In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the Haitian government called for some 200,000 tents to help shelter the countless Haitians that had been made homeless. However nearly a month after the quake, contradictions began to arise about whether tents or tarps would be used for relief efforts. We wrote on February 4:
Yesterday however, Reuters reported that USAID is supporting a program referred to as “Thinking outside the tent,” which would “reinforce the existing makeshift shelters with solid building materials and recycled rubble.” Today the New York Times reports that aid organizations are beginning to “de-emphasize tents in favor of do-it-yourself housing with tarpaulins at first, followed by lumber.” The NYT adds that this represents “an emerging consensus.” The plans are based on relief efforts from 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.” The difference is that in Haiti we are talking about nearly a million people, and the time frame is much shorter. As one Haitian told the NYT “If they come step by step and they really do come, O.K.,” he said. “But I don’t know. If not, I want a tent.”Well, today, USAID released a document outlining their efforts in the shelter sector since the quake. In it, the organization credits themselves for the decision to prioritize tarps, The document reads:
The USAID shelter and settlements sector strategy, issued on January 25, influenced the development of a Shelter Cluster strategy, released on February 10, which guided initial post-earthquake shelter interventions.To date, some 560,000 tarps have been distributed versus just over 60,000 tents. For months we have seen videos, and read reports detailing how the tarps have not stood up to the rains. In this video from the Red Cross, you can see someone having to cut the tarp with a knife because so much water had pooled on top of it that it was collapsing. A recent New York Times editorial read, "Thunderstorms are fierce, and the plastic sheets and tarps distributed after the disaster are fraying, along with the people’s patience." In addition, we have heard from sources on the ground that the plastic sheeting distributed through USAID was of extremely poor quality. Tarps also leave the floors totally uncovered, when it rains the floors turn to mud, often overflowing with waste from drainage ditches. It is odd that USAID would be taking credit for a strategy that seems to have achieved very questionable success.
The strategy prioritized the provision of emergency shelter materials in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in the form of plastic sheeting and fixing materials to displaced individuals.