Haiti rebuild starts

Bellerive: we must decentralise
Bellerive: we must decentralise

Off-grid technologies, such as lights and cookers has been a major feature of the Haitian relief effort. And as the international aid effort is finally getting through to the people, thoughts are turning to the next stage: the reconstruction.

Now an off-grid approach is the best hope for the long-term reconstruction of the stricken country say politicians and development experts.

The effects of the earthquake that struck on Jan 13 were so debilitating, at least in part because power, water, government, fuel, transport and distribution were all centered on the capital Port Au Prince. Once that was destroyed it was difficult to provide even basic amenities to the population of 7m.

Speaking this week Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said; “We have to decentralize. It’s the only way to be efficient. It’s also the only way to avoid the same problems happening in Haiti again.”

Bellerive said his nation needs significant help for what he called “this colossal work of reconstruction.” “In 30 seconds, we lost nearly 60 percent of our gross domestic product, because all of Haiti’s resources were concentrated in a small area around our seat of government,” he said.


If the country is to avoid a similar catastrophe in the future it is essential that as much infrastructure as possible is free-standing and not grid bound. That way the majority of Haitian society and economy will not cease working just because one area has been destroyed. US secretary of State Hilary Clinton supported the new approach, saying “I was quite heartened to hear the prime minister say that … we should look at how we decentralise economic opportunity and work with the Haitian government and people to support resettlement.”
His call was echoed by one of the UK’s leading reconstruction experts Dr Neil Thomas of Kingston University. “Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries and that, combined with a very high population density, poor education, social unrest and a lack of earthquake-proof buildings make it extremely vulnerable to this type of natural hazard,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week that rebuilding Haiti could take at least a decade. “It is not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti,” he told a gathering of international leaders in Montreal.
“We must work to ensure that every resource committed, every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar is used as effectively as possible.”


The flexibility and timeliness of off-grid technology soon became apparent in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Haiti may have precious little in the way of natural resources, it does however have sunlight in abundance. So solar power has been at the forefront of emergency aid efforts.
Hospitals had no power which meant that such technology as there was didn’t work and doctors’ ability to operate on ill patients was limited to day light hours. Solar Electric Light Fund, a charity already working to install solar power in Haiti, is calling for solar power to be made the focus of reconstruction. “There is no access to electricity in almost all of the Haitian countryside,” said a spokesman.
“Diesel fuel is already in short supply and will likely become even more difficult to obtain as time goes by. Solar can help fill a short-term need in terms of providing power for relief efforts, and over the long-term, solar energy can serve as a foundation for a robust and sustainable healthcare infrastructure in Haiti,” he added.
Within days of the earthquake the charity diverted solar equipment originally intended for hospitals at Cerca La Source and Hinche on the Central Plateau, close to the Dominican border, to power to a field hospital in Port-au-Prince.
Also within days of the quake, Florida-based solar panel company Sol sent 15 solar streetlights. The lighting can be used to power surgical equipment and extend the time that doctors can treat the wounded, company executives said. They promised to send another 100 lights in the near future.
As in any disaster zone, clean water is an urgent concern for survivors and relief workers. Another panel manufacturer Solar World donated enough panels to power ten water pumping stations providing water for up to 175,000 people.

The absence of power means that not only do hospitals and water pumping stations not work, neither does the telephone system. So Dutch company Intivation gave 1,000 solar-powered mobile phones to improve communications in Port Au Prince.
Meanwhile Illinois-based Solar Ovens international has been trying to get hundreds of stand-alone solar powered ovens from the company factory in northern Haiti to Port-au-Prince.
Lordy Lordy<br />
Only slightly less useful than solar ovens and medical equipment will be the world’s first off-grid bibles which are being sent by the container load to survivcors. A US charity called Faith Comes By Hearing says it is currently working to send solar powered audio bibles to Haiti’s earthquake victims.

The Proclaimer as the solar powered bible is known, has a built in generator and solar panel to charge the battery, which will run for 15 hours. The solar panel, in addition to charging the battery, will run the device even without battery power as long as there is sunlight. An installed microchip contains Scriptures in any required language and the sound, which is digital quality, is loud enough to be heard clearly by groups as large as 300.

6 Responses

  1. With delegation prior to earthquake on link
    with Harvard School of Public Health.
    Pursuing health & Renwable Energy technologies in Cambridge, MA Building the Haitian Medical Energy Club in Haiti.
    Solar & Environmental Workshop
    237 Franklin St. Suite 19D, Cambridge, MA 02139

  2. New methods of recycling ash and direct seeding fast growing tropical multi-purpose trees giving excellent firewood in less than a year should be considered too. For a free research congress article from 2009, Google Torsten Mandal IOP.

  3. Solar powered bibles? you have got to be kidding. What is the point; to prove their god is cruel and impotent? The money would be better spent sending them technology useful in helping Haitians help themselves.

  4. Re Lordy Lordy, did anyone else notice that some of the first to leave Haiti after the quake were a group of so called “missionaries”.
    We were disgusted!!
    How very christian of them!
    Hope fully they’ll be persona non grata from now on!

  5. reading this news item reminded me of the utility of cell phones compared to hard wired land lines. Cell towers ( at least locally ) all have their own emergency generators that kick in when the grid power fails. Last year I picked up a pair of hand cranked LED flashlights . To my amazement it also came with a radio built in and a USB port. The USB port was for recharging a cell phone. WHAT A GREAT IDEA! The radio was for Emergency Help organizations to broadcast public notices and information needed to keep people informed of help. Also a great idea. So what if you have to crank a handle for a short while. The booklet says one minute of cranking gives 30 minutes of light. Data on how long to recharge a cell phone not available since it depends on what size battery is installed.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if several thousand of these hand crank flashlights could be sent to Haiti?

  6. The rebuilding of schools in Haiti is a great idea. It will enable the people to go back to somewhat of a normal life. However, we should rethink the way education is done in Haiti. The system needs a complete overhaul and we can accomplish that now that we have to start all over. Education is one of the keys to Haiti’s success. The Haitian government and the world organizations can use the rebuilding of schools as an ideal opportunity to start the decentralization of Port-au-Prince. They should start by building schools in the provinces so that parents don’t have to migrate to Port-au-Prince for their children to pursue a higher education.
    Furthermore, they should move all the state run universities like “Unversite de Medecine, Faculte des Sciences, Faculte d’Agronomie…etc” to different provinces. The relocation of these universities will not only help to decentralize the capital but also to provide a boost to the provinces’ economy. For example , relocating the “Universite de Medecine” to St. Mark would provide the people of St. Mark with the opportunity to open stores, restaurant, bars, nightclubs, bookstores, laundry mats, dry cleaning, clinics, day cares, apartments. Local farmers and merchants would have an instant market to sell their products. The possibilities for these provinces would be endless.
    A new campus with dormitories will be a solid source of employment for hundreds of people in these areas. Aside from the faculty, a University needs: security guards, cooks, cleaning & maintenance crews, ground keepers…etc.
    If the same process were duplicated with all the State Universities, the benefits to those cities would be limitless. The people from the provinces would experience a source of income that they have not been able to achieve by migrating to Port-Au-Prince.
    “Together we can build a new Haiti…and it can be done without reinventing the wheel”. S.H


    Sir Stan

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