Major humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations have been ended by the U.S. military in Haiti, although 500 national guardsmen will remain in the country. The situation remains bleak in the capital city of Port-au-Prince where 1.5 million are without permanent shelter. This is especially concerning as hurricane season has officially begun. Even when not recovering from a devastating earthquake, Haiti can experience severe damage due to torrential rains. In addition, the more than 1,000 refugee camps often are unsanitary, and this could cause an increase in communicable diseases such tuberculosis.
Even President Clinton who recently toured Haiti was dismayed with the lack of progress. While Haitians are facing many crisis, the long term lack of affordable, and structurally sound housing, has made the island nation vulnerable to everything from mudslides to earthquakes. The provision of sturdy housing units which could stand up to earthquakes as well as strong gusts of wind would help Haitians to cope with the difficult daily struggles that they must deal with.
Perhaps a solution would be the use of prefabricated housing units, which would be simple but would supply all the basics needed in Haiti. Such prefabricated rooms, and housing units, are not used frequently in the United States. The big reason being cost as building on site is actually cheaper, in some cases, than building a housing unit in a factory. However, such prebuilt units could perhaps be much more easily transported to Haiti as attempting construction when the streets are clogged due to unworking traffic lights might not be feasible. Though some very basic housing units can be put together with unskilled labor in a matter of hours.
Prefabricated housing units need not be terribly expensive, and costs could be kept down if the units (or packages) are assembled by volunteers. Recycled containers, such as large international metal shipping boxes, have been in some instances been recycled into compact housing units. Certainly such housing would be an improvement over the current housing crisis that Haiti faces. Such housing units could be boated into Port-au-Prince and then moved to suitable areas which have been cleared of debris. Such modular housing units could also be assembled into larger houses, schools, and even health clinics.
But why hasn’t this, or another similar plan, been put into widespread use? Almost half a year after the earthquake and 1.5 million Haitians are still without suitable living conditions. Part of it may be due to the lack of media attention in Haiti months after the earthquake hit. The United States is dealing with two wars, an oil spill, and several concerning international hotspots, all in the face of mounting budget deficits. However, if Haitians had suitable, meaning properly constructed housing, then the earthquake’s toll on human lives would have been much less severe.
There are plans to build a factory in Haiti which can produce 10,000 prefab homes a year. But at this rate it would take decades to get near to solving the problem. As displaced peoples and refugees are sadly needing housing somewhere around the globe each year, perhaps a centralized location for producing prefab houses to different specifications could be built. Such as factory could then contract with NGOs and governments to fund the construction of houses for refugees.