PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 30, 2010 - Amid the vast damage and suffering inflicted by the January12 earthquake, tragedy has also brought the chance of a fresh start for thousands of Haitians who have just been told their homes are safe to live in.
More than 100,000 families will be able to stay in their homes or leave behind shelters and makeshift tents, following a structural safety assessment of buildings completed by Haitian experts with World Bank technical support and funding, the institution announced today.
A team of 280 engineers, purposely trained for this initiative, evaluated over 200,000 quake-stricken buildings in the last few months to find that almost half of them were safe to live in needing only cosmetic repairs. An additional 28 percent of buildings assessed were labeled as safe pending repairs while 24 percent were tagged as dangerous to occupy, in the first phase of this ongoing initiative that will altogether tackle 400,000 homes in Port-au-Prince's worst-affected areas including Carrefour, Leogane, Petit Goave and Grand Goave.
A second phase will focus on technical assistance to reparation and demolition.
Experts stressed that the evaluation does not assess the buildings' resilience to future seismic events – a message that has been clearly conveyed to the Haitians- but it provides a blueprint for future planning and rebuilding.
"This initiative and its results not only promote the reoccupation of safe buildings while informing the population of dangerous properties, but also develops the starting point for recovery," said World Bank project leader Ross Gartley.
Structural Building Assessment Project in a Nutshell
- Assessing structural safety of over 200,000 buildings in worst-affected areas
- Creating and equipping a technical unit on building evaluations within the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Communication
- Establishing international standards for building assessments with a training package
- Training 280 local engineers to implement the structural building assessment as well as to supervise and coordinate repairs and demolitions
- Designing a set of national technical repair guidelines
Establishing a national infrastructure database capable of identifying buildings to be cleared, while supporting the preparation of reconstruction operations
A walk through the quake-rattled streets of Port-au-Prince reveals the extent of the work done by evaluators. Buildings visibly bear colorful markings that determine their state: 'red', meaning condemned or risky to live in; 'yellow' meaning habitable provided repairs are made, and 'green' meaning the house is sound. Seen on an aerial map, the green and yellow pins form a lively army clearly defeating the reds, which experts hope serves as a metaphor to encourage people to return to their homes from camps –currently holding about 13 percent of the population.
"I left my home right after the earthquake for fear that it would collapse and I have been coming back only to do my laundry," said a woman whose house had just been given a green mark. "But now I feel safe to come back and sleep here," she added.
Color coding buildings this way enabled engineers to do their work in record time and made the nature of their job much easier to understand to Haitians occupying the dwellings. Damage assessment itself got a boost from cutting-edge equipment, such as hand-held devices used to store and analyze housing data on the spot, which allowed experts to process about 4,000 properties per day, said Gartley.
Now the United Nations-World Bank trained team of experts is getting ready for the second phase of this project that includes carrying out additional evaluations using the same modus operandi and preparing a set of guidelines for repair, retrofit and new construction norms.
Haitian officials have hailed the initiative as key for the country's reconstruction.
"The earthquake changed the capital's face, so we thought we had to start with an evaluation of the buildings. We thought that to talk about reconstruction, we needed some basic data, which is what we just completed with the World Bank's help and the support of the UNOPS to manage the office's function," said Haiti's minister of public works Jacques Gabriel.
Such "basic data" Minister Gabriel refers to forms the basis of a National Infrastructure Database that the Bank's project has helped create as part of the recently completed assessment. In addition to supporting day-to-day housing evaluation operations, this database will also support the preparation of comprehensive strategies for recovery and reconstruction, including national technical repair guidelines, noted Gartley. Other applications for the database could include addressing census and planning for urban services provision, he added.
The World Bank specialist stressed, however, that this is only a small step towards a much larger effort to rebuild Haiti in a safer and hazard-resilient way.
"Haiti is in a very fragile state and this project is just one element to promote the country's long-term recovery, and ensure that such disasters do not repeat themselves," said Gartley.
More than 230,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the January 12 quake, while 1.3 million were left homeless, and 600,000 displaced.
To help Haiti recover from the January 12 earthquake, the World Bank Group has pledged US$479 million through June 2011. Of this amount, more than half has already been made available. The Bank's earthquake response has focused on improving the lot of those affected while contributing to build the foundations for long-term recovery.
Emergency projects include: rebuilding the state's capacity to operate, clearing the city's drainage canals to avoid flooding, feeding school children, providing solar energy to displaced Haitians, assessing housing damage and rebuilding crucial roads and bridges for the delivery of aid.