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Engineering Haiti

Haiti is a disaster zone requiring assistance at every imaginable level. Currently, the bulk of the assistance is related to rescue, food, health, shelter, security and recovery of the dead; but soon, the task of rebuilding will begin, perhaps even before the recovery is over.

As a younger man, I trained to lead sappers, Combat Engineering soldiers, in situations like this – I never experienced a recovery mission, but the same drive to help still courses through my bones when the stream of information penetrates my conscious: video, photos, blogs, twitter, facebook, television, radio each has it’s own way of reinforcing the massive need for assistance that the nation needs. While our country concerns itself with Christmas trading figures, unemployment numbers, the effectiveness of the Stimulus spending, and what it means for the federal government to prorogue for the Olympics – Haiti wonders where to start.

In many areas the basic infrastructure has been devastated. Services that are required to maintain civil society cannot be run without buildings to house them in, or a transportation system that permits their easy access around the cities and countryside. Relief efforts need to be evenly distributed to ensure that the structure of society can be built up as new dwellings are constructed – schools, orphanages, police stations, hospitals, municipal buildings, potable water infrastructure, sanitary facilities, office space, processing facilities, port facilities, airports, and communications infrastructure is all required to ensure that the recovering community has a backbone of civil support and positions are filled as the facilities are reconstructed. The tension between what is affordable and what is safe was obvious before the earthquake, international help must be provided to ensure newly built facilities meet a standard of construction for life safety, while maximizing the value of the works constructed.

It seems impossible to imagine whole cities losing everything and hundreds of thousands of people dying so quickly from one event, but it has happened, and as some of the wealthiest people in the world, we need to act, first with our wallets, sending aid through registered channels, maximizing those dollars given through matching programs such as that offered by the Canadian government. Our governments also have a role to play in providing charity support as well, as this Tyee article from 2005 shows, some countries are just more generous than others, (I’ll note here that it is possible that Australia ranks so highly in the table on the linked page because the effects of the tsunami were felt so close to home). The support that the Canadian government gives to Haiti needs to be as long as it is varied. Right now we should be sending our best Urban Search and Rescue teams, military and policing support as well as food and supplies for the millions of people without basic necessities. Over the next decade we should consider as national policy to fund the redevelopment of the areas devastated and supply personnel to assist in every aspect of the rebuild from medicine through engineering all the way to administering the social services that will be necessary in the process. Canada has a lot to gain from assisting Haiti, more one could imagine, than our efforts in Afghanistan. Although many miles away, globally the Haitians are Canada’s neighbours, lets find a way to treat them with respect. Corruption has been rife for decades, and Haiti has had a bad reputation for tourists and investment, poverty and crime have been issues for the international community for years. The question of what meaningful  improvements can be made to the country’s infrastructure and security has not really been asked, but finding a way to improve things is necessary if we plan to spend any money beyond the immediate events – and let’s not allow American “free trade” to be the determining factor in what occurs over the next decade in this country of need.

From my perspective, in addition to donations to aid agencies, I will be filling out the RedR application form. Through my varied career, I have been trained in many aspects necessary to emergency engineering and providing recovery support in situations such as these. There are other things that we are considering as a family that we may make public in the future, but for the moment, I encourage you to consider supporting the Red Cross in their efforts in Haiti.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.