Our Transitional Shelter Solution for Haiti

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).

11 Comments |Add a comment

  1. alan scouten April 1, 2010

    I am seventy years old. In 1945 my parents wished to “camp out” in the great-outdoors. They could not afford a tent and so bought a war surplus tarp and misquito net.
    The first trip to a state park in Maine (toilets and all!) and it poured for two days. All the bedding was soaked, and I can still see my mother standing under the tarp trying to heat soup on a Colemen Stove. Try it without the bottled gas, just charcoal from the trees that no longer protect you from landslides? (we three kids were tiny…we slept in the car)

    COMPASSION? Dig deep and spend well companeros.

  2. alan scouten April 1, 2010

    This post is almost a direct copy of USAID guidlines, and will prove to be deadly. Tarps and ropes are poor tents, and poles and tin only marginally better. Neither will survive a hurricane or even a heavy rain, flood or landslide. Further quakes? THINK
    AHEAD! For God’s sake and her children’s.

  3. alan scouten April 1, 2010

    Mark Bradley is write-on! Try some “starched-tents” instead of
    dry-rotted (from prolonged storage says UN themselves)tents?
    ShelterUS has been building houses that have survived quake,
    typhoon, fire and flood around the world, but can’t get a tumble from the NGOs. Why?

  4. Mark Bradley March 21, 2010

    It makes me angry to think that Compassion has bought into this tarp nonsense as better shelter for Haitians than tents. This is in no way true. Distributing tarps in Haiti is only increasing and prolonging the misery of Haitian families during the rainy season.
    Why do you think people who go camping use tents instead of tarps? Because of the better protection they provide.
    Let the experts sleep in tarps. Provide tents to Haitian families.

  5. Karen March 6, 2010

    Found this wonderful blog while searching for info on Haiti.My daughter in law is Haittian and all of her relatives still have not been accounted for.But communication is still poor so please pray with us that many made it safely to the country side.I will be cack often to visit you here,Thanks for a great blog!…..Karen

  6. stephanie polito March 4, 2010

    I think that Compassion is doing an excellent job in helping displaced Haitians survive this traumatic event. I echo Princess Leia’s concern just wondering what contribution I can make. The child I sponsor is in Tanzania and right now I can not afford to sponsor a Haitian child also.

  7. Becky March 3, 2010

    I’m glad to hear that while the media had been focusing on how the people of Haiti need tents, Compassion actually has people experienced in disaster relief and used research and experts’ knowledge to identify the best transitional housing solution that is prompt as well as able to be modified into permanent housing.

  8. Princess Leia March 3, 2010

    How best can we help with this effort? The disaster relief fund? Or can we send tarps, etc. someplace?

    1. Chris Giovagnoni March 3, 2010

      Princess Leia,

      The best way to assist is by donating to the Disaster Relief Fund.

  9. Amy Wallace March 3, 2010

    I can’t even imagine having to live in a tent, so it’s good to see that Compassion is providing some shelter.

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