One of the biggest obstacles to building transitional shelters in Haiti is the amount of debris that is lying everywhere.
Do me favour and look down your street. Now imagine that up to 60 per cent of all the houses just collapsed (the percentage of destroyed houses depends a lot on which part of town you are in in Port-au-Prince). Can you imagine how much rubble this would be? From a shelter perspective the problem is that before you build transitional shelters on these plots, you first have to remove the debris.
Now, imagine that your road is not nice and paved, but just small enough for two people to squeeze past each other and that you would have to do that in order to reach some of the plots. There is no way you can get an excavator or a truck through here. So you, your family and maybe some friendly neighbours have to carry whole houses with your hands and maybe a wheelbarrow to the nearest big road.
This is the problem with debris. And there is a lot of it – approximately 19 million cubic metres.
London to Beirut
I calculated the other day that if you put this into standard shipping containers, you could form a line from London all the way to Beirut. That is a lot of wheelbarrows.
To get an idea of how this looks like in reality I shot a short video from the car the other day.
What you see in this video is actually a good example, not a bad one. Because at least people have already moved rubble from their plots. Sadly this is the exception rather than the rule because a lot of people were only renters and the landlords are either not interested in removing the rubble or – in some cases – even sue people who are removing debris it without permission.
Cash for work?
There is an interesting ongoing discussion whether cash-for-work programmes can help to get rid of the debris (once landowners have given their permission). Some people say this is the only way to get it done because you can quickly put a lot of shovels and pickaxes into a lot of hands. Others see it as contra-productive because these programmes are rolled out on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood schedule and people who might just get up and remove the rubble themselves it might wait until they are being paid to do it.