Haiti: Fresh Initiatives Help Earthquake Victims to Return Home

October 28, 2010

PORT AU PRINCE, October 28, 2010 - "Home" will soon mean a safe roof over their heads rather than a flimsy piece of canvass for thousands of displaced Haitians living in temporary camps after the January 12 earthquake.

Earthquake victims in Haiti will be able to return safely to their homes and communities and resume their economic activities, as two key housing initiatives gathered pace this week.

A US$30 million grant to finance home repair and rebuilding was approved this week on the heels of record numbers of homes being assessed as safe to inhabit, as part of the World Bank's reconstruction drive in Haiti. The joint World Bank-USAID Housing Assessment project said it had reached a new landmark after evaluating 300,000 homes and producing the first ever set of repair guidelines for damaged homes. With the new grant benefitting about 140,000 people, all told these initiatives will reach almost half a million Haitians.

The catastrophic January 12 earthquake destroyed more than 115,000 houses in and around Port-au-Prince, left 14,500 others with severe damage and 167,000 buildings with moderate damages, forcing 1.3 million people to seek shelter in temporary camps.

Moving people out of the camps and back into their communities and homes is critical to improve Haitians' living and safety conditions, authorities say. It is also a key factor for jumpstarting economic activity around the affected communities, which the new grant aims to support by injecting cash directly into the communities through the widely popular Prodepur project.

With the additional US$30 million, the Urban Community Driven Development Project (Prodepur) will finance about 5,000 cash grants for repair of damaged homes, support debris removal and improve community service infrastructure -such as roads and walkways- that have been chosen for repair by the beneficiaries themselves. This grant follows up on the results of the original US$15 million Prodepur project approved in June 2008. Since the earthquake, the project has prioritized disaster related needs in targeted communities, including repair of community kitchens and community poultry farms and providing temporary jobs to over 5,000 people.

Haitians Make Own Decisions

Under the project rules community members vote and decide on eligibility criteria to receive housing assistance. Once the grant is awarded beneficiaries are free to decide their reconstruction priorities, whether it's repairs, building extensions or a new house, said project leader Bernice Van Bronkhorst.

She empahized that beneficiaries must comply with building codes as a condition to carry out any housing project.

"Cash is made available to them in four phases provided building codes are met at each phase," said Van Bronkhorst while noting that this type of initiative has already been tested with good results in Aceh's reconstruction after its 2004 tsunami.

Community members receive building awareness training and technical assistance from Bank experts to ensure that houses are repaired or rebuilt in a hazard-resilient manner, explained Van Bronkhorst.

So-called community-driven programs (CCD) -such as Prodepur- have become hugely popular in Haiti on their ability to empower people to make their own decisions while providing a learning experience not found in traditional aid programs. CCDs also address red-tape and capacity issues at government level, especially after the earthquake decimated senior ministerial staff.

"This project implementation model has helped tens of thousands of people and has brought about very quick results from cutting through red tape," said Van Bronkhorst. She added that a significant part of the Bank's US$320 million Haiti portfolio is made up of community-driven projects.

More Homes Assessed as Safe

Quick results have also been a trademark of the 300-strong team of Haitian engineers tasked with assessing earthquake damaged buildings for safety. As of this date, 318,000 buildings –out of 400,000-- have been evaluated in Port-au-Prince's worst affected areas. The experts found that 54 percent of those homes were safe to live in (green tag), 25.5 percent needed repairs (yellow tag) and 20.5 percent were deemed unsafe (red tag).

Green-tagged buildings are classified as being undamaged (safe for immediate occupancy, though not necessarily earthquake resistant), yellow-tagged means "restricted use" and red-tagged is dangerous (ranging from completely destroyed to heavily damaged).

In addition to evaluating building structures, the WB-USAID financed operation has also produced a first ever set of guidelines for reconstruction, and supporting database, that is being used by the international community to guide their respective housing repair programs, noted World Bank project leader Ross Gartley.

"This clearly demonstrates how this initiative has evolved to facilitate the larger recovery and reconstruction process," noted Gartley.

The expert stressed that the evaluation does not assess the buildings' resilience to future seismic events – a message that has been conveyed to Haitian authorities- but that it provides a blueprint for future planning and rebuilding.