This post is written by Jana Sweeny.
When I arrived in Haiti six weeks after the January 2010 earthquake I was astounded by the amount of debris. Everywhere I looked where piles of concrete – blocking roads and paths, in piles as tall as the standing buildings. What wasn’t already completely destroyed was often damaged so severely that the building needed to be torn down. After the earthquake it was estimated that Haiti was buried in 10 million cubic meters of debris, which would equate to about 750,000 dump truck loads.
Port-au-Prince is an incredibly dense community with little free space and the rubble impacted everything. It reduced the space available for temporary shelters and building reconstruction, prevented trucks of relief supplies from getting into communities and hindered individual clean up efforts. I remember watching our relief teams spending hours at night mapping out access to camps because so many roads were blocked or no longer wide enough for trucks. To complicate matters there were often the bodies of loved ones still lost in the rubble. I often saw people standing on gigantic piles moving one piece of concrete at a time. A very limited amount of available earth moving equipment made matters worse.
Since that time J/P Hatian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) has taken a lead role in developing solutions for this very challenging environment with their Engineering and Construction Program. Last week, I returned to Haiti for a third trip since the earthquake and though much still needs to be done, there were amazing signs of progress, one of them being significantly less rubble and severely damaged buildings.
I visited a J/P HRO site in the neighborhood of Delmas 33. All of the current work in this area is being funded by a grant from the American Red Cross. A crew stood on what was once the third story of a home. The first floor had completely pancaked on to the car in the garage crushing it. Much of the front of the building had fallen off when the quake struck and a couch was still sitting inside.
The crew had been working for 4 hours and had made a huge dent. Working with sledge hammers they broke up the remaining concrete by hand. When they finish another team will then carry all of the pieces to the street where trucks will remove it. The work is back breaking and compounded by high heat and humidity, but I heard no complaints.
Each crew is made of people from the community and always has 30% female labor. They are incentivized with a payment system that provides bonuses for work finished on time. Currently the crews working on Delmas 33 have a 100% on time rate. Some of the materials are moved to a landfill outside of the city while some is sent to a recycling project and later turned into construction materials for pathways and courtyards.
I spoke with Denet Saintius who was one of the team leaders and has been working with J/P HRO for 3 years. He said this work was the best experience of his life. “One of the most important aspects is working with the community to ensure their engagement. Each team is made up of community members,” he said. “People use the money they earn to buy food, send their children to school and start small businesses, which is improving lives in each neighborhood we work in.”