Canada’s Transitional Shelters Help Haiti Weather Any Storm

In the months following the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, shelter was one of the most urgent needs for displaced populations. Many found shelter in makeshift camps but further natural disasters such as hurricanes and tropical storms continued to destroy homes and batter Haiti.

In response, Canada has contributed $19.5 million to construct 7,514 transitional shelters near Léogâne and Jacmel — areas severely affected by the earthquake.

Given Haiti’s cyclical rainy season and its exposure during the Atlantic hurricane season, there was an urgent need to move from emergency shelters to sturdier transitional shelters that could withstand severe weather such as heavy rains, strong winds, and floods.

To celebrate this year’s World Habitat Day, UNECE held an opening ceremony at the Palais des Nations in Geneva showcasing Canada’s model transitional shelters.

Ambassador Elissa Golberg, Mr. Joshua Tabah (Counsellor for Humanitarian Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Canada), and Mr. Alain Boulet (Quebec Wood Export Bureau) in front of the shelter donated by the Bureau and its members.

Building a Safer World Together by Reducing Risk

A part of the Canadian Red Cross Society Transitional Shelter Project, the shelters provided medium-term shelter solutions to more than 35,000 Haitians in or around their original places of residence.

These shelters were built with consultation with humanitarian experts, architects, and engineers. The result is a safe and dignified shelter, at low-cost, with a high level of adaptability to local needs and conditions.

They are built of wood instead of concrete or bricks, and provide safe, secure and weather-resistant living space.

They are modest homes measuring 18 square metres, meant to accommodate five people.

To avoid flood damage during the rainy season, the shelters are slightly raised and are engineered to withstand Category 1 hurricane force winds and to be earthquake resistant.

Of the more than 7,000 shelters built for the project, none were damaged by the passage of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of last year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

Building a Safer World Together by Enhancing Partnerships

Over the last 20 years there has been a significantly increasing trend in the incidence and impact of natural disasters.

Many traditional humanitarian actors are seeking new forms of partnerships to better respond to the needs and requirements of crisis-affected communities.

“We are convinced that partnerships with the private sector can help offer new tools and approaches in this regard, and the transitional shelters stand as an example of this.” –Ambassador Elissa Golberg

Elissa Golberg, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament.

Since 2010, the Government of Canada, through its Department of Natural Resources, has been exploring ways for the Canadian forest sector to play a more important role in providing shelter solutions for recovery after disasters and civil conflicts.

Through a program on expanding market opportunities, the Quebec Wood Export Bureau, a wood industry association, and its members were provided support to bolster their efforts to develop improved housing solutions for people displaced from their homes.

Hosted in Geneva, Ambassador Elissa Golberg spoke at the opening ceremony about the innovative public-private partnership behind the Canadian model and the importance of partnerships in enhancing humanitarian response efforts.

Estonia also donated their transitional disaster model homes and were displayed alongside Canada’s.

Remarks were also offered by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva), Mr. Sven Alkalaj (Executive Secretary of the UNECE),  Mr. Jüri Seilenthal (Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations in Geneva), and Mr. Szilard Fricska (Senior Humanitarian Coordinator for UN-Habitat).

Canada is proud of the solutions provided for disaster-affected communities in Haiti and excited about the possibilities of improving our risk reduction and response options through further innovative partnerships.