The rainy season is starting soon in Haiti. This period generally lasts from March to May, and then hurricane season runs from June to November. Most of the people who live in the streets and in tent cities as a result of the earthquake will be exposed to the heavy rains.
We don’t have accurate information on how many of those living outside are in shelters that can withstand the rainy season, but it’s clear that a large number of them don’t have rainproof materials. The materials most commonly used now for shelter are bedsheets. These provide a bit of privacy as well as protection from the sun, cold and dust, but not from rain and wind.
We are focusing our efforts on addressing temporary and transitional shelter needs by providing tarps as well as materials for transitional shelters. We will not be able to assist everyone in need. We will focus on those who are most in need and who have not received shelter assistance from other organizations.
We are implementing a transitional solution to address shelter needs of the 6,000 most-affected families in our programs. Our solution is based on the recommendations of experts in the field and documentation that provides guidance on transitional shelter.
We will provide waterproof tarps in urban areas, and corrugated metal sheets in the countryside. Transitional shelter is considered much easier to implement in rural rather than urban areas.
We will not use tents as part of our solution. Tents are a short-term solution only. Disaster response experience has demonstrated that even high-quality tents generally do not last more than one year.
Tents are considered less waterproof than other alternatives and are difficult to use effectively in high-density areas such as Port-au-Prince. They also cost more than alternative materials, and most can’t be reused so they take away resources from longer-term solutions.
Waterproof tarps and plastic sheeting have been established as an effective, strong and flexible solution when accompanied by appropriate materials to attach them, and they significantly outperform tents in many circumstances. They are recommended by shelter experts as a good solution in Haiti.
Transitional shelters consist of a corrugated metal roof and a simple timber or steel frame. They provide cover for families, and utilize material that can be reused in reconstruction or moved to another site. Haitians already are trying to build such shelters for themselves, and experts recommend supporting those efforts where possible.
We must balance our short-term concerns over inadequate shelter during the rainy season (such as health issues and disease) with the many challenges of providing long-term shelter (such as high costs, land tenure, government and international plans, and the inevitably slow pace and limited scale of permanent housing solutions).