In Haiti bricklayers build
to save lives

In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, bricklayers in Haiti are learning techniques for building quake-resistant homes. Photo: UNDP Haiti

Joseph Matéus lives for his passion: building homes. The 41-year-old mason has worked in Haiti’s largest cities and, with 17 years of experience behind him, believed he knew everything there is to know about his profession.

However, after hearing about the training in earthquake-resistant construction provided by the Earthquake Prevention Plan project, spearheaded by the UNDP in the north of the country, he was keen to enroll.

Highlights

  • More than 200 bricklayers and 60 engineers and foremen have been trained in earthquake-resistant building techniques.
  • Four earthquake advisory committees have been established in the main cities in the north of the country, as have contingency plans to prepare communities to respond.
  • More than 9,000 pupils and 600 teachers have received awareness training regarding the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis.

“Seventeen years is certainly a lot. It goes without saying that I have accumulated a great deal of experience during this time, but this training showed me that I was a long way from reaching my current level and a long way from achieving my goal of building to protect the lives, including the lives of my family and loved-ones,” Joseph says.

The six-week training course for more than 200 bricklayers and 60 engineers and foremen is part of the Haitian Government’s effort to bolster the capacities of those working in the building industry, in an effort to reduce the risk of collapse of both public and private buildings, in the event of earthquakes occurring in the north of the country.

Identified as one of the priority areas for development in terms of industrial, tourism and agricultural activity, the north faces a high seismic risk, as it is situated along an active fault. Investment sustainability depends, therefore, on a suitable strategy for reducing the impact of natural hazards—especially earthquakes—in this region that is home to 2.5 million people.

With this in mind, the project has been designed with four central pillars: micro-zoning or the small-scale study of soil condition, its movement, reaction and structure; the analysis of the vulnerability of infrastructure in the event of earthquakes; vocational training for builders; and, finally, raising the awareness in the general population, while also making available appropriate crisis management tools for local authorities.

In schools, more than 9,000 pupils and 600 teachers have already received awareness training regarding the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis; seismic mapping exercises and final micro-zoning reports have been completed in the four largest cities in the north; and earthquake advisory committees have been created, as have contingency plans to prepare communities to respond to potential earthquakes.

As for Matéus, after six weeks of training, he is back doing what he loves! Seven bricklayers who, like him, received anti-earthquake construction training, are working on a building plan for a house while training other bricklayers. At every step of the way, they encounter some of the major principles of reinforced masonry. They welcome these changes but the snag is how to persuade clients to accept the higher cost.

Matéus and his colleagues have hit on a successful formula that they plan to press into service in all cases when their skills are called for. This formula consists of reducing labour costs but insisting that the materials are bought in sufficient quantity and especially in the necessary quality. This strategy does not make them any more money but does give them the opportunity to apply scrupulously the new regulations that are crucial in avoiding a repetition of the tragedy of January 2010.

“Clients have not yet grasped the full implications of what we can offer them and how this kind of construction can safeguard their investments. But we are patient. The day will come when they will be less reluctant to agree to our requests,” Matéus says with a beaming smile.

Matéus has since launched the Haiti Association of Technicians in Earthquake-Resistant Construction and is currently busy fine-tuning a special project: replicating the training exercise in all 19 districts in the north.

“Capacity building for professionals in Haiti’s building industry is one of the most important considerations in working effectively to rebuild the country in a different way, that is safer for us all,” said Marina Gourgue, Secretary of State for Vocational Training, during the launch of the training programme.

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