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Building a new future from the debris of a troubled past


Lundi Gresseau lives in one of the makeshift camps which surround Port-au-Prince

Lundi Gresseau lives in one of the makeshift camps which surround Port-au-Prince

Lundi Gresseau lives in one of the makeshift camps which surround Port-au-Prince

A UNIQUE new method of building emergency housing in disaster-struck countries by using the rubble from earthquakes is being spear-headed by an Irish charity.

Engineers from Haven, which works extensively in Haiti, have started to use compacted rubble to construct two-room homes for families who have been left with nothing following the massive earthquake exactly one year ago.

A series of vigils will take place across the small Caribbean country today to commemorate the natural disaster which took the lives of an estimated 300,000 people.

The earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, had its epicentre about 16 miles from the capital Port-au- Prince, reducing three-quarters of the city to rubble and leaving more than one million people to live in massive makeshift camps.

Haven, the charity headed by Irish businessman Leslie Buckley, now hopes that its new method of constructing "rubble houses" will be used across other non-governmental agencies (NGOs).

The capital is littered with tonnes of rubble from the aftermath of the earthquake, the majority of which still remains in place one year later.

The charity has employed locals to crush the shattered concrete and then pack wire mesh baskets made from chicken wire, creating large bricks which form the walls of the home. The walls are then covered in plaster, also made from crushed concrete.

Hugh Brennan, a consultant engineer who works with the charity, said the idea was now available for other charities and NGOs to copy.

The charity has so far constructed one of the new homes, which cost between €8,000 and €10,000 each, and intends on completing four more by the end of this month, which will then be given to locals who lost their homes in the earthquake.

A large media and NGO contingent has arrived in Port-au-Prince for the anniversary of the earthquake.

Lundi Gresseau, who lives in one of the makeshift camps of tarpaulin-clad huts which now surround the capital, said many Haitians felt thankful that they were still alive.

The earthquake is the latest in a series of disasters which have blighted the impoverished country's history and resulted in it being branded as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

"I lost my friends. I lost many people who I would meet every day. We are happy because thank God we are here," Ms Gresseau said.

There has been repeated criticism from NGOs about the speed of relief in the country.

International donors have promised Haiti €4bn over the next 18 months. However, reconstruction envisaged by the donor countries which will focus on building better homes has been slow.

Medicines San Frontiers estimate the rebuilding programme will take up to 10 years.

The reconstruction was further hampered by an outbreak of cholera, which has so far cost the lives of almost 3,500 people and forced Haven to cancel two weeks of house construction by volunteers in November.

Meanwhile, businessman Denis O'Brien has been congratulated by former American president Bill Clinton for funding a development in Port-au-Prince.

The Irish businessman and his wife Catherine gave $12m to rebuild the Iron Market in the centre of the city, a building destroyed by the earthquake.

The official opening of the re-constructed facility took place in Port-au-Prince in a ceremony performed by Mr Clinton.

"Denis O'Brien has been a catalyst for many of the good things that have happened in Haiti, both before and after the earthquake," Mr Clinton said.

"I'm delighted to be here today at the opening of the Iron Market which is a cultural, economic and social landmark in Haiti."

Irish Independent