Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM)

Volume 6 Number 2 (2014)

Lost In Transition: Principles, Practice And Lessons From Haiti for Urban Post-Disaster Shelter Recovery Programs

David Sanderson1, Anshu Sharma2, Jim Kennedy3 and Jeni Burnell4
1Faculty of Architecture and Fine Art, Norwegian University of Science and Technology,
Trondheim, Norway.
2SEEDS Technical Services, New Delhi, India.
3Independent Shelter Consultant, Oxford, UK.
4CENDEP, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK.


After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a common shelter response among large aid agencies was to build standalone single storey structures, often built of timber or steel frame. These are widely known as transitional shelters, or T-shelters, provided by agencies as a supposed ‘stop-gap’ between temporary tents and long term permanent housing. While the T-shelter approach, increasingly adopted since 2004, is popular among agencies and donors, others argue that T-shelter programs as currently enacted can detract attention away from long-term recovery.
Shelter after disaster is complex: recognising this, the 2011 UK Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) noted that ‘Providing adequate shelter (after disaster) remains one of the most intractable problems in international humanitarian response’ (25). The situation is more still complex still in urban areas, where varied forms of living take place (such as multi-occupancy, squatting, tenancy), and for poorer households living is rarely in a single storey ‘detached house’. Yet this essentially rural approach to housing, in the form of T-shelters, was adopted in Port-au-Prince, often to the exclusion of many other options.
This paper, in three parts, explores this recent experience and asks what can be learnt from Haiti. Part one, Principles, examines the transitional shelter concept and finds that the original definition offers far more options for actions than those commonly used in Haiti. Part Two, Practice, reviews the decision-making processes that led up to the adoption and usage of T-shelters in their present form in Haiti. Part Three, Lessons, considers what can be learnt from other previous responses to urban disasters.
The paper asserts the need for clarifying the terminology and principles of post disaster shelter, and drawstwolessons for improving shelter response in future urban disasters: widening transitional shelter options beyond shelter as an object (in accordance with the full definition) through facilitation of long term housing over building of short term shelters; and the adoption of urban planning principles in post-disaster recovery, more comprehensive neighbourhood redevelopment and the building of knowledge, skills and capacities.

Keywords: Haiti, Disaster, Shelter, Urban.

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