(The Humanitarian Social Network)
Many of the ideas in this piece about the ludicrous international effort to address the post-quake housing cr... aren't new. But they're presented in a way that clarifies 3 central problems.
1) As J. reminded me in a dialogue on twitter, design-oriented solutions to a post-disaster shelter & housing crisis in a country where land tenure issues are overwhelmingly screwy miss the point. Haitian IDPs didn't need a newer, fancier T-Shelter made of post-consumer recycled materials selling for 3x GDP/capita. They needed a stable place to land where reasonable housing could be put up. Read any account of the way IDPs were pinballed from public parks to tycoons' private lawns to undeveloped tracts outside Port-au-Prince, and it's clear that even a perfectly designed, affordable shelter wouldn't have been an effective, universal solution.
Before you say "duh, everybody knows this" it's worth taking a peek at the linked article above: the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission and the UN allocated tons of resources to housing expos to showcase new technologies, because it meshed well with the for-profit goals of the "humanitarian" business industry.
2) About those housing expos... It's shocking that Clinton et al set up an expo where American foreign designers were allowed to parade shelters of up to $20,000 a piece in front of a bunch of dignitaries and pretend they were relevant to Haiti. Seriously. Even though 0 of the shelters were adopted, they blew $2.4 million on that expo! That's a lot of T-Shelters that could have been built...
3) And about that planning process... The description (in the article) of the MIT / Harvard team that had a pow-wow in Cambridge to determine housing strategies without consulting Haitians other than to stereotype and essentialize them according to preconceived notions is... infuriating.
In short, the international-led housing effort had the wrong focus, made absurd resource allocation choices, and was founded on a faulty process that bypassed consultation in favor of stereotype.
Nathan - really good. And as you might expect, I totally agree. This is more of a blog post or article, but since you started it as a discussion thread...
For me this whole situation (housing in post-earthquake Port-au-Prince and the totally wack thinking of the international community about it) illustrates three key truths about aid:
1) Aid is being corporatized as we speak. I mean.. they had an expo... Call it 'good.' Call it 'bad.' Judge it in any way that you like. But it seems to me an obvious reality that the aid sector and corporate sector are slowly melding.
2) Aid is the pastime of the elite. The expats who go out to the field (including you and me) are, in their own ways, elite. The local staff we hire in the field very often become the elite in their context. The fact that it was Harvard and MIT having their pow-wow in Cambridge, rather than a couple of land-grant U's having a panel discussion broadcast on NPR... well, that kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?
3) Involving beneficiaries is hard. For all of the noise that everyone makes about "local" and the painfully obvious logic of having beneficiaries "participate in the process" (variously interpreted), the reality is that involving beneficiaries is a lot of hard work. Hard work that very often feels as if it doesn't pay off. Far, far easier to sit around with a bunch of similarly educated native English speakers discussing in technospeak what the possible solutions are for Haiti, than to slog through Croix-de-Bouquet in the heat trying to get a straight answer.
I'm just sayin'
PS - Involving beneficiaries is NOT hard! It's under-resourced and de-prioritised, but it is not hard. Yeah, it takes time and requires effort - and it destroys our oversimplified notions of who "beneficiaries" are and what they need. In development circles consultation and involvement is a given, but humanitarians somehow feel that we should be let off the hook because our work is "urgent", our funding horizons are short, and we are overdue for that R&R. As a comms/outreach person, I am totally baffled by this and it's my biggest beef with humanitarian organisations. For a bunch (yes, an elite bunch as you point out) of people who claim to be "rights-based" and "accountable to beneficiaries", we really suck at actually listening and hearing disaster-affected people over the sound of our own voices.
Just sayin. ;)
Having visited that same housing expo, I never felt like I had wasted more of my time than by going. That had to be one of the dumbest ideas I think ever put forth. My personal favorite was houses made from logs imported from Maine.
Since the organization I worked also ran an IDP camp, it was a little easier to get what the beneficiaries were looking for in terms of housing since a relationship had already been established.
The thing the article fails to address is how difficult working with the community leaders can be especially with the mayor's office in some of the areas of PAP.
The other thing I take issue with is the fact they blantantly disregard the fact that the Presidential election screwed efforts to get housing off the ground since none of the major donors were comfortable giving the money since no one knew who was going to be President. Even after Martelly was inaugurated, the money has still been slow because of the lengthy delay with the Prime Minister which has now reared its ugly head again.
The other issue that is not mentioned by the article is the fact there was a huge push immediately after the quake to get t-shelters constructed before the rainy season. However since there was no universal standard, it created wonderful (note my sarcasm) issues with the USAID Inspector General and subsequently the US Congress who pulled their reins in tighter on the releasing of Haiti funds. This was ironic for me personally since I had participated in Congresional briefings on the US response to the Haiti earthquake where they were literally throwing money at the issue and not even 18 months later were examining everything with 100x microscope.
The hardest thing for me with the whole housing issue was when you would speak to an IDP who said they would rather stay in a camp then move into a house with a concrete roof. I know one woman who actually had her roof replaced with tin because she was confident another earthquake would come and kill her.
You both bring up some interesting points - specifically around working with beneficiaries and also with donors.
Involving beneficiaries IS hard, mostly because it takes time and staff resources that, Brenna you are correct in saying, is not prioritised. But it is not prioritised, not only from the NGO level, but also from the donor level.
In an emergency response, a la Haiti, there is so much donor push to get things moving and up and fixed in such a short amount of time that it is very difficult to include beneficiary consultation into the response.
The organisation I work for currently has built quite a few shelters, consulted with the beneficiaries on the design, had the design approved by the mayors office and kept him informed throughout the process, and used materials that would increase the longevity of the houses to make them more semi-permanent than temporary. It sounds great, right? Well, we also ended up having to ask for NCEs, had increased donor and HQ pressure to get these things built, and at times, frustrated the donors who wanted quicker results (and we didn't even have the land issues that plague more urban PaP!).
Its a catch-22. We DO want to include the opinion of beneficiaries, as this is an essential to living up to our humanitarian and human rights principles. But when the donors want to see results and see them fast, we often bow to their pressure, because they hold the checkbook.
What we really need is more donor education, understanding, and commitment to doing quality, long-lasting work, not just what will get the quickest results.
I couldn't agree more about the donor angle. Humanitarian donors are especially impatient - I always find it odd that the same donors fund long-term development projects that take years to get results.
In many ways this is why I am a fan of cash-based programming, because it puts key choices into the hands of beneficiaries. Obviously there is a longer discussion on how this can be done while still meeting standards for sectors like shelter, but it has been done in other parts of the world with good results. However, the sector is also not ready for that - we have a dialogue about "including" disaster-affected people and allowing beneficiaries to "participate", but we don't actually want to hand over the decision-making power.
In Timor, I thought the T-shelters were done in a particularly senseless manner, although I'm not an expert by any means. Coordination issues, land issues, funding etc. meant that they took the better part of 3 years to construct. By the time they were done, the housing damage assessment process had been completed and the majority of IDPs had started receiving their compensation packages from the government, which were intended to help them rebuild their former homes or construct new ones if they couldn't go back to where they were previously. So the T-shelters stood largely empty, because of course, people wanted to go home - not to be moved into some strange no-man's land in the middle of nowhere with condo-style houses built to a design that they weren't really comfortable with (no outdoor kitchen, what?!). And if we had just listened to them, they were telling us that all along. But instead, we came in with our "ways of working" and our "roadmap" and our "donor funding" and just went ahead. Go team.
Interesting that you bring this up. I spent 2 years working on a post-conflict land tenure programme in East Timor (another little half-island state that has a lot in common with Haiti, in all the wrong ways). I remember being on a bid for a similar initiative in Haiti, but I don't think it ever got off the ground, probably due to lack of political will.
The land issue in Timor was messy, complicated, and rife with tension. Between 1/4 and 1/2 of all recorded incidents of violence in the country were land-related, some over disputes that could be traced back nearly 50o years, and land tenure insecurity was identified as one of the root causes of displacement in the 2006 crisis. When we began the programme, I won't tell you how many Timorese, "senior aid officials" and long-term Timor expats told us we were going to essentially plunge the country into civil war.
5 years later the process has happened peacefully, with almost no recorded incidences of violence, and the first land titles are being issued. Each community (in urban areas only for the moment) identified for themselves which areas of land were private, public and communal. Competing claims were recorded openly and dispute resolutions avenues were explored. Many were resolved out of court through traditional ceremonies. While not perfect, a working solution has been found and the government has adopted it as a long-term programme.
IMO, the process worked because of 3 main factors:
1) The entire claims recording process was community-based, not top-down
2) The whole process was transparent and supported with intensive community consultation and public information
3) There was high-level government support & political will
All this to say - you're right. It's not helpful to keep putting off the land issue in Haiti. Even if it were to start today, it would take years to complete, and even longer to fully resolve disputes and dole out compensation. Solutions to IDP housing will definitely have to be managed in the interim, but it is ludicrous to talk about 'recovery' and 'stability' until land tenure is sorted out. So what are we waiting for?
'In a country where land tenure issues are overwhelmingly screwy misses the point'....Simon Levine, me and some folks from URD are coming out with a paper next month that says that in about 40 pages. Lots at play - humanitarian system not geared towards informal systems (land in Haiti); our tolerance of risk and solutions for addressing are different than avg Haitian ($4000 hurricane proof t-shelter v. here's $1000 to repair/build yourself); our rules/standards out of sync with Haiti reality (Sphere standards too high, many didnt have that before quake; what counts as a durable solution in Port au Prince?). Basicially our world doest fit the Haiti reality, and unfortunately our solution was to try to tweek the Haiti reality than change our approaches. Report will be out on the Humanitarian Policy Group website sometime in May.
Please note a new discussion inside this working group devoted to New and emerging best-practices related to "LAND" http://aidsource.ning.com/group/humanitarian-practice/forum/topics/...