A toolbox for sustainable self-reliance

Project completed
Workers learn how to build stable houses in cyclone-affected Southwestern Haiti.
Workers learn how to build stable houses in cyclone-affected Southwestern Haiti. © SDC

Haiti has been repeatedly devastated by earthquakes and hurricanes in recent years. SDC engineers are now working with those affected to build more stable houses from local materials. Five hundred new homes are to be built by 2021.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Climate change and environment
Humanitarian Assistance & DRR
Vocational training
Disaster risk reduction DRR
Humanitarian efficiency
Vocational training
Public sector policy
06.09.2017 - 31.03.2022
CHF  4’509’500

Haiti is one of the world's most vulnerable countries to natural disasters. Almost the entire population is exposed to risks such as earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding. The most recent major shock came with Hurricane Matthew, which swept over Haiti at wind speeds of up to 230km/h in early October 2016. Over 100,000 homes were destroyed, and few have been rebuilt since. 

Teaching for self-reliance 

The region around Port-Salut in south-west Haiti was seriously hit by Hurricane Matthew. Many villages in the sparsely wooded hills are accessible only outside the rainy season, by way of a long and precarious jeep ride. "Tens of thousands are still living under plastic tarpaulins or in makeshift huts of old roof sheeting and wooden posts," says Martin Studer, SDC project manager in Port-Salut. In 2016 he launched the Parhafs project, which provides support and training for rebuilding homes in the south of the country. The aim of the project is to provide hurricane victims with a safe roof over their heads to ensure protection from the elements and basic living standards. At the same time, they receive training in construction so that they can maintain, repair and, in an emergency, rebuild their homes themselves. 

A team of Swiss architects and local engineers also held workshops last year. There, experienced bricklayers and carpenters learnt how the statics and stability of buildings can be significantly improved with a locally adapted timber-frame construction. This uses locally sourced materials such as stones, clay, wooden beams from collapsed houses and quicklime. "We try as much as possible to avoid using imported building materials such as cement, steel and wood," explains Studer. "These are expensive and would have to be transported all the way from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the remote villages." 

To date, 90 skilled workers have received basic and advanced training in TCLA (improved local building techniques). The first two pilot houses have already been built, and 150 buildings are currently under construction in the municipality of Roche-à-Bateau for families in particular need. By the end of the first project phase in 2021, 500 new units will have been built.

Conditional cash transfers 

Studer and his colleagues apply a conditional cash system in the Parhafs project. Each family receives a cash grant of CHF 3,000 to build a house, which they can use to purchase building materials from selected suppliers. Another CHF 300 is made available for a rainwater collection basin filled via the roof gutter. The immediate availability of water is a great relief in everyday life, especially for women, who often have to walk for hours to the nearest water source. The budget made available is sufficient to build one of three house models with a surface area of 24, 30 or 40 square metres, depending on how much of their own money each family can contribute. The workers receive an average daily wage of CHF 15 for building a house. This is paid into an account at a local microbank, with the intention of also acting as an incentive to save. 

Another pillar of this project is the construction of emergency shelters resistant to wind and earthquakes. These offer local communities protection in the event of another hurricane or earthquake. "We're working closely with civil defence on this," explains Studer. "The idea is to also use these shelters for distributing relief supplies following a disaster." A prototype of a community shelter for around 200 people is currently being built in the mountains above Port-Salut. This also includes a special sanctuary for the farmers' livestock, which are a form of life insurance for the period after a disaster. The same applies to seeds, for which special containers are made available in the emergency accommodation.