more importantly want to control of how and where they spend their own dollars. Most INGOs are clearly frustrated by State bureaucracy and lack of transparency and information. No one really knows what the government policies are for various sectors, and how things will be implemented, and there is no clear channel of information. Under the current system, INGOs will have to wait till their projects are approved by the Board even if they are being funded by INGOs own funds. In theory, having a single entity like the IHRC approve all incoming proposals does make some sense because it could lead to better co-ordination and eliminate duplication – a growing concern in post-disaster situations where multiple organizations often land up in one geographic location or one sector (like health), concentrating recovery assistance in one area and overlooking others. At the same time, I am skeptical how this will work out in practice. There are clearly many vested interests within this Board. For example, the Business Sector Representative (a voting member of the Board) – Dr. Reginald Boulos – is the President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a powerful Haitian economic elite with own business interests in Haiti that will surely influence his vote. With a diverse group of economic and political interests that make up this Board, it could become a bottleneck in the reconstruction process.

5. There is quite a bit of behind the scenes political jockeying going on within the State between various Ministries. Every Ministry wants to protect its turf and get a piece of the reconstruction pie especially with their current enhanced powers under emergency decree. Because the country is under emergency for 18 months, the Haitian government has it own budget. The Ministries are using their emergency degree to do budgets and get funding for as many projects as they can within these 18 months without having to go through Senate approval. In short, these 18 months have given the Haitian government a window of opportunity to pretty much do what it wants without public scrutiny. So policies that were in the works prior to the earthquake are being aggressively pushed through. For example, there is a flurry of activity and push for rapid privatization in Haiti. Under the Ministry of Transport, Public Works & Communication headed by Jacques Gabriel, that controls energy, water, and communications in Haiti, the national telecommunication company for last 50 years – TELECO – was privatized in the past few months. The government now owns 40% of the stake, the rest is held by private interests, and the company is now called NASCOM.

6. While there was much talk of decentralization, in practice things are moving in the exactly opposite direction. Power and resources post-earthquake are increasingly concentrated in Port-au-Prince. All decision-making and control of funds is happening at the national level in Port-au-Prince, with local municipalities and provincial governments completely out of the loop. The population that had left Port-au-Prince for rural areas and other towns immediately after the earthquake has returned with a vengeance. The provinces did not have the resources to hand the sudden influx of population. According to some estimates the post-earthquake population of Port-au-Prince is now higher than that before the earthquake, and Port-au-Prince is expanding even more rapidly than before.

7. Public trust in the Haitian State is at an all time low to non-existent. Local communities have stopped looking to the government for any kind of assistance and are instead taking matters into their own hands. For example, debris management has been very poor in Port-au-Price. With limited capacities in terms of equipment at the Center for National Equipment (CNE), the government entity charged with debris removal, the CNE concentrated on removing debris from the main transportation arteries and roads and important government sites, not from neighborhoods and houses. After waiting for months for the State to remove debris from their homes, people are now hiring daily wage laborers to remove debris. Most of this debris is being dumped on the streets, both un-cleared and recently cleared streets, causing terrible clogs and traffic jams on Port-au-Prince's busy road network. In short, debris is still on the roads and blocking traffic. Roads are extremely crowded now with very heavy traffic in contrast to the light traffic we saw just one week after the earthquake in January.

8. In terms of housing, there is no clear policy or planning. Local communities are fending for themselves in terms of basic services like water, sanitation, and energy. My impression is that while there was a lot of talk about doing something prior to the hurricane season, the scope of this issue is so large and complex, that the State has pretty much withdrawn from the arena of housing before they even began. Camps are everywhere, set up on any available open space. In most camps now there is a Camp Committee that represents the camp. Although there is some debate on whether these committees are really representative of the households living in the camp. Also, it is not quite certain what the committees actually do.

Since my last visit in January 2010, my overall impression is that the number of temporary camps in Port-au-Prince is much higher and the camps itself are much larger. But there are also small neighborhood camps. The small neighborhood camps (50-100 households) seem to fare better because they are managed by local community leaders. I believe this is partly because the scale of the small camps is conducive to organizing and managing. Overall, smaller camps are organizing themselves better, are more unified under their community leaders (which is probably easier with less number of households), and are better able to arrange for their own water and other needs and distribute them equitably. In the large camps of 10,000 or more people there are multiple communities and groups. This has created a situation where there are tensions and conflicts between groups for limited resources. Aid organizations seem overwhelmed by the scale of the needs, and the facilities in large camps (sanitation, water) seem limited because the camps are too big. The camp at Delmas 33 is the largest with about 70,000 households and an average of 5 people per household.

State involvement in temporary shelter camps has primarily occured to dismantle camps that were located in certain strategic areas where the State (or the local economic elite) did not want them. Camps such as the one next to the National Police headquarters, the one in the National Stadium, and the one on the Petionville Club golf course were demolished (without provision of adequate alternative shelter). The State is also highly uncomfortable with the presence of a large camp (In other words a huge disgruntled mob) right across the National Place in Champs-des-Mars. The President and the Minister of Interior are personally involved in trying to get people from this camp to move to other temporary shelter location sites, which the State has identified outside of Port-au-Prince. These alternative sites are far from Port-au-Prince center, located in places like Croix-des-Bouquets outside Port-au-Prince metropolitan area that are ill-equipped to handle this sudden increase in population.

The Haitian government has conducted some housing damage assessment, though this seems to be mostly in neighborhoods that comprise legally own properties, and not in squatter areas, that make up the larger percentage of housing in Port-au-Prince. We saw houses marked with the words MTPTC (Ministry of Transport, Public Works & Tele-Communication) written in Green (all clear), Yellow (need reinforcement), or Red (destroy).

Overall, I don't think that the Haitian government wants to or has the capacity and resources to tackle the complex and messy arena of housing in Port-au-Prince because it would mean dealing with a whole host of problems and issues around land titles and conflicts over urban land. This is a humongous task, which is especially difficult to accomplish in a low-trust environment like Haiti.

9. Finally, there is a lot of current discussion that centers around what the State or international groups are doing or not doing in terms of funding, planning, and recovery implementation to help the Haitian people. What is missing in this discussion is the recognition that post-earthquake recovery in Haiti has become a means to push the country more rapidly towards privatization and neo-liberal policies. The limited capacities of the Haitian State has meant that government approach to recovery has become laissez-faire by default. The way recovery in Haiti seems to be panning out is that the State will be mainly involved: a. in channeling recovery funds from international donors; b. privatization of national companies; and c. approving reconstruction policies, projects, and contracts. In terms of housing, government officials explained that they will try to set up some kind of funding mechanism for private property owners that would give them access to capital to rebuild their homes. For squatter areas, they will invite proposals from non-profit groups to fund and build social housing. This means that the the Haitian government is clearly depending on private non-profit, international organizations, and local community groups to come forward with funding and solutions for housing recovery in the formal and informal sectors. In short, except for the selection of sites for temporary shelter camps, the State will not be directly involved in long-term housing recovery. Instead permanent housing recovery will be a privately managed, privately implemented, and privately funded enterprise.

April 30, 2010, 13:15


This post is an update that I wrote to my planning colleagues recently, and am uploading it here for the benefit of anyone else who might be interested in following the recovery planning process in Haiti. I have been following this process as best as I can from multiple events and sources in Boston. The Minister in charge of recovery planning in Haiti, Patrick Delatour, was in Boston for a talk at MIT a couple of weeks back. The Boston University team (including myself) that had travelled to Haiti in January, in an advisory capacity to the Haitian government, went to a breakfast meeting with him and then later heard his talk at MIT. I was also at a University of Massachusetts Workshop on Haiti in early April, and got a chance to connect with individuals from the Haitian diaspora in Boston. Boston has the third largest Haitian diaspora after Florida and New York. From what I am hearing and gathering from these multiple events, and from Haitian colleagues and the diaspora, this is what I understand of the recovery planning process in Haiti till now:

1. When the Boston University interdisciplinary team first went to Haiti (just one week after the quake), we observed a willingness among Haitian government officials to think out of the box on Recovery Planning in Haiti - a National Vision for rebuilding and planning in Haiti that was based on the country's watersheds. This was outlined by Leslie Voltaire in a meeting with us. Leslie Voltaire is the Haitian representative to the United Nations, and is also charged with co-ordinating recovery planning in Haiti with Patrick Delatour. Our impression was that Haitians did not lack for creative ideas, but just did not have the time during those initial hectic (many were still in shock from losing friends and family) days and weeks after the earthquake to sit down and think their ideas through and put it down on paper. So this is what the BU team did for them, we took the ideas they proposed and drafted a concept paper, which the Haitian Prime Minister took with him for the first donors meeting in Canada.

2. The donors wanted the Haitian government to conduct a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA). Based on this assessment, the donors would then decide the amount of money the Haitian government needed for rebuilding - the PDNA would be the justification for the dollar amount commitments from the donors. So the PDNA process was presented to the Haitian government as a task the Haitian State needed to undertake before the next donor meeting in March.

3. As my colleague, Enrique Silva, City Planning faculty at Boston University, explained at the University of Massachusetts workshop, the PDNA was designed like a pyramid, led by the Prime Minister and high ranking Haitian officials, with low-ranking officials taking care of day to day tasks. It was divided up into sectors (Food, Health, Agriculture, etc) - with each sector reporting to the top. The process put a premium on the State's capacity to collaborate & co-ordinate. This was very challenging with government officials already over-taxed with taking care of immediate post-disaster needs in the country (the State had also lost many employees who died during the quake). From the very get go, because the PDNA was designed to meet donor requirements, it created an emphasis on cost. So the process was:
- Driven by the goal to leverage the PDNA document to argue how much money should be given in March. Each sector was driven by how much it could get for something particular.
- Driven by the Haitian State's assessment/fears of risk, of not being prepared in front of donors, of not being able to get what it wants.

4. Because the PDNA process divided everything into sectors, the initial tiny efforts in trying to get everyone to come together around a national vision has evaporated. The sectoral process meant that everyone went back to protecting their own turfs, and getting as much as possible for their own sectors. It has also resulted in a process where the sectors did not talk to one another. There was no horizontal co-ordination/communication between the sectors, since everyone was reporting to the top through a hierarchical vertical chain of communication. So for example, shelter strategy and economic development have a lot of overlap, but there is no conversation between the two. The result is that the product - the PDNA document - is a pretty document, but has a lot of limitations. There is no national vision anymore. This was especially evident during Patrick Delatour's presentation at MIT - my own impression was that it showed a very fragmented planning process with no understanding/attention towards a larger holistic & strategic vision for the country.

5. Most Haitian's whom I have spoken to, think that there was a lot of useful information and some important planning/policy suggestions that came out of the PDNA process, but do not believe that this document will be used to inform policy. They believe that the document has already served its purpose, which was to get donor commitments. From my own point of view, it is clear that the planning process is following the funding trajectory/the money. Haitians tell me bluntly, that the Haitian government will do what the donors want them to do - period. The general diaspora impression is that no-one is sure of who is in control of the recovery planning process, and that recovery in Haiti is a donor driven show with Bill Clinton at the helm.

6. There is also growing criticism that grassroots groups have been shut out of the planning process. Grassroots organizations - church based groups and local non-government agencies - are a critical part of Haitian society. With very limited State capacities to meet the needs of the Haitian population, these organizations step in to fill much of the vacuum left by the State in areas of housing, food, sanitation, health, etc, before and after the quake. My Haitian colleagues believe that grassroots involvement in the planning process would mean that the Haitian State would have to share some of its power with these organizations, which the State has historically been averse to.

7. Moreover, my impression is that there are two narratives coming out of Haiti. The first narrative is what the international community (donor, NGOs, academics like us, diaspora) is hearing from the Haitian government - all the right and wonderful things that they plan to do to rebuild Haiti - what the Haitian State wants to project internationally. The second narrative is from Haitians working on the ground in Haiti - they report a completely different reality. Of things going back to 'business as usual'. While the PDNA was going on, the Haitian government was dusting off the planning projects that it could not implement prior to the earthquake (with no relation to the PDNA), and auctioning them off to local economic elites. Since the PDNA process was a guarantee to international donor funds for project implementation, there was a rush to grab projects/a piece of the reconstruction pie. This reality is not really hidden from donor groups, but the international community at large does not get to see or hear about this.

8. Lastly, there has been a lot of criticism of the Haitian State regarding their inability - their sluggish and inept efforts - to meet immediate post-disaster needs in Haiti. While there is a certain element of truth in this, at the same time how could the government really focus on immediate recovery when their efforts and energy was sucked out by the PDNA process. While the Haitian State is weak (there is a long history of international exploitation of Haiti, and economic, social, and political reasons behind it), at the same time the post-disaster donor driven recovery planning and PDNA process has also contributed to undermining State authority and capacity to an extent. And this is what I saw reflected in the recent project presentation by Patrick Delatour. With all its focus on the PDNA and donor funds, the Haitian State has not really thought about recovery planning in Haiti till now, and are only now beginning to think about it. So they may now have access to international donor funds, but they are absolutely unprepared to deal with the massive and complex planning and implementation process the State now needs to undertake in Haiti. In short, we will see a lot of chaos in the coming months...possibly years.

April 12, 2010, 15:00

POST SENT BY: SANDRA L. DUPUY, Director of New Initiatives, Boston Community Capital

I met Sandra (an attorney and an urban planner) recently at the April 9, 2010 Workshop on Haiti organized by Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities After Disasters, University of Massachusetts at Boston. I was the moderator/discussant on the afternoon session in which Sandra was a panelist. She gave an interesting talk on the need to guide the resources, wealth, knowledge, and skills of the Haitian Diaspora communities in ways that will inform program and project development and implementation during Haiti's reconstruction. Her point was that decision-makers and donor groups need to hear the views of the Diaspora community, both – as an observer to the recovery process and as a partner to the process of policy formation.

We had an brief chat later, and she mentioned the critical need for a modern water distribution and sewer treatment system for Port-au-Prince - how the lack of these systems not only puts additional burdens on the urban poor, but is also a health and an environmental issue (with most of the sewage dumped into the Port-au-Prince bay). I was very interested to say the least. Sandra promised to send me her write-up on this issue, which I am posting here with her permission.

Sandra has worked as a senior attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ). She has also served as litigation counsel for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, and worked overseas as a consultant on government decentralization, and conflict management and negotiation (with USAID in Haiti). She has a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law, and a Masters in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


In the wake of the devastation wrought by the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti it is difficult to imagine, let alone speak of silver linings. However, in the months and years to come Haiti will have to rebuild its capital. As the Haitian people, the Haitian Diaspora and the international community move from crisis management to reconstruction there will be an opportunity for those who possess the resources, capacity and most importantly the will, to build a modern water distribution and sewer treatment system for the capital. I would like to strongly recommend that they do so. Such a system must of course be part of a larger urban design and planning effort.

Few who have visited Haiti would doubt the need for a modern water distribution and sewer treatment system, one that addresses the deplorable environmental conditions that have plagued the capital for decades. These conditions have undermined the combined efforts of the Haitian Government, as well as those of the donor and NGO communities in the area of public health, and further impeded the nation's economic growth and social well being. In addition to addressing these long standing problems, the proposed project should generate tens of thousands of jobs for Haiti's largely young and unemployed or underemployed population.

The city of Port-au-Prince was originally built to accommodate a population of 200,000, but in the hours before the earthquake hit it was home to some 2 million people. The majority of the population lived in makeshift structures in the city's ubiquitous slums called bidonvilles. These bidonvilles were densely populated and characterized by makeshift buildings clustered on Port-au-Prince's eroding hillsides or on the low lying land that rings the Bay of Port-au-Prince. Most were illegal settlements, built on state owned land. The doubtful legal status of these settlements was the oft given reason for the state's failure to extend water and sewer services to slum residents. But as was all too evident to any visitor to Port-au-Prince, this did not mean that bidonville residents did not have access to potable water.

According to USAID, on the eve of the earthquake no more than 30% of Port-au-Prince's residents had access to potable water in their homes. The remaining 70% of Port-au-Prince residents purchased their water from private merchants, some of whom manned trucks that wound their way through the bidonvilles, filling up for a fee, buckets or plastic containers. Additionally, many residents purchased water from small street vendors, who sold water in small plastic containers similar to your kid's sandwich bags. Over the years these plastic containers have made their way into the waters surrounding Port-au-Prince, perhaps irrevocably damaging the Bay's fragile ecosystem.

Before the earthquake a new visitor to Port-au-Prince learned very quickly to avoid the constant flow of gray water that ran down the city's main thoroughfares, emptying into the once pristine waters of the Bay. This gray water, as well as the storm water overflows from the city's clogged catch basins, further compromised the city's physical environment and caused, either directly or indirectly, untold fatalities over the years. In the absence of a water and sewer treatment system in Haiti, storm water sewer overflows allowed all manner of untreated sewerage, including animal corpses, industrial waste and other non-biodegradable detritus to flow into the Bay. Additionally, storm waters often filled the city's streets, homes and public buildings. Nowhere were the affects of storm water flooding blatant than in the area known as the Place de L'Exposition, once the pride of Haiti and one of the few planned public spaces in the city.

There will be many who will question the wisdom of a large public works project such as that proposed here, and they will point to Haiti's dubious capacity to partner with the international community to design, implement and fund such a project. A review of past infrastructure projects of this magnitude in Haiti and elsewhere in the developing world indicate that their doubts may well be justified. They will also point out that prior to the earthquake there were several projects in place that sought to address the lack of potable water in the bidonvilles. Again they will be right.

On the eve of the earthquake several thousand non-governmental organizations were working in Haiti, providing the population with basic public goods and services such as education and health care. They often operated with little oversight or coordination from the Haitian government. Many of these efforts were small scale community level projects, what the World Bank calls "Community Driven-Development" or CDD. In its Status of Projects in Execution for FY 2009, the World Bank identified one such project, designed to improve general water, sanitation and flood protection in Port-au-Prince's urban spaces. The CDD approach and others like it, although useful in building institutional capacity for community governance and administration in small population centers, cannot marshal the necessary resources to design, fund, implement, and maintain a water and sewer treatment facility for 2 million people.

In addition to the construction of the physical plant (that's the easy part), the Haitian and international stakeholders must give serious consideration to the development of a quasi-public organizational structure with bonding capacity, similar to that available to other similar quasi-public goods providers throughout the developed world. The income stream generated by users should be sufficient to meet the operational and maintenance requirements for the water distribution and sewer system. For those doubtful that the earning capacity of the ordinary Haitian is sufficient to cover such costs, I would point them to various studies regarding the proportion of income expended by ordinary Haitians on these services, prior to the earthquake. It was by some measures at least 33% of an individual's daily expenditures. Additionally, I would point them to data from the National Academy of Public Administration 2006, indicating that annual transfers or remittances from Haitians living abroad to family in Haiti, was in the order of $1 billion dollars a year. These remittances are essential to meeting the daily needs of the majority of Haiti's people, and are sometimes overlooked as a reliable income source.

A major public works project such as the one proposed above will require the concerted effort of all stakeholders. It will demand that for the first time in recent memory, Haiti and those who care for her people, put aside the things that divide them and act in a unified manner to tackle the daunting task of building a modern water and sewer infrastructure worthy of the capital's aspirations for the 21st century.

Copyright ©2010 Sandra L. Dupuy

April 05, 2010, 18:00

POST SENT BY: KEVIN WIENS, Engineering Ministries International Canada (eMiC)

I was forwarded a technical report by Kevin and his team on building construction issues that they investigated during their recent trip to Haiti. Kevin is a Civil Engineer and Project Manager at Engineering Ministeries International, Canada. He has graciously agreed to let me post his team's first hand account here. Their notes give interesting insights into building construction standards in Haiti, and lends credence to the viewpoint among researchers and professionals in the field, that disasters are created from within. In other words, the impact of a hazard, such as floods, hurricane or an earthquake, is decided by the way we build and the way our cities grow - our physical, economic, environmental, social, and political contexts decide how a disaster event impacts our homes and communities.

Technical lessons learned on this trip

Our observations were that buildings by and large failed because of inattention to detail during construction.

The worst failures were in buildings that were very top heavy. Thick heavy concrete slabs on each floor and roof with inherently weak columns and no effective shear walls resulted in buildings swaying in the earthquake resulting in column and wall failures on the first floor. Most second floors were unscathed with not even cracks in the walls. The first floor columns would fail and the building would fall maybe ½" or 10 feet, and still the second floor would not need even cosmetic repairs. However you can't lift a second story (not by much anyway with wooden shoring), so the building easily becomes a writeoff.

The buildings we were able to save were those where even though there were structural cracks in columns or walls the second floor hadn't actually subsided at all. These were often ones with light roofs (non-concrete), or single storey.

We didn't find a single foundation failure (cracks or tilting).

Bad construction details that we found included:
1. One building where the rebar in a beam was only overlapping 4". We assumed this to be a widespread problem.
2. Most columns did not have sufficient stirrups. However, one building where the high number of stirrups in the column prevented the broken concrete from crumbling out of the column, resulting in the second floor not subsiding and allowing us to rebuild the column and save the building.
3. Concrete blocks that crumbled with small hits of a hammer. Better blocks are widely available but cost twice as much. It is common to try to save money by using cheaper blocks. Therefore the block walls easily crumbled.
4. Insufficient cement in the concrete – very common method to save money in concrete.
5. Sand in the concrete was limestone based, and so it was very weak and silty.
6. Too much water in the concrete mix and very little compaction / vibration is common.
7. It is uncommon to put any reinforcement in block walls.

This was a tragic earthquake, but the death toll and carnage of buildings could have been significantly reduced with more inspections, quality control and attention to detail. It's not as if they don't know how to build well, it's that they were looking for shortcuts and cost savings.

March 29, 2010, 18:15

The Joint Research Center, United Nations, and the World Bank have issued a Comprehensive Building Damage Estimate Atlas for Haiti. The link has detailed information on damage in Haiti - according to city/town and building type.

March 23, 2010, 09:30



PART FOUR - March 23, 2010: Notes from Haiti, February 24 - March 5, 2010, Mary Comerio

I was in Haiti as part of the Post-conflict, Post-disaster Branch of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to evaluate the conditions post-earthquake and to make recommendations on environmental and social issues in recovery. The team leader is Dr. Muralee Thummarukudy from UNEP, and Dr. Jean F. Schneider, a geologist from University of Vienna. We also worked with several UNEP Haitian staff as well as other specialists. We were focused on geologic hazards, such as landslides, rising water tables, flooding, debris, and their impact on housing and recovery issues. The following is a summary of key impressions:


Viewed one of the mass grave sites for approximately 2500 people. The pits were dug 8m deep. Note they began to bring the deceased here, then there was a brush fire, and people were frightened, and abandoned the bodies. Some business men came and paid to complete the graves, saying the Haitian people deserved at least that. See photo below of mass grave site and temporary camp where people are marking informal building sites on the hillside, by laying out squares of stones.

Mass Grave Site / Informal Building Sites on Hillside

Towns of Cabaret, St. Marc: no signs of temporary camps along the road, although there is an incredible amount of new construction of residential buildings in St. Marc. Just outside town, we saw the first mud construction farm buildings, which become more prevalent, as we go further from urban areas.

Mud Construction Farm Buildings / New Building Construction in St. Marc

There is a massive market at Pont Sonde΄--we are completely hemmed in by trucks, cars, people, busses, wheel barrows, goods loaded and unloaded. This must be a transfer point for goods going to PaP.

Market at Pont Sonde΄ - Transfer Point for Goods Going to PaP

Gonaïves: normal population about 230,000 (per UN/Haiti data). PaP officials estimate that 160,000 people (out of 511,000 who left the city) have left for Artibonte province after the earthquake. They counted the number of free one-way bus tickets given out. There is no way to count returns. All towns are registering people. Gonaïves has registered 12,000 so far. People are staying with family. There are no camps organized or planned. Note: Gonaïves had riots 4 years ago after they helped elect the president, then felt nothing had changed.

Photos below of people displaced from PaP waiting in line to register at the Gonaïves town hall, a typical street in town, charcoal for sale (which is illegal because it is made from trees and causes the deforestation) and the market along the harbor.

Registering at Gonaïves Town Hall / Charcoal for Sale (Illegal in Haiti)

Typical Street in Gonaïves / Market Along Harbor

We were able to do a Helicopter survey of all the areas damage areas and the fault zone. We were taken up by the Chilean Air Force in Bell 212 Helicopter. From PaP airport to Lakes at Thomazeau, to Grand Goave, over tsunami area, to look for landslide-formed lake formation, (not visible due to cloud cover), through fault zone, south to Jacmel along coast and return over Jacmel road, PaP harbor and return to airport.

Over Port-au-Prince

The Danish People's Aid Shelter, which was chosen out of 8 prototypes for transitional shelter. The shelter is 10x15ft. pre-cut lumber in shop, and assembled on site. Foundation boards painted with motor oil and covered with plastic bags, there are nails inserted for bond with the concrete foundation (six poles into concrete). They are adding cross brace at corner and adding hurricane clips on tin shed roof. They have made a "jig" for each piece so assembly is all the same. Use local labor and train them so they can train others.f the houses might be causing water to rise to the surface.

Transitional Shelter By Danish People's Aid Shelter

Cross Bracing at Corners

March 22, 2010, 09:30



PART THREE - March 22, 2010: Notes from Haiti, February 24 - March 5, 2010, Mary Comerio

I was in Haiti as part of the Post-conflict, Post-disaster Branch of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to evaluate the conditions post-earthquake and to make recommendations on environmental and social issues in recovery. The team leader is Dr. Muralee Thummarukudy from UNEP, and Dr. Jean F. Schneider, a geologist from University of Vienna. We also worked with several UNEP Haitian staff as well as other specialists. We were focused on geologic hazards, such as landslides, rising water tables, flooding, debris, and their impact on housing and recovery issues. The following is a summary of key impressions:


Garbage in landfill site is about 5 m deep; there is smoke but not many fires because garbage is so wet, mostly fruit, vegetables, plastics and normal stuff. The government will not let earthquake rubble be dumped in the landfill, so people are dumping it along the road outside, not in designated places which they are trying to establish.

Garbage at Landfill Site (left) and Scavengers (right)

Scavengers take off 2% before it gets to the dump, then another 2-3% at the dump, so the total waste recycled is not more than 5% (which is true of most places in the world). UNEP trying to manage rubble disposal but need managers to supervise; typically local workers disappear, truck drivers do not always go where they are supposed to.

Before the disaster, the metro waste management system was controlled. There are green skips, and trucks to take garbage to the dump site. After disaster, many agencies jumped in and now there is chaos and the system has to be re-organized—perhaps they need a program where women are paid to work at the skips and take the garbage in and help people to learn the system.


We looked down on it from the mountain road built by the Taiwanese two years ago, then drove down into the valley along the two lakes on a rutted dirt road, through a farming area fed by natural springs. There are a series of houses where the "yards" are becoming flooded because of rising water. This could be because the water table around the lakes is rising, and there is no place for the springs to drain. Villages are dotted along the road, with irrigation channels and lots of water on the road. At the pool created to hold spring water, locals say the water level went down after the earthquake then has gradually come back.

House Yards Flooded With Rising Water / Lake Near Thomazeau

One young man introduces himself in English, saying he is from Boston and visiting…we had a long discussion with him about the earthquake, but once back in the car, our Haitian UN colleague was upset that we talked to him and said "No way you find someone like that here, he must be a) deported from US, b) escaped from jail, or c) a drug dealer". He continues that no one who speaks English that well would stay in the countryside, but would have a job at a ministry, and that something is wrong and he does not believe the story. This is very curious for us as visitors, as it is the first sign of tension between classes we have seen.

We pass through the town of Thomazeau, and more dirt roads until our driver goes into a deep irrigation channel made of stone and the 4-wheel drive is stuck. Jean organizes the locals with a bit on on-the-spot engineering to raise the car with a jack, and build-up stones in the water to create a platform, then packs all the guys into the back of car, and reverses it out of the ditch. All cheer and we take a photo and are on our way. Interestingly, we do not offer them money for their help. (After the other incident, I did not ask why.)

4-Wheel Drive Stuck in an Irrigation Channel / Reversing Out of the Ditch

We reach the eastern edge of the lake where a former hotel is now 20 m from shore and under water. Locals say the lake level is rising. We return along the road, to the west end of the lake. Jean estimates the lake rose almost 2 m., but only 1m on the west side since 2009. His preliminary theory:

1) There must have been subsidence with land near the lake.
2) Springs ceased after earthquake for 3 days then started again with a higher yield. Typical for carstic springs from limestone in the mountains.
3) Combination of water table rising and increase of hydrolic head from springs results in higher ground water table in villages.
4) Liquifaction potential high given semi-consolidated soil with high ground water table; possible capillary fringe at surface.
5) The weight of the houses might be causing water to rise to the surface.

Note—after a helicopter flight, Jean saw that there is ample area to drain the water from around the houses and recommends drainage ditches.

Hotel 20 meters from the shore and under water, view from land (left) and from air (right)

March 20, 2010, 14:25



PART TWO - March 20, 2010: Notes from Haiti, February 24 - March 5, 2010, Mary Comerio

I was in Haiti as part of the Post-conflict, Post-disaster Branch of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to evaluate the conditions post-earthquake and to make recommendations on environmental and social issues in recovery. The team leader is Dr. Muralee Thummarukudy from UNEP, and Dr. Jean F. Schneider, a geologist from University of Vienna. We also worked with several UNEP Haitian staff as well as other specialists. We were focused on geologic hazards, such as landslides, rising water tables, flooding, debris, and their impact on housing and recovery issues. The following is a summary of key impressions:


To travel outside PaP in a UN vehicle, we follow security procedures, which require checking in by phone to report our locations and arrival times. We pick up Patrick Nicola, a Hatian UNEP staff member, at his temporary home/campsite and travel through a teeming Saturday Market, west, out of city to Carrefour—very poor, very damaged, with temp shelters in median of main road. It is also a major transit hub for food from rural areas, busses. Through Leogane, closer to the epicenter, with extensive damage, and lateral spreading on main road.

Off the main road to "Little Paradise", where the tsunami took away 10-15 m of land. Locals noted that the wave went out before earthquake, came back 15-20 min later, 1-2 m high, and went inland another 20m, breaking stone walls, damaging houses and removing soil into sea.

Grand Goâve fishermen said many fish before earthquake, none after, people held on to trees and were washed away with tsunami wave.

Petit Goâve, on town square, a famous hotel where "Hollywood stars stayed" was collapsed and all occupants killed. Tsunami came here, but not as high as Little Paradise. A small reef island there before, now gone. Like other areas, water went out just before quake and returned after. Seaside village Tagire had beach subside and houses are in the sea. No tsunami, just a drop of the land. We continued west about 10km, till no damage was seen.

Tsunami Impact at Grand Goâve (left) and Petit Goâve (right)

On the over mountain road to Jacmel, we drove through the fault zone, where there were many landslides including a huge quarry/landslide. Here we began to formulate the theory that the chalky limestone was being used as fine aggregate both in the concrete and in the making of concrete block. We began taking samples of the chalky limestone and a harder (almost marble) limestone, as well as concrete and block samples to be tested in the labs at UC Berkeley.

Landslides Along Road to Jacmel / Quarry Landslide


Land cost is $150,000 (USD) per hectare or $15 per sq. m. There is population pressure in Jacmel so land cost goes up.

Peace of Mind Hotel: foreign money—the manager says when Americans send funds for construction, 50% goes to bribes, so only half is left for construction. Hotel cost $2.5 million. He says local architects and engineers know how to build but they do it on the cheap so that they can take half for themselves. The hotel collapsed. It had a central atrium 30 rooms around. Columns failed. The first story collapsed. There was swampy soil but foundation was not designed for it. Back side had a 3 story pancake. Concrete blocks used were purchased, not made locally. The manager and his sister-in-law were inside the area of partial collapse. They tried to exit the back but the dust was too thick, then the outer wall collapsed and they came out that way. They are aware of the issues (not to use white sand, but to make the concrete with black sand) but the manager knew the concrete was bad and the columns were weak. He noted that building inspectors came from Jacmel and the contractors gave them drinks and after a while, the building was approved.

Collapse at Pease of Mind Hotel / Collecting Concrete Sample

In the city of Jacmel, (population about 200,000) there is a mix of damage, with some older buildings faring better. The central city is very damaged, as is a poor area called St. Helena. There is a mix of damage similar to PaP, with 30-40% undamaged. The building stock here is mostly 1-2 or 3 story with wood. A trio of brick and concrete buildings fell in an aftershock, and collapsed on a gas station.

Older buildings with upper story wood construction and X braces and horizontal slats held together. One regularly saw buildings on opposite sides of street: one with a soft first story collapse (soft first story - no walls, only columns on first floor), opposite one with a 2nd floor collapse.

Wood Buildings with Horizontal Slats (left) and X braces (right)

Wood Building with X Braces / Soft Story Collapse

The bridge over the river is undamaged, but there are many landslides. Muralee notes there are 5 times as many landslides and camps now than what he saw on his last trip two weeks prior. We stopped at several landslide areas: one with spring in fault zone, where water flow increased after the earthquake. At St. Etienne there is a huge slide, with only one lane open. We noted people returning from Church carrying plastic tarps. Shelters were very flimsy, wood scrap and cloth.

March 19, 2010, 08:00



PART ONE - March 19, 2010: Notes from Haiti, February 24 - March 5, 2010, Mary Comerio

I was in Haiti as part of the Post-conflict, Post-disaster Branch of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to evaluate the conditions post-earthquake and to make recommendations on environmental and social issues in recovery. The team leader is Dr. Muralee Thummarukudy from UNEP, and Dr. Jean F. Schneider, a geologist from University of Vienna. We also worked with several UNEP Haitian staff as well as other specialists. We were focused on geologic hazards, such as landslides, rising water tables, flooding, debris, and their impact on housing and recovery issues. The following is summary of key impressions:

Port au Prince Damages

Downtown, the Cathedral, Presidential Palace and Ministries are all collapsed. What is shocking about this is the realization that government is crippled, not only with the lost of life and buildings, but with the complete loss of records and documentation of everything from finance and budgets, to birth certificates.

There is a mix of undamaged small buildings with complete collapses in between.

Complete Collapse / Undamaged Small Buildings

While there are proper tent camps the housing camps seem mostly informal, made with plastic tarps and wood scraps. Many schools already demolished and rubble cleared. High end houses alternate between collapse and no damage. In the much poorer areas, such as Delmas and Carrefour, there is more collapse; and more evidence of poor quality concrete, very white in color, compared to good quality, new construction where the concrete is traditionally grey.

It was remarkable to see an area called Grand Toizz—an amazing street market all along a long hill street down from Delmas to the roundabout near the Airport. Six weeks after the earthquake, the markets were fully functioning, with fruits and vegetables coming in from the countryside, and all manner of goods being sold or traded.

Street Market in Grant Toizz, Port-au-Prince

Discussions with UN Habitat on Resettlement Policy focused on "natural resettlement"

~270,000 died in earthquake
~Over 500,000 have left PaP for outlying provinces - 163,000 to Artibonite, 91,000 to Centre, 99,000 to Grand Anse, Remainder to other 6 provinces

First draft of return and resettlement plan by UN Habitat assumes ~ 240,000 households need resettlement (exact numbers will be based on structural damage assessment).
1. Best is safe return to house.
2a. Only if not #1, resettle in community of origin, and only outside if community not possible.
2b. Offer option for neighborhood, sustainable location, ensure right of occupants, uses min. national standards housing legislation.
3. Transitional camps temp for those with no other option.
4. Avoid mass returns to PaP.

1 Return to Safe House 40% - 96,000 households
2 Return to Safe Plot + 20% - 48,000 Temp Shelter
3 Resettlement in Proximity 20% - 48,000 Lot + T. Shelter
4 Resettlement in New Neighborhoods 10% - 24,000 + T Shelter (most vulnerable)
5 Host Family support 10% - 24,000

March 10, 2010, 11:15

NEES - Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation - housed at Purdue University, has created a link to this webpost from their site.
Check it out at: Haiti Blog Illustrates Conditions after January Earthquake

Also, found some more videos while going through my visual records on conditions in Haiti - a bit old now but still relevant I think.


March 09, 2010, 15:00


Mary has just returned from her trip to Haiti and sent her extensive notes to be posted up. Her notes give a detailed insight into how the Haitian government is planning for recovery in Haiti. She will send more updates soon.

March 08, 2010

Overall Recovery Plan - Explained by Mr. Leslie Voltaire (former Haitian Cabinet Minister and UN Special Envoy to the Government of Haiti). Mr. Voltaire is working with Mr. Patrick Delatour, Cabinet Minister in charge of recovery planning. Mr. Voltaire is trained as a planner and provided an overview of the general thinking on recovery. These are my notes from the meeting:

There are 25 million cu. meters of debris to be moved, and that is a first priority.

What happened to the people after the earthquake?
1. some left Haiti
2. some go to relatives in remote cities of Haiti
3. some have gone 20 mi. outside PaP
4. some are camping inside PaP

The idea is to reinforce and extend outlying cities with food and medicine, and at the same time reconfigure PaP and de-densify it. Put health, education, jobs, in nodes around the city (ie not just downtown).
-- PaP lost about 1 million people and is still a city of 2 million.
-- The French established cities on the coastal areas for ports/exports.
-- Now, Haiti has environmental depletion.
-- The plan is to focus on the 33 watersheds and organize around these. To improve cities that can manage watersheds and conserve nature.

For economic vitality: analyze Haiti's comparative advantage in the world. What are private sector areas that are an advantage to the economy?
1. Fruits and vegetables (plant more Haitian mangos and avocados in the watershed)
2. Animal husbandry (fish and shrimp farms, goats, poultry)
3. Tourism (Tortuga, Citadel, Jacmel are attractions)
4. Textiles (with access to American markets)
5. Infrastructure (IT) Technology (outsource for French speaking countries)
6. Location (a natural port for transshipment via Panama canal, esp. goods from Asia to Americas).

Haiti now nearly 10 mil. Population. In 20 years, expect 15-20 mil and 60% urbanized.
-- How to design with knowledge and live with the fault?
-- Haiti needs a road network, thermal energy, renewable energy, and food security.
-- Needs to use existing 600 markets where women and children go once each week to provide services there. (If you can do that, you can reach ½ the population each week.)
-- Focus on PaP to be a city of 2 million. Decongest downtown, and create six satellite centers around the city.
-- Re-organize schools, services, jobs, government institutions, markets. All six should be connected by transit.

How to reduce the environmental hazards?
1. Stop by force the development of shantytowns on the mountains
2. Open hunting season on goats
3. Plant 20 meters of bamboo at the base of the mountains (for erosion)
4. Use 1 mil cu meters of the debris to increase the size of the container port
5. Regain the maritime façade of the city
6. Open drainage from hills (note that now they are putting debris in the ravines which will cause flooding and landslides)

Other issues:
1. Create a new industrial area
2. Deal with sanitation (no system now, need to build 2 treatment plants)
3. Deal with water problem (use small dams in the mountains)
4. Widen streets (all are 2 lane now) and create some avenues and boulevards to improve traffic
5. Transport is now small and private (tap-tap busses). Need a bus or light rail system with transfer hubs
6. Schools and Health Care centers should be located in the new satellite centers (and away from downtown)
7. Restore the historic center and bring in architects to develop new buildings but only after the work of establishing the rural cities and satellite nodes.

To do any of this needs the participation of civic groups and population.
-- Now PaP is six municipalities (with 6 mayors, planners, etc).
-- There needs to be a central entity for coordination and management that can empower neighborhoods.
-- We have to protect the memories but also have to force aid to the outside areas first to avoid a population return to PaP.
-- This is an issue because all the international agencies want to give money and work in PaP.
-- There are now 143 municipalities in Haiti, and we need 200 towns and villages (ie expand the outlying cities).
-- Need to think big on infrastructure.
-- Need to open markets with the Dominican Republic.

Housing and Temporary Housing Issues:
-- There are now 450 spontaneous camps in the "best places" ie parks, schools, churches.
-- One million are living in tents; 25% still looking for somewhere to be.
-- Rain is coming and need more tarps and transitional shelter.
-- UN Habitat has made 15 teams to inspect and tag houses. The assumption is that 30-40% of the buildings are OK, but need reassurance to return.
-- Now there is no building code, and 80% of buildings are informal structures. They don't need an elaborate code, but a "10 commandments" of building (i.e. something simple that NGOs can follow).
-- Also need to deal with legal land tenure and work with banks to accept the titles.

March 09, 2010, 15:00


More images of Camp Charlie sent by Mary.

March 08, 2010

Camp Charlie: Set up by the International Humanitarian Program (IHP) for UN workers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Meeting, Eating, and Sleeping Tents / Mary Comerio in the meeting-work space tent

Sleeping Tents / Inside sleeping tents, there are 14 individual tents

Showers and Sinks


March 01, 2010, 19:10


Driving around in Port-au-Prince - "some days are frustrating"

March 01, 2010

...It was one of those days we have all experienced on an earthquake reconnaissance, with lots of hurry up and wait, computers that won't work, dropped internet connections, and then when you finally get out to the field, you don't get to see what you had planned. After much discussion, and the need to get security clearances for some of the week's activities, we took a jarring ride out to the dump site where we were supposed to look at the environmental issues such as drainage and flooding. Even the Haitian staff person and driver were a bit scared of the scavengers, who were demanding money and being generally threatening. I did not get out of the car at that point but Patrick (who is a very big guy) jumped back into the car and said to the driver, lets go NOW, and fast. It was a weird -- a scene out of "Slumdog Millionaire" with the most horrid conditions imaginable, people digging salvage out of burning trash heaps. Children, goats, pigs all in the muck. I know that these places exist in every developing country, but being there was still something of a shock. We were not able to drive to our destinations: the medical waste site, and the mass grave sites.

One thing about PaP that is surprising is that conditions go from better to worse in the blink of an eye. Just next to the dump site are two new (and well built) and one older social housing projects. The nice newer ones were a gift of Hugo Chaves of Venezuela. Just along the road is a vast site being leveled by the US Army for their camp (about 50 times the size of Camp Charlie). Then your drive along and one minute the building are fine and the road is paved, and the next, a row of buildings are collapsed and/or the road disappears and becomes a rocky, rutted nightmare. One of these roads seemed to go halfway across the city. I kept looking at the map, trying to understand why but there is no rational reason. Patrick says that is just how it is...

March 01, 2010, 09:40


Mary sent an email today about living conditions at Camp Charlie - the area right next to the airport where all international organization and new media personnel are staying at in Port-au-Prince.

March 01, 2010

...everyone was having trouble with internet access, and I could not get on email at all. There is a big open tent (roof but open sides) with folding tables and chairs at Camp Charlie where we live, and this is where everyone sits with their laptop. At some point, I think the system is just overloaded.

Camp Charlie and Logbase are both next to the airport, but too far to walk, and besides both have UN security, so you need the car/driver to get in and out.

Camp Charlie is an amazing camp. Apparently the Swedes follow the UN into these disaster situations and set up a housing camp for workers. Each agency is assigned a number of slots (UNEP has four). There are 15-20 living tents, each with 14 mini-tents inside. My space (and all of them) have a tiny Ikea table and cot. There is a mesh window, and you can open your mini-tent door for a breath of air, but the tents are HOT. I am sleeping on top of my bag...Then there are separate tents for meeting and all other services. There is a food service for breakfast and dinner (oatmeal and cereal hard cooked eggs, and some white bread or hard-tak crackers for breakfast, and some meat/rice with a side of pasta for dinner; nary a vegetable in sight. People do buy fruit from the markets and we have too.) There are toilet tents--very ingenious, with a actual toilet on a raised platform, and a tent around with a big zipper up the front. There is a red and green flap, but no one remembers so you just look for an open zipper, and never use the end toilet which is always blocked. The showers tents are big, with an ante-room where you leave your shoes, and a "dressing room" before the actual shower. All have thick flaps, and the water is hot and plentiful, which is a mercy, given how sweaty we get in the day.

Logbase is the UN offices near the airport--a combination of a few old buildings (which was their offices here before the eq., but now enhances with a portable cafeteria, temp buildings and lots of big tents for workspace. Apparently there is an Italian company (based in Monaco) that seems to have the monopoly on these kinds of logistics services. Muralee says they are the international version of Haliburton--and they get all these contracts. Muralee knows the Indians who run the food service, so he has heard how it all works. In the first weeks when he was here, they simply slept in cars or on the ground here at logbase. Camp Charlie must have only been built in the week before we arrived. It is luxury compared to what Muralee and others went through here at logbase.

...I have an hour or so in the logbase office, which has a good internet connection, so I thought I would describe the situation. Talking to a woman who works for UNDP, (Typical for UN consultant, she works for a US company and lives in the US, but her nationality is Uraguay, and she grew up in Haiti. It is the international melting ground). She said she would never drive in Haiti without a driver, because unless you have some one to watch the car, it will be robbed. Perhaps we are a bit sheltered with a Haitian driver and staff of UNEP. We can talk to people on the street have the car protected. Even so, once the staff person talks in Creole and explains what we are doing, people have been amazing and forthcoming.

Image of Camp Charlie - Mary's tent is second from left

February 28, 2010, 18:30


February 28, 2010

On Sat (2/27) we drove west from Port-au-Prince (PaP) through Carrefour, Leogane and out to Grand Goâve, where there was a Tsunami, which took about 15 m of the land. According to the locals, the sea went out about some minutes before the earthquake, (and they saw fish on the sea floor and ran to high ground) and it came back with 1-2 m waves and went inland about 20 m more. They saw others try to hang on to trees, but were pulled away by the water.

At a further town on Petit Goâve they also experience the tsunami but not as high. This town was heavily damaged, including a famous hotel where Hatian "hollywood" stars stayed. All occupants were killed. Past this town, perhaps 20km, we saw no more damage, and returned east to connect to the road to Jacmel, on the south coast. Along this road there were incredible landslides, and UNEP personnel who had traveled the road 2 weeks previous said that there were five times as many landslides and five times as many temporary camps as they saw on their previous journey, indicating that the unstable ground was continuing to move. Jacmel has extensive damage, in the same proportions as PaP.

We have been doing a combination of building inspections (for construction issues) and looking at the combination of soil conditions and construction quality. And of course discussing what can be done in the rebuilding process. That is a technical discussion that can and will be continued for months. What is more striking for me, is the way Haitians are attempting to resume their lives, in some form. People are not sitting around waiting for handouts; no one is attacking the agency people or begging for money. What I see is a resigned determination to function, which includes doing laundry in clean water from a broken pipe, massive efforts to bring food from the countryside to the markets of PaP, shops open in the front 2 feet of collapsed buildings, barber shops open, trucks and tap-tap buses moving people's personal goods, young men salvaging wood from collapsed buildings to make temporary shelters,etc. The will to continue is amazing.

At the same time we are all shocked by the news of the 8.8 M earthquake in Chile. We are trying to find information, and of course worrying about how the international community will cope with two major events.

See a sample of photos...

Life in Haiti post-earthquake

Life in Haiti post-earthquake

Life in Haiti post-earthquake

Tsunami impact at Petit Goâve / Landslides on Jacmel road

Camps on the road to Jacmel / Mary taking concrete samples from a collapsed buiding

February 26, 2010, 24:00


Starting today, I will post updates from Port-au-Prince sent by my colleague and mentor - MARY COMERIO. Mary is a Professor of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley and has done extensive research and consulting on issues in post-disaster housing recovery policies in the United States and internationally. Her book, Disaster Hits Home is a compelling and detailed examination of Urban Housing Recovery Policy in the United States. She was my doctoral dissertation chair at Berkeley and is currently in Haiti in an advisory capacity to the United Nations Environmental Program.

Check out her Berkeley Blog post on Haiti at the following link: Rebuild social institutions as well as buildings, The Berkeley Blog, January 21, 2010

Also check the following link discussing her thoughts on Haiti: Architecture professor heads to Haiti with U.N. team, UC Berkeley News, February 16, 2010

Mary has graciously agreed to let me post parts of her email correspondence that revolve around current conditions in Haiti. The following are some direct excerpts and an image sent by her:

February 25, 2010

This is my first night at Camp Charlie, at the airport. There are big tents, with little individual cubicles inside, separate toilet and shower tents. supposedly put up by the Swedes as part of the humanitarian mission. Food made by WFP, and not too bad...They just opened the airport a couple days ago and it is chaos. They dump the luggage in a pile in a tent, and you find it, then you go out through a gauntlet of Haitians some waiting for relatives, some hitting up any white face for money. My driver had to physically pull them off me...Tomorrow I get to see something of the damage/camps, etc. Our team is here to advise UNEP on recovery issues (with an enviro slant--ie microzonation, watersheds, unstable soils, etc, and my role is the rebuilding issues...

February 26, 2010

Today I drove (ie went with a driver) all over PaP. Amazing experience. Both to see the damage firsthand, but also to see the life of the city returning. Street markets, people pulling wood from damaged buildings to make their temporary shelter. People cooking, washing, all in the street.

View of Street Market

February 26, 2010, 23:30

My posts have fallen a bit on the way side in the past two weeks, I am finally getting back to them starting this week. Since returning from Haiti I have received multiple emails and messages, mostly asking about three things in particular. First, what did the Boston University (BU) team and I do in Haiti; second, details on the logistics of travel to Haiti; and third, what is going on regarding temporary shelter strategies and long-term housing recovery. I will address these questions in the next few posts, starting with our work in Haiti.

The short answer to this question would be that the BU team assisted the Haitian government in drafting a platform document outlining a strategic vision for the reconstruction of Haiti. This four page concept document pulled together many of the ideas from witin Port-au-Prince's professional and government circles, and was delivered to the assistant to Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive before he went to Montreal on January 23, 2010 to meet donors in Canada. Though we do not know whether the document was used or how it was used, the original document has been circulated among Haitians and international organizations for feedback. The BU team's work in Haiti was documented by Seth Rolbein, the editor of BU Today, and is available at: Haiti Leaders, BU Team Share Long-Term Goals, BU Today, January 25, 2010

The BU team was pulled together by Jean Lucien Ligondé. Jean Lucien is a BU alumni and Haitian living in Boston, whose civil engineering company has worked with the Haitian government for many years. He and his wife Elisabeth Coicou,who is a master's candidate in urban planning at BU, helped co-ordinate the trip and took care of all travel logistics. The BU faculty who accompanied them to Haiti were Enrique Silva, Assistant Professor and Faculty Coordinator for the City Planning and Urban Affairs program at Boston University; myself - lecturer at BU; and Seth Rolbein, the editor of BU Today. We stayed in Port-au-Prince for five days.

A more detailed article on the BU team and our work (with short video clips) by Seth Rolbein is available at: Ground Up, Rethinking Haiti, BU Today, February 9, 2010

February 5, 2010, 00:30

Debris clearing in Port-au-Prince has begun in some pockets, particularly of institutional buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince. This is being done by the Center of National Equipment (CNE), a Haitian government agency with the largest inventory of equipment in Haiti. While the CNE is technically under the Ministry of Public Works, it is a highly powerful agency inside Haiti, with direct access to the Presidential Office. The CNE is leading Haitian government's efforts, without any international help, to remove dead bodies from the streets of Port-au-Prince, bury them in mass graves, and clear debris from public institutional sites.

Outside Port-au-Prince Metropolitan, the US army has begun clearing some critical highway links, like the one connecting Port-au-Prince to Leogane and Carrefour.

Debris removal by CNE (Center for National Equipment) trucks

Example of structural damage in buildings in Port-au-Prince

Hauling scrap from damaged buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince / Group of men roaming the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince

Driving through downtown Port-au-Prince we saw numerous groups of men roaming the streets, like the one pictured above. They have caused security concerns - mainly due to looting in the commercial areas of down-town Port-au-Prince - and the Haitian government has responded by sending in the Haitian National Police who have arrested, shot at, or killed in their efforts to control the downtown. Unlike most other parts of Port-au-Prince that are quite calm, we did feel some tension while driving through the commercial and banking areas of downtown Port-au-Prince. Not surprising then that the very official looking delegation - pictured below (don't know who they are) - visiting temporary shelter camps with armed bodyguards (and TV cameras in tow). Though I personally did not feel any tension or threat while visiting these camps, located across the Presidential Palace and close to the banking and commercial center of Port-au-Prince.

Delegation visiting temporary shelter camp outside the Presidential palace - with heavily armed guards/ Long lines outside Uni Transfer

Other places with big crowds in Port-au-Prince are currently seen at Money Transfer Companies - like Uni Transfer, pictured above. However, these places are calm, with people patiently waiting in long lines, with no undercurrents of tension or any hints of violence breaking out.

February 4, 2010, 01:00


Damage to the Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince

United Nations troops right outside the Presidential Palace. This was the only place where we observed UN presence in Port-au-Prince.

Street in front of the Presidential Palace / Right across this street, lining the facade of the Presidential Palace, is this temporary shelter camp (see videos below).
Selling household stuff - one of numerous trading and business activities happening inside the camp.
This informal market activity is surely an example of Haitian resilience and an effort to get back to daily life routines.

Temporary shelter camp right across the street in front of the Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince

Temporary shelter camp right across the street in front of the Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince

Temporary shelter camp right across the street in front of the Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince

February 3, 2010, 23:30


This appropriation of public space in the heart of Port-au-Prince's political center makes many within Haitian government/political circles highly uncomfortable.

January 29, 2010, 16:20


Inside the National Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince

Exterior view of the National Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince

Bishop's house - Part of the National Cathedral compound / Exterior view of the National Cathedral - The other side

Inside the National Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince

January 29, 2010, 09:30

Posted are pictures from Port-au-Prince downtown. The area is devastated, institutional and commercial buildings - banks, churches, trading centers completely destroyed. The pictures below speak for themselves. Will post more images through next week.

Building damage in downtown Port-au-Prince, the center of trade, commerce, and banking

Current condiions in Port-au-Prince downtown

Building damage in Port-au-Prince downtown

Building damage in Port-au-Prince downtown / Rescue team

Building damage in Port-au-Prince downtown

Haiti National Police in downtown Port-au-Prince / The National Post-Office in Ruins

January 26, 2010, 02:10

The downtown is devastated, institutional buildings, commercial buildings - banks, churches, completely destroyed. Looks like a war zone with heavy presence of Haiti national police - to prevent people from looting the banks - and the heavy destruction all around.

With most public administrative buildings destroyed, including the presidential palace, this building near the airport currently serves as the government headquarters. Though the space is enough only for the President and the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers do not have offices at the moment.

More damage - along the airport road / Squatter damage in LaSaline.

LaSaline Squatter Area

LaSaline Vegetable Market

January 25, 2010, 21:40

More pictures of damage in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods - Turgeau, Canapevert (a large squatter settlement), and the Airport. Turgeau and Canapevert have sustained heavy damage.

Building damage in Turgeau - along the main boulevard

Building damage in Turgeau - along the main boulevard

Sacred Heart Church in Turgeau

Hillside squatter area destroyed in Canapevert

Long lines at the Port-au-Prince airport, people waiting to be evacuated or those who want to leave Haiti

Temporary shelter camp near the airport - on the main airport road.

Highly visible US military presence at the airport. With their guns and tanks (not necessary I believe), the airport looks very militaristic - a Haiti Green Zone.

January 23, 2010, 12:10

People have appropriated public space to set up shelter camps in downtown Port-au-Prince, as well as in neighborhoods like Petion-ville. At night people - afraid to sleep in their homes or those without a house anymore - are sleeping in the streets and sidewalks of Petion-ville and Delmas. Petion-ville, in general is an upper-class neighborhood. For now the residents are okay with the spontaneous camps and tents on sidewalks outside their homes, but this spectacle of appropriation does make some uncomfortable. Many of the upper-class homes in Petion-ville are heavily gated - with different worlds inside and outside the gates. Inside are beautiful homes - and the team stayed in one such home. The house has large front and back courtyards and a small staff to do the household chores. Our hosts are the most gracious and and generous people - and very close friends of our Haitian team members. The house is like an oasis in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty that has gripped the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan. But the team is also highly cognizant of the world outside the gates. We only had to go out at night or early morning to see the people sleeping on the streets.

Boy & Barbie's place in Petion-ville / Inside Boy & Barbie's place in Petion-ville - The front porch

January 23, 2010, 07:10

We have been driving around Port-au-Prince in the last two days - posted here are pictures from different neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince Metropolitan area. These should give a pretty good sense of the damage in and around the city. In general, the damage in Port-au-Prince downtown is the greatest - public institutions, banks, churches, and other building in the commercial center are more or less completely destroyed. Neighborhoods away from Port-au-Prince center especially to the east of the city, like Petion-ville, have limited damage - mostly to large RCC structures. But as we get close to the city center - areas like Delmas and Turgeau - the damage to building stock is higher, with highest damage in the Port-au-Prince commercial and institutional center.

Shelter camps in Petion-ville / Stones mark the spaces appropriated on streets to sleep at night

Housing damage in Petion-ville

Building damage in Delmas along Delmas Boulevard. Delmas is closer to Port-au-Prince and has more damage than Petion-ville which is further from the city center.

Local Transport - The Bus / Tap-Tap - the cheapest form of transport in urban Haiti

More damage - Along the road to the airport / Carribbean Market - A huge supermarket in Petion-ville

Dense urban squatter settlements on hillsides in Port-au-Prince - While these houses on this side of the hill look fine, the ones on the other side are mostly destroyed.

January 22, 2010, 07:10

Yesterday we roamed around the different neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince in a hired SUV. It is currently quite difficult to get a rental car in Port-au-Prince because of huge demand for them from aid and news organizations coming into Haiti. We had a hard time and could only manage to do so because our Haitian team mates have good local connections. We initially went to a rental place in Petion-ville, close to the place where we are currently staying, and could not find anything there. We then had to go to the airport to find a rental vechicle.

Our team has good local support because we have Haitian team mates who know Haiti really well. Moreover, except for myself, all the other three team members can understand and speak the local language to different extents. In other words, it is quite difficult to arrange things in Haiti right now without local people who can speak the local language - Kreyòl and French, and have connections and knowledge of how to arrange logistical support in Haiti.

In terms of food and accomodation. Aid and news organizations are staying at the airport in tents. Some organizations may have had a base here in Haiti - we saw the Caritas office yesterday - which would make it easier for them to get accomodation. In our case, our Haitian team members arranged our accommodation at the home of their friends who have a house in Petion-ville. This has made things much easier, since we already have a running kitchen here, running water, and electricity generated through an invertor. We also got a lot of supplies - food, water and medicine - from Santo Domingo because right now supplies here are somewhat scarce.

Our hosts are extremely gracious, and staying with the local population has helped us to get the perspective of the Haitian people in a way, which would be quite impossible if our team were to stay at the airport - which seems like a bubble - reminding us of the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Initial impressions: We did not see dead bodies on the streets, we did not see aid organizations in any of the neighborhoods we went to, there is no looting or rioting, people have already begun going about their daily lives and getting back to some degree of normalcy. Things are peaceful, there is no breakdown of law and order, government capacity is extremely stretched but still functioning. In short, we believe that the news reports getting out on most American news outlets are rather distorted.

Took a lot of pictures of damage in Port-au-Prince yesterday, will post them soon.

January 21, 2010, 07:21

We leave at 08:30 am today (Jan 20, 2010) on the Terra Bus to Haiti - approximately 8 hours ride. There are multiple reasons behind the team's decision to go by Terra Bus as opposed to hiring a privately driven SUV.
- The Terra Bus is better in terms of security and safety, especially since the team is carrying medican equipment and food into Haiti
- The Terra Bus employees take care of all paperwork needed for the border crossing into Haiti, this really makes everything easier. Would have had to do this ourselves if coming in a privately hired SUV.
- The travel cost is significantly lower, the Terra Bus cost us $100 per person for a round trip (includes $25 tax + lunch - ham sandwich and apple juice) - the SUV trip would have cost us $500 one way into Haiti.
- The storage space in the Terra Bus is much better, we could easily store all our equipment - while things were tight in the SUV after loading up all our stuff.

Terra Bus Terminal Address/Contact for Reference
Santo Domingo: Av. 27 de Febrero # 445, Entre Av. Nunez de Caceres y Privada. Phone: 809-530-6926
Santiago: Av. Francia esq. Calle El Sol, Santiago, Rep. Dom. Phone: 809-587-3000
Haiti: Building Chatelain Tours, Rue Geffard, Port-au-Prince. Phone: (509) 22-5664 / 23-7882

Terra Bus Terminal in Santo Domingo/ Loading Up

The bus - supposed to leave at 11:00 am - finally left at 12:00 noon DR time / 11:00am EST. The road to Haiti on the Dominican Republic side was smooth, lots of vegetation around, could't see much traffic.

During the bus ride, Seth - a team member, journalist and the editor of BU Today - interviewed each of the team members. The interviews are short pieces, asking about the hopes and objectives of the team members going in. Seth and I began talking about Haiti after my interview. Seth has visited Haiti often before when covering the country as a journalist, is very familiar with its history as well as its socio-cultural and political context. He explains that Haiti - carved from the island of Hispaniola - has two religions. Catholic and Voodoo, and that while Catholicism is very visible - voodoo is usually under the radar even though more people believe in and follow Voodoo.

Also met a person on the bus who ows a radio sation at Leogane. He told us that the city is 90% destroyed and no help has arrived their yet. His radio programs are uploaded (audio files); www.haitipolicy. com (interview texts).

Reached Dominican Republic / Haiti border - 4:30pm DR time / 3:30pm EST & Haitian time. The border looked a bit chaotic, and it was definitely much easier for us that Terra employees took care of immigration - the entire crossing time took about an hour and half. It was about 5:00 pm EST & Haitian time that we finally got to the Haitian side of the border and began driving towards Port-au-Prince.

The Border Gate on Dominican Republic Side / Huge Informal Market between the two borders on No Man's Land - Kind of an informal Economic Free Trade Zone

As we got closer to the Port-au-Prince, the roadway became clogged. The entire journey from Santo Domingo Terra bus terminal to Petion-ville bus terminal (8 kilometers from Port-au-Prince center) took us 8 hours. From the border it took us 3 hours to reach Tabarre Center, usually it takes only an hour and half to reach Tabarre from the border according to my Haitian team mates. The road was extremely congested between Croix-des-Bouquets and Tabarre. After Tabarre it took us only about 20 minutes to reach Petion-Ville.

On the way, we passed Croix-des-Bouquets - a small urban center know for its iron works - about 15 kilometers from Port-au-Prince center and part of the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan area. Though the initial damage assessment data (USAID) shows Croix-des-Bouquets as a major affected area, we did not see any damage. We began seeing minor and major damage to structures once we reached Tabarre - about 9 kilometers from Port-au-Prince municipality. Petion-ville is also impacted, and we saw people camped out in open areas - parks, roadside. At Petion-ville Terra bus stop we saw a group of children skinning a cat for food. Our hosts tell us that Petion-ville has not been as affected as Port-au-Prince and Delmas.

Port-au-Prince Greater Metropolitan Area includes about 7 major municipalities.

  • Port-au-Prince
  • Carrefour - 10 kilometers (km) from center of Port-au-Prince
  • Cite Soleil - 3 km from Port-au-Prince center
  • Delmas - 5 km from Port-au-Prince center
  • Petion-Ville - 8 km from Port-au-Prince center
  • Tabarre - 9 km from Port-au-Prince center
  • Croix-des-Bouquets - 15 km from Port-au-Prince center (Need to confirm if part of Port-au-Prince Metropolitan)

Municipalities In the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Impacted by the Earthquake (Data from World Food Program Emergency Preparedness Branch - WFP OMEP / 01.15.2010).

  • Port-au-Prince
  • Carrefour
  • Delmas
  • Petion-Ville
  • Croix-des-Bouquets (field observation does not show damage/destruction)

Municipalities Outside Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Impacted by the Earthquake (Data from World Food Program Emergency Preparedness Branch - WFP OMEP / 01.15.2010).

  • Grand Goave
  • Petit Goave
  • Leogane
  • Gressier - 20 km from Port-au-Prince center
  • Kenscoff - 20 km from Port-au-Prince center

January 20, 2010, 06:30

The team reached Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic yesterday afternoon. I was expecting things to be chaotic at the airport with many aid organizations coming in. Quite the opposite in reality. The Santo Domingo airport is small but very clean and organized. There were some teams - a Rescue Task Force and a medical team - along with Haitians who are traveling to Haiti to look for missing family. Both flight legs were smooth, we got all our equipment in safely, and had no problems getting through customs and immigration. The DR is waiving the $10 tourist card purchase requirement (citizens of some countries need to buy one when they enter DR) for those who are enroute to Haiti. We stayed at the Micro Hotel overnight - nice basic clean place, serves breakfast.

Santo Domingo Airport - The Main Entrance & The Rental Car Counter

Loading up at the Santo Domingo airport / On the way to Micro Hotel - Roads in Santo Domingo seem congested

January 19, 2010, 01:40

On the very night a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit, Compagnie Financiere d' Investissement S.A. (CFI) - a structural engineering private company based in Port-au-Prince with local presence in Boston - approached the Boston University (BU) to request a team of faculty to go into Haiti. President Robert Brown has agreed and a team comprising - urban planners and journalists from BU; earthquake engineer from the EERI (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute); and members of the Haitian community in Boston - is preparing to go into Haiti to assist in rapid damage assessment and post-earthquake recovery. They will work directly with the Service National Gestion de Risque et Disastre (SNGRD) - National Service for Risk and Disaster Management in Haiti. Team members who will reamain in Boston are faculty and students from geography and remote sensing specialists from BU, as well as researchers from the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University working in collaboration with BU.

The entire team has been working crazily around the clock the last 4 days to get everything together, figure out the logistics of travel, and take all the data we can lay our hands on. The team leaves Boston Logan Airport at 06:45 am on an American Airlines commercial flight - flying via Miami into Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic - reaching at 15:30 pm local time (14:30 pm EST). From there, we will take the Terra Bus (the public transport I believe) to Haiti. Will send updates on the road conditions and the situation at the Haiti border.