The Tent Problem and Transitional Shelters

Tents are falling out of favor in the massive effort to provide shelter for people who've lost their homes in Haiti, The New York Times reports.

[A]id groups on Wednesday began to de-emphasize tents in favor of do-it-yourself housing with tarpaulins at first, followed by lumber.

Mark Turner, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said that a move toward “transitional shelters” — built eventually with lumber and some steel — would give people sturdier structures and more flexibility.

The Times also noted that relief workers say it could take five years to rebuild the homes that have been lost. So, that defines the medium-term challenge: starting with almost nothing, how do you build or give people the tools to build homes that need to last up to five years. What will be necessary to smooth people's transition to more permanent housing? Is the DIY housing currently being built enough to withstand the coming rainy season?

We've seen several suggestions on Haiti Rewired on how to shelter people in the coming months from Vinay Gupta's Hexayurt to Rafael Sergio Smith's Uber Shelter.

But we saw in the aftermath of Katrina that temporary housing can lead to problems. The trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent to the Gulf Coast became too permanent for some, while others complained about the higher-than-recommended formaldehyde levels.

There has been one success story, though, in the transitional housing world scene, which the Times cites.


The model, cited by a senior shelter adviser, is Sri Lanka, where residents using building materials and design guidelines from aid groups built 56,000 transitional shelters in seven months, housing 92 percent of the displaced families in about a 550-mile area.

Is Sri Lanka after the tsunami a good analog for Haiti? Can the same strategy work with hurricane season looming?

Image: flickr/GeorgiaP

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