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 title=I have nightmares about the faces in photographs this week.  Pleading eyes trapped in rubble.  Eyes shut forever.  A limb sticking out from a ton of concrete.  I can't imagine what it must be like on the ground in Port-au-Prince as anguished cries for help have, by the fifth day, largely fallen silent and been replaced by the stench of death.  I couldn't be part of a decision whether to continue picking through collapsed concrete to reach living people, or bring out bulldozers to haul away rubble regardless of what -- or who -- is still part of it.  (Photo credit: LA Times)

And as I view the photographs, I want to scream: where is the rebar?

The mainstream media has told me exactly where the rebar in Haiti is, or rather where it isn't.  
-- New York Times: "Steel reinforcing bar is also expensive, he said, so there is a tendency to use less of it with the concrete."
-- BBC: "People are skimping on cement to try to cut costs, putting a lot of water in, building too thin, and you end up with a structure that's innately weaker," said Mr Haas, who was on his way to Haiti to help assess the safety of damaged buildings.

A study by the Organization of American States concluded last month that many of the buildings in Haiti were so shoddily constructed that they were unlikely to survive any disaster, let alone an earthquake like the one that devastated Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, the man who supervised the report said Wednesday.

Structures were built on slopes without proper foundations or containment structures, using improper building practices, insufficient steel and insufficient attention to development control, the urban planner said.

I don't fault Haitians for building the way they did -- they built what they could with what little they had in the face of desperate poverty.  The country has no building code at all; the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors began working on a building code in July 2009.  And Haiti has only one earthquake engineer, still finishing up his doctorate.  

Hammurabi's first building code nearly 4,000 years ago mandated harsh punishment:

If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

 title=If people rebuild the way they've been building, structures will collapse in the next earthquake.  Residents of a shantytown  are planning their rebuilding -- with plastic -- as they bury their dead.  Yet conforming to building codes is expensive, as any whiny American developer will tell you.  (Photo credit: LA Times)

Should Haiti be excused from having a building code in light of its crushing poverty?  Some commenters point out that a building code seems like a luxury in a community without running water or electricity, and a meaningless luxury without a functioning government.

Most people here would, rightly, reject the approach of one classy Republican twit who tweeted that "the best thing the int'l community can do is tend the wounded, bury the dead, and then LEAVE. That includes all UN and charity."  Haiti will rebuild, and it will need resources beyond its own abilities.  

Is the answer a Building Code-Lite?  For example, should buildings be constructed from bamboo and tin, neither of which is terribly strong but at least won't pancake in a collapse?  Seismologists in India recognize that multistory concrete structures are far more vulnerable to collapse than single story bamboo homes (h/t to divineorder).  Haitians have forsaken the corrugated tin roof in favor of the unreinforced concrete roof for hurricane reasons, but is that wise in earthquake country?  

 title=On first blush, a Building Code Lite sounds realistic.  However, is it preferred to a stronger building code because it's more flexible and realistic than a California-style building code, or does it simply reflect a soft bigotry: Haitian lives are less valuable than others' lives?  If the margin of safety is lowered to make it easier to build to code, does that reflect a value that Haitians don't deserve safety?  Is it imperialistic to seek to impose California building codes on Haiti, or racist to ignore those codes? (Photo credit: Getty Images)

I don't have answers.  I'm not an engineer.  I do have some experience litigating post-1994 Northridge earthquake cases, which has made me into a firm believer that building codes save lives.  The title may well provoke a flame war, but I hope to ask questions that will be thrashed out in the months ahead after the immediate crisis passes.  Haiti first needs doctors, but later it will need engineers.

Originally posted to RLMiller on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:16 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Here's the root of it all (10+ / 0-)

      CIA factbook -


      coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum; wood [past tense, there's precious little wood left].


      sugar refining, flour milling, textiles, cement, light assembly based on imported parts .. other than food, these require imported raw materials

      Fishing is not even listed, yet this could be at least a marginal industry for Haiti. Why this is not happening, I don't know.

      They typically have one thing goign for them -  abundant sunlight: if this energy can be converted into useful energy to support low tech manufacturing of some sort they could build upon small scale energy dependent industry. But that requires investment. Since there's no "big payoff" in the offing for multinationals, and little likelihood of international intervention otherwise, Haiti will remain impoverished.  

      'The work goes on, the cause endures.'

      by shpilk on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:13:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  excellent...I'm hoping buiding inspection (11+ / 0-)

      departments in some of our earthquake prone cities will have input in helping Haiti rebuild's a diary I did on photos coming out from Haiti: O'Reilly-izing the Face of Haiti: Racism & Photos from the Disaster, but I think you make equally important points. The people of Haiti deserve better.

    •  Dear RL (20+ / 0-)

      Welcome to the 3rd World.

      Welcome to abjecct poverty, governments unable to govern, and backward societies thrust into the modern world without the human or material means to build a modern society, so they get stuck somewhere in the middle where nothing seems to work.

      Yes, it is outragous that so many people in the world are so poor they cannot afford a decent house and make do with what they can regardless of the risks, which they may be completely ignorant of.

      Maybe it multiples the outrage that such a poor country is so close to so many wealthy ones that could help them. Hopefully, Haiti will now get more help. Read my user profile; I think people and countries need to cooperate more and there is no better place to start then at home or next door.

      But: Even building codes don't solve the problem when people are so poor they can't afford to comply with them and governments are so under-staffed or corrupt (the two often go hand in hand) they can't/don't enforce them. I'll venture a guess that even if Haiti had building codes before this, they would not have been enforced because the place is so damned poor - the root cause.

      When I saw the photos of the rubble, I saw something I'm very familliar with, the debries of the types of concrete construction typical of poor undeveloped nations: hollow core modular slabs, concre or brick frames with no or just 1-4 rebars to keep them connected when the inevitable cracks appear. These building were shantys, which are typically built edge to ege like lego blocks put side by side so what you get is kind of a high density human warehouse, and when they fall, they fall like a house of cards.

      Compare these photos to photos of earthquake rubble form almost any poor country and you will find the sameness striking. This is how the urban poor of 3rd world countries live.

      There are 3 cheap technical solutions:

      Where there is wood, low rise wodden houses bend a bit more before they break and are more survivzble when they fall, BUT, wooden houses tend to burn so you trade one set of problems for another and Haiti only had 2 fires stations in the whole country, that's how poor they are.

      I don't think Haiti has enough trees to build wooden houses and can't afford fire engines so I doubt that's a solution.

      Pre-fab metal houses made from sheet metal core panels and frames are more fireproff and stronger, they can be pre-engineered and are very quick to build. This is what China used for the victims of the Wenchuen earthquake, build by the people under supervision of the PLA, mostly as multi-familly group houses in rows with a shared kitchen/dining building at one end and a toilet/shower building at the other (you want to keep some distance between them). It's a good solution because it uses less materials than smaller individual homes and builds communities, something humans need, particularly humans recovering from a disaster. So if you visit the eathquake zone in China today, you would see lots of villages with rows of white houses with blue roofs. It's a temporary solution, but one that can work for a few years while society rebuilds, step by step.

      This would be good for Haiti, it seems they have string extended famillies and communities, so a communal solution could work.

      But they haven't got the materials, or the factories to make them, or the tools to build them so that would have to come from the outside.

      Tents work great, but in populous societies they are never more than a temporary solution and they need rebuilding from time to time, but when tents fall down they don't kill people, they are modular and quick to errect, and can be organized into clusters as I mentioned above.

      Tents are what Haitins will get in the short term if they are lucky and they will be happy to get them if they do. I looked at the tents on the homepage of Shelterbox and they are exactly the type that work for communal homes, these people really have the right recipe for disaster releif and I'm very proud the Daily Kos community is focused on this because it will provide some people homes. I really encourage donation to Shelterbox, this will be money well-spent.

      In the Wenchuen earthquake, tents were the first stage solution and almost 2 years on, some of the victims in remote villages are still living in them while their communities rebuild becuase the government is taking care to rebuild something better and in some cases: (a) villages are in remote, hard to build sites where heavey equipment cannot be used so the process slow and laborous, and; (b) some villages will be moved to new locations since the original sites are now unbuildable or in geographical areas so vulnerable whatever is built would be destroyed by a quake of similar intensity.

      My thought about rebuilding Haiti is there should be an efforst to relocate population back to the countryside and to focus on building new towns in a more diffuse way, because building cities of 3 million in an earthquake zone requires building mid to highrise buildings beyond their means, the higher you go the stronger a building must be and the more technical expertise required, and they simplyhaven't got the resources. However, to locate people back to their villages requires a new economic model and that needs much thought and planning. But they do have a choice now, for better or worse, the earthquake produced a "clean sheet of paper" and I hope they will make the most of it.

      Indeed, Haiti needs building codes, rule of law and economic development, and this is wht the UN was working on before the quake. I hope now, the effort will be redoubled with more support from the outside because these people now cannot do for themselves, they live at the mercy of the world.

      One last thought on building codes and earthquakes.

      Following the Wenchun earthquake, there was much analysis of failed buildings to understand the the problems. In many cases, it was exactly like Haiti where very ols buildings or sub-standard construction doomed the structures to crumble under the stress. But in other cases, other lessons were learned. For example, the School in Chendu that crumbled was assumed by many to have been inproperly built but it was not the case; this new building was, in fact, up to code and very well built, which perplex engineers until one Japanese expert provided the answer. The problem, in fact, was one familliar to him from past experience in Japan which has the worlds most singent eartquake building codes.

      The school was built on a weak geological site surrounded by open area for the gardens and sports field. Although the building had deep foundation piles, the area surrounding it was so weak, under the thrust of the quake, i became like a projectile, breaking free of the surrounding soil and toppling. No amount of rebar would have solved that problem, only more piles surrounding the site or chosing a better site.

      So Haiti needs more than one graduate civil engineer, it needs an army of civil engineers, geologists, and eartquake experts, and they must come from outside.

      Internationnal cooperation is a must. It won't happen any other way.

      Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

      by koNko on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:02:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good summary. A couple of questions: (11+ / 0-)
        1.  Is bamboo a workable construction material or does it degrade too fast?  
        1.  How do the materials you describe hold up against hurricane force winds?  In particular, sheet metal roofs apparently were abandoned by Haitians because they failed in hurricanes.  I don't know if they weren't attaching them correctly or if the material itself is simply unsuitable for hurricane-prone areas.  

        Also, the deforestation of Haiti has destabilized slopes, which adds another layer of complexity to reconstruction.  

        I've never claimed to be a leader of the DK eco community

        by RLMiller on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:10:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Bamboo is workable... (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, koNko, kurt, kyril, RLMiller

          Bamboo is already used for construction in areas that are prone to tropical storms.  Yan Xiao, of USC, constructed a prototype bamboo house which could be used for temporary shelter.  It meets earthquake codes, though the main material is bamboo fiber forced into sheets (sort of like plywood, in a way).  

          Unfortunately at least some species of bamboo are invasive species and a new pest would not help Haitian agriculture.  So, it would have to be imported.

          2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

          by Yamaneko2 on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 05:27:28 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yan Xiao (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, kurt, RLMiller

            No doubt has the right genes for designing bamboo houses, Chinese (and other Asians) have used bamboo as a basic building material for thousands of years.

            However, there are some cavats (see my other post) including the fact it is best used to build when green and bendable, hardening to a more rigid structure when seasoned.

            My other post links to an example of bamboo scaffolding used in high rise construction, a common practice in Asia. This illustrates the potential dramatically.

            BTW, I agree it is not a terrible good idea to introduce bamboo cultivation to Haitis since it is non-native, not out of the question but I assume they have some native species that would be better.

            Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

            by koNko on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 08:04:13 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Nothing wrong with selling or gifting it. (0+ / 0-)

              A plantation that grows construction-quality bamboo can be very good for the environment since a plant can be harvested several times.  One root system giving multiple shoots is an excellent and efficient way to swallow carbon dioxide.  Thus a bamboo plantation can help fight global warming and compensate for industrial growth.

              My concerns of bamboo-as-pest, though, appear to have been overblown.  Varieties of bamboo are already grown in Haiti for purposes of reforestation, erosion control and craft.  It does not seem a large stretch to add construction to possible uses.  

              2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

              by Yamaneko2 on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 11:07:00 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Answers (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, RLMiller

          Banmboo is excellent building material and has been used for thousands of years in Asia, in fact, if you visted cities such as Hong Kong, Singapose or Minilla or almost any Chinese city south of the Yangtze Delta, you would find bamboo used to build skyscrapers - typically, green bamboo is lashed with reeds or plastic tape in a lattice to build exterior scafholding story by story as the buildings are errected by some extremely crazy skillful and brave men

          For example, this site in Hong Kong.

          Or this in Shanghai.

          Hong Kong is sub-tropical and has Typhoons every summer.


          The merit of bamboo (a grass) is it grows expremely fast and can be cut green, then seasoned in racks to make streight poles. It is also insect repellant so does not be attacked by termites.

          The isadvantage is it only lasts a few years, eventually becoming dry and splitting, so bamboo structures are rebuilt avery few uears.

          On the other hand, since it is quite fiberous and strong if properly build bamboo structures are flexible and survie storms pretty well.

          RE steel structures. Yes, I think they can be made to resist tropical storms if properly built, industrial buildings all over the world are built with such materials. The modern type steel sheet building systems use panels fit ito channel forms of rivited to frames and are bormall precut and pre-punched for they can be quickly assembled with a minimum number of tools (the panels are attached with pop-rivits with plastic gaskets that seal out water when compressed. Under high wind conditions I think roof overhangs would be minimized to avoid wind lift - I have seen many with zero overhang.

          I think the merit is these buildings can be standardized to minimize the work and logistics, and once local builders are trained to errect them, they can be errected in a matter of a few days with bolt-together fames and riveted panels.

          The frames would also be given features such as brakets to mount solar water heaters or solar panels which could be added later. Interior or exterior features such a ventallation grilles door frames, etc, can be preformed so.

          Using a modular concept, these could be placed end to end in a building bloc fashion to suit the size of building sites. With a standard plan, infrastructure can also be standarized such as water lines, drains, etc. places on the outside so they csan be installed later. Since Haiti appearently has a basic lack of presurrized wather and sewage infrastructure, this might have to be installed step by step but if the connections are pre-plumbed and capped they can be available for hook-up later.

          It migh seem strange having a "standard house" but this concept has been sucessfully used in many countires with large populations, notably Singapore and Hong Kong that had large public housing projects in the 50-80's that evolved from very simple pre-fabs such as I propose to high rise appartments of the present day. Such low cost housing underpinned the growth of these socities.

          Cheap and humble, but they might be the best house some of these people have every lived in and the bname of the game is "cheap and fast".

          Another point is, this could be started by importing pre-fabs in the short-term but quickly building one of two local factories to produce the components which is a pretty simple process done globally and not requiring hughe investment since is is basic sheet metal and steel fabrication work, something people could be trained to proficency in a matter of months, and providing local employment.

          Since these structure are light they do not require heavy foundations. Normally the building process is:


          Option A - Drive short concrete piles for the structural colums, pour a slab floor and build a concret block perimiter ( raise the steel abour ground level to prevent rusting).

          Options B - if soil is stable or the structure is small enough, a simple reinforced concrete perimiter foundation can be used.

          In either case, if the modules are small a raised floor of plywood board can be used instead of a concrete slab which is cheaper and faster. An advantage of tis for tropical areas is hole can be drilled to allow the floor to breathe to preven rotting.

          Such buildings can last at least 20-50 years with maitenence and are repairable.

          Im going to guess that in Haiti, due to the climate, only the roof needs insulation (from heat) and wall panels could be single layer cladding in the begining making them cheaper and faster to build.In fact, it's probably best in that area to have full width lover panels on high on opposite wall for ventillation with simple steel panel shutter for storms (to block the wind).

          Lastly, the materials of these building is recylable so down the road when they ned replacement they have scrap value.

          BTW, I assume the rubble of Port-a-Prince will actually be valuable material to provide crushed (concrete) fill under new housing which can improve the drainage and stability (just as gravel fill in a rail bed or roadbed or foundation back-fill.

          One last point - small buildings are strong buildings, in poor countries 5-10m/2 per person is adequate space particularly in a warm place like Haiti where Winter shut-in and seasonal clothing/bedding changes aren't a space consumming factor so a lot of storage space isn't needed.

          What I read is that Haitians have strong extended famillies and village communities, so communal housing could be a good solution to reinforce that.

          As for reforestation, I believe the preferred method is to use native species and tropical areas usually have an abundance, but for quick stablization of hillsides I believe the preferred apprpoach is to use deep rooting plants or grasses. I'm not sure if Bamboo is the best choice since it has a shallow root and naturally grows mixed with other species, when it is newly cultivated the practice is to tie stands together for stability until the stand is 2 or 3 years old and has built a interconnecting root structure that is then self-sutaining provided it isn't clear-cut. A mature bamboo forrest is quite dense, basically, bamboo is a species of giant grass so the preferred structure is rather like a rice or wheat field.

          Anyway, just my ideas how this rebulding could be approached, I'm sure there are lots of other ideas too.

          But simple, safe and cheap is a must.

          Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

          by koNko on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 07:58:31 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  The buildings are shoddy because the people (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dauphin, kyril

      are poor as shit. They can't afford the best construction materials.

      I'm in the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

      by doc2 on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:52:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Steel vs food (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Dauphin, kyril

      It is pretty much that simple with regards to the tragedy in Haiti. But I don't think it is about bigotry at all.

      Every time there is an earthquake where there is a catastrophic loss of life there is one common denominator - there is little or no reinforcement in the stricken buildings. It happened in Izmit (Turkey) and Chichi (Tiawan)in 1999, Kobe (Japan) in 1995, Manjil (Iran) in 1990, and so on. Japan and Taiwan are hardly poor or undereducated countries, it just happens that the earthquakes struck in areas where there were a bunch of buildings that didn't have a lot of reinforcement. And there is plenty of steel in Turkey and Iran, but reinforcing structures just wasn't done when the stricken buildings were constructed.

      I don't think in general it is about bigotry in building codes. It is about complacency and about prioritizing other, more immediate concerns. And I think if you look outside of the realms of earthquakes, we as Americans are pretty much guilty of being the same way. For example, I mean we know that if you keep filling in wetlands that you are going to have flood control problems - yet we had Katrina and it hasn't changed most peoples attitudes about destroying wetlands one bit. Mississippi floods every couple of years but developers keep on developing in the flood plains with little or no meaningful wetland mitigation. We know about the problems but ignore them.

      One thing that I think you overlook is planning, and lack of sound urban planning is probably inherent to all catastrophic earthquakes. Urban planning is pretty much originated in America and this may be one reason why we can see quakes in the 8 to 9 range without seeing an associated  catastrophic loss of life. I don't have the time to research it but I bet you that the Kobe and Taiwan quakes devastated areas that weren't planned, but were rather older communities.


      •  Quakes over 8.0 very rare. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Here is a list of large quakes.  The United States has had nine quakes estimated at or above 8.0 since 1700, six of them in Alaska.  Only the Prince William Sound quake, a 9.2, tested modern structures (which frequently failed in Anchorage, 120 miles from the epicenter).  

        After that, the largest postwar quake was the Landers quake in 1992 (east of LA, 7.3, one fatality).  The 1906 San Francisco quake, a 7.8, destroyed most of the city.

        So, modern American structures have not yet had the opportunity to test their mettle against an 8.0, and let's hope that such a test remains far in the future.

        On an unrelated note, earthquake codes in California are stricter than in states less affected by earthquakes in the last century.  I've read reports that there are quiet efforts at retrofitting and building codes, but can't comment for lack of information.

        2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

        by Yamaneko2 on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 05:56:39 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Money and they have none... (24+ / 0-)

    When one of the main industries is devouring their forestry to make charcol you know they're in dire straits.  

    Politics is like playing Asteroids - You go far enough to the left and you end up on the right. Or vice-versa.

    by Jonze on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:21:38 PM PST

    •  Soft bigotry of building codes. (6+ / 0-)

      Calling for building codes as a solution to Haiti's unsafe construction has some assumptions which are themselves "soft bigotry".

      It assumes that Haitians could have afforded to build better structures, but chose not to.  

      It assumes that if only the government had forced them to use rebar and less aggregate in their concrete, they would have had the resources to obey that mandate.

      It assumes that, for some reason, the Haitians chose to live in death traps when they could have done better.

      Give the Haitians more credit.  

      Results count for more than intentions do.

      by VA Classical Liberal on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:12:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hope I made it clear in the diary that (12+ / 0-)

        Haitians are not to blame for how things have been built in the past.  They've lacked money and knowledge (one EQ engineer in the whole country!) along with building codes.  I'm musing out loud on whether building codes should be in play in the future and, if so, what kind.

        I've never claimed to be a leader of the DK eco community

        by RLMiller on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:18:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, that was clear. (9+ / 0-)

          But I think you strayed about with this:

          However, is [a Building Code Lite] preferred to a stronger building code because it's more flexible and realistic than a California-style building code, or does it simply reflect a soft bigotry: Haitian lives are less valuable than others' lives?

          It's not a matter of whether Haitian lives are more or less valuable.  It's a matter of what is possible, given the circumstances of the country right now.

          Economic development and increased wealth will simultaniously make Haitians able to afford better construction and expect safe buildings as the norm.  Then, and only then, will building codes be anything other than another opportunity for graft.

          Results count for more than intentions do.

          by VA Classical Liberal on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:22:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Catesby, kyril, soms

            The nonsensical title makes one wonder who is engaging in soft bigotry?  Is California wrong to apply earthquake codes because Haiti cannot afford the same?  Is the Haitian government wrong (and discriminating against its own citizens) to not impose the death penalty for substandard structures?  

            I realize some people see prejudice in every shadow, but this is just an asinine question.

            End homelessness! Force everyone to buy a house!

            by Endangered Alaskan Dem on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:27:37 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  It all comes down to money (6+ / 0-)

          I'm an architect so I can only guess that if the country has no codes then it is up to the builders and contractors to follow "best practice".  However, clearly the typical construction there was inadequate for any significant seismic event.
          I can't imagine what you are saying- no codes?
          If true it means the following:

          1. No architects or engineers.
          1. No building department to file drawings with.
          1. No drawings on file to inspect against.
          1. No inspectors to insure proper practice.

          Lord you are talking anarchy.

          In the absence of a governing agency building professionals involved would be governed by their own ethical standards- whether they be designers or contractors. Hardly an enviable position to be in when owners are constantly hovering over you to reduce costs.

          The situation which you suggest exists in Haiti is incredible and I can hardly believe it is true.  Clearly there was rebar in the concrete.  If it was enough will be determined by forensic analysis.

          •  Utter anarchy in building sounds about right. (6+ / 0-)

            I'm sure that the rich hired architects and contractors.

            I've been reviewing photos carefully.  My day job is construction defect litigation, so I'm used to drawing conclusions from photos, and I'm positively horrified by what I see.  I see rebar in some but not all of the photos of buildings.  Look at the house(s) at the second photo.  There's no rebar visible among the collapsed CMUs in the center-right-bottom house, but the bottom left house looks pretty good.  I'm guessing -- and it's just a guess -- that there's rebar in the left but not the center-right house.  Obviously, reviewing photos isn't the same as being on site, but too many different sources are saying the same thing -- skimpy rebar or no rebar at all.  

            I've never claimed to be a leader of the DK eco community

            by RLMiller on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:00:30 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Best Option (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, NYFM, Dauphin, jayden, kyril

            Most people would prefer to live in a shoddily constructed deathtrap than to be homeless.

            Although they provide significant benefits, the very existence of inspectors and inspection requirements adds costs.  Their very existence for most countries is negligible compared to the benefits, but that doesn't mean the trade off is good for Haiti.  How many people will be homeless permanently due to the increased costs these proposed requirements add?  How many people will be homeless for months or years due to the additional time required?  Even if the inspection only adds one day to a building,  when there are hundreds of thousands of homes to build the delay adds up.

            The fact is, people with no skills or training will build something to provide shelter despite the codes if they can't afford, or can't afford to wait for, a home that meets them.

            •  Exactly. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Most people would prefer to live in a shoddily constructed deathtrap than to be homeless.

              Homelessness is itself a death trap. Not only are you exposed to the elements (hurricanes, extreme tropical heat) and unable to store basic necessities like safe water and food, but you're also exposed to the worst that humanity has to offer.

              Every horror committed by man begins with the lie that some man is not a man. - Jyrinx

              by kyril on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 06:37:22 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  As I just posted elsewhere, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      that country needs to be flooded with solar ovens, to reduce the demand for cooking charcoal.  I'd like to see every household have one at least.

      Renewable energy brings national security.

      by Calamity Jean on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 02:01:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  How can DR and Haiti share the same island? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, Nulwee, SciMathGuy, Norbrook, Ebby

    Politics is like playing Asteroids - You go far enough to the left and you end up on the right. Or vice-versa.

    by Jonze on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:22:14 PM PST

  •  The Irony of Port Au-Prince (9+ / 0-)

    It's both dense and sprawling.

    (-7.00, -6.21) Jobs, Liberty, Peace.

    by Nulwee on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:22:28 PM PST

  •  This is a more common problem (19+ / 0-)

    ... than you might think. Many rural and less affluent areas in America are just as lax with building codes and, in fact, simply don't enforce them at all for most buildings.

    I should know. I only recently moved from an area with no codes.

    FDL = The Teabagger wing of the Democratic Party

    by indubitably on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:23:23 PM PST

  •  Well, you know what I think (12+ / 0-)

    about this.  Thank you for your characteristically doing a more thorough and thoughtful job with your effort here.

  •  In order to have building codes (18+ / 0-)

    that are remotely enforceable, you have to have a functioning government. Unfortunately, Haiti has not had one in many, many years.

    Deoliver47 was right and deserves some apologies.

    by beltane on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:24:31 PM PST

  •  Certainly (4+ / 0-)

    The buildings should have been built to a higher standard.

    However, with a 7.0 earthquake and repeated aftershocks, which are still continuing today, I doubt whether many more higher-quality buildings in the same circumstances would have survived.

    That's not to say they couldn't or wouldn't have saved some lives -- just reinforcing how dreadful an earthquake this was, taking place immediately adjacent to an urban core.

  •  When you're worring about where your next (9+ / 0-)

    meal will come from prolly the last thing on your mind is building codes.

    "The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony." Susan Sontag

    by Shane Hensinger on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:32:58 PM PST

    •  And there would have to be (7+ / 0-)

      government inspectors who are paid well enough to be immune from bribery. Even in wealthy Italy, there was significant damage in the Abruzzi quake due to building inspectors being paid off by homeowners. The odds of an earthquake striking any particular location over the course of a homeowner's lifetime are low, and many people will prefer to face the odds.

      Deoliver47 was right and deserves some apologies.

      by beltane on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:44:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  that's why properties in Malibu always sell (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dauphin, VA Classical Liberal

        Mud slides...fires...high tides.....

        It won't happen to me.  I'll only be here for a couple years...

        Clearly, there's no comparisan between Haiti and Malibu, but the attitude you describe is the same, regardless of wealth.  One can understand a bargain with the devil in terms of the poor with respect to risk...for the wealthy its more of an actuarial game.

        Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them. H. L. Mencken

        by Keith930 on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:15:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Don't forget subsidized insurance. (0+ / 0-)

          I don't know about Malibu, but on the Outer Banks, the state governments heavily subsidize flood and storm insurance to promote the construction and tourist industries.

          If a big hurricane ever makes a direct hit on Nags Head, North Carolina will be bankrupt.

          No, no.  I'm kidding.  They won't be bankrupt.  They'll just ask the Federal gov to pay off their bad bets.

          Results count for more than intentions do.

          by VA Classical Liberal on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:29:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Malibu is different: (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, Shane Hensinger

            homeowners can buy a really cr@ppy Cal FAIR Plan, pay an arm & a leg for private insurance if they can get it, or pay cash and go without insurance.  I've represented a lot of homeowners in Malibu and adjacent, and many of them don't even think about the cost of insurance.

            I've never claimed to be a leader of the DK eco community

            by RLMiller on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:02:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Sad as it is (5+ / 0-)

    we cannot do anything at all about making sure that buildings in another country are built up to some standard.  That country needs to enact, and enforce, its own building codes.  And when there is no real government will to do that -- or, indeed, no real government -- the U.S. can't suddenly start telling them how they have to build things.

    In other words, yes, it's probably true that these buildings were all shoddily built, disasters waiting to happen, because of lack of codes and lack of money.  Very sad, but true.  But I'm not sure what we can do about that.  

  •  The planned buildings that will be rebuilt (5+ / 0-)

    will certainly adhere to some sort of code but an awful lot of buildings are going to be scrapped together out of the rubble.

  •  We must help Haiti rebuild with rebar. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, jayden, LookingUp, RLMiller

    That is to say with earthquake and hurricane resistant construction. To do otherwise invites another disaster. Building codes may be costly. But, no building codes is even more costly.

    The earth will survive. Humanity? Earth doesn't really care.

    by dpwks on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:43:21 PM PST

  •  Hopefully other countries (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    beltane, RLMiller

    with lax building codes will recognize the importance to human life to have and enforce them.

    "Politics is not left, right or center ... It's about improving people's lives." -Paul Wellstone

    by maggiejean on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:45:35 PM PST

  •  Time to send them straw bales... (7+ / 0-)

    "Nebraska" houses can stand winds over 200 mph, and I remember when you could calculate < $10 a sq. ft. hear in the states.

    "Sarah Palin made her debut as a Fox News analyst. They finally found a job that she's not under-qualified for." -David Letterman

    by bamabikeguy on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:46:40 PM PST

  •  Whose soft bigotry? Who said "lives worth less"? (9+ / 0-)

    The absence of any building codes was not imposed on Haiti, it is a product of Haiti's own government and economy (or lack of)

  •  Haiti... (6+ / 0-)

    Doesn't have a government that's capable of enforcing building codes, or even 'building codes-lite'.  They'll have even less of one when this is all said and done and they begin rebuilding.

  •  A good start would be to have (7+ / 0-)

    hospitals and other public buildings built to code. I don't think it will be feasible for residential construction.

    Deoliver47 was right and deserves some apologies.

    by beltane on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:53:06 PM PST

  •  Seems like they should switch to wood... (0+ / 0-)

    ...if they're not going to use concrete wisely.

  •  I don't know what to do about Haiti (0+ / 0-)

    We can afford to dig them out of this disaster.  And we should.

    We can't afford to rebuild that country.

    I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places...arousing and persuading and reproaching you.-Socrates

    by The Navigator on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 05:59:42 PM PST

  •  I think you're just scratching the surface (8+ / 0-)

    of Haitian history with this one, but you're definitely headed in the right direction. Haiti hasn't stayed poor by accident. Those people have been kept down, and the USA has played a goodly part in this.

  •  It all boils down to money. (6+ / 0-)

    The country has almost been denuded of all wood, because wood is viewed as such a valuable commodity, the land has been stripped of it.

    Haiti has precious little in the way of natural resources. Without a manufacturing base, economy, money, they cannot afford anything.

    'The work goes on, the cause endures.'

    by shpilk on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:02:19 PM PST

  •  In answer to your question; (6+ / 0-)

    yes, they should be rebuilt to Calif. earthquake standards but after the initial building boom, that will likely be limited to governmental and commercial buildings, life will soon revert to the norm. People won't be able to afford the materials required to build better.

    If New Madrid ever replicates the quakes of 1811-12, there will likely be similar damage across all of the the rural areas effected. There are few building codes outside of most populated areas (I live in an area with no codes or enforcement) and there are still thousands of old brick buildings including those in in Memphis and St. Louis that will collapse in a major quake.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:08:15 PM PST

    •  The national balance sheet of the country is (3+ / 0-)

      swimming in red ink. Where they get the money to build government buildings, schools and hospitals to any standards is a fiduciary impossibility.

      Without billions in aid, none of that will happen.  

      Without billions in investment, any aid provided will prove to be a temporary respite from spiraling back into abject poverty over time.

      Sustainable solutions require not only aid, but foreign investment to make an economy out of almost nothing.

      'The work goes on, the cause endures.'

      by shpilk on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:16:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It's a classic catch-22. They need a stable government to encourage investments and they need investments to bring about stability.

        No country can function with an 80% unemployment rate. (At least that's what I think I read. We would have a total collapse here at that rate.)

        "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

        by sceptical observer on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 07:42:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Florida's codes became a lot tougher after Andrew (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, betson08, jayden

    Shame it takes a disaster for people to learn.

  •  Even the Presidential Palace collapsed (6+ / 0-)

    It's pretty tough - and expensive - to design almost any building to survive a magnitude 7 earthquake.

    This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around!

    by Snud on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:18:09 PM PST

  •  Interesting diary, poor title (6+ / 0-)

    "Soft bigotry" just doesn't fit here. I mean, who would be the bigot? The lack of building codes is a reflection of bone-crushing poverty, not bigotry.

    But the issues you reflect on are well worth reflection upon as Haiti prepares to rebuild, and the international community prepares to help.

    "Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common." Dorothy Parker

    by dedmonds on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:25:39 PM PST

  •  This reminds me of a show I watched (8+ / 0-)

    a few years ago where a graduate student who had witnessed the devastation of earthquakes in El Salvador, set about designing a low cost re-inforcement for mud brick constructions.

    The home was called the 'Adobe House' where

    He’s betting on a reinforcing system that’s never been tried before – a combination of string, bamboo, timber and wire outside and inside the walls.

    Here is Dominic Dowlings web page with full discussion of his field research, application and implementation. He also took this on a show in Australia called 'The New inventors' there is a great video on this page of what he did.

    Not sure how things turned out as this was back in 2005/2006, but I imagine with cheap materials such as these, education would be the main ingredient missing.

    A couple of photos.

    Those folks who are trying to get in the way of progress - let me tell you, I'm just getting started. I don't quit. I'm not tired; I'm just getting started.

    by Unenergy on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 06:33:37 PM PST

  •  Haiti (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I suspect that main public buildings will be rebuilt to a higher standard.  No way this can happen with private homes.  What they need to do is send down craploads of plywood, 2x6 and nails as part of the aid.  Haitians are very handy people - they'll be able to build out of that and only use concrete for the floors.
    I don't buy the line that the US has been oppressing Haiti for years - they have had an unfortunate history, but some of the blame is their own.  But this is something that can be done for them now.
    In a perfect world, Port-Au-Prince would be redesigned and rebuilt in a much better way, but that just isn't going to happen.  But people are a lot less likely to get killed if a plywood house falls on them.  Also, these sorts of houses often hold up better in hurricanes than concrete - especially if, as part of the aid, they are sent roof clips.
    Pres. Obama can even spin this as job creating for the wood manufacturing industry and earn a couple of points out of it.

  •  Wood (0+ / 0-)

    Concrete costs a lot more than wood and while all the wood in Haiti has been cut, what better aid when lumber is in a prolonged slump than to give wood for houses. Canada has billions of pines dying from disease but the wood is still good in the early stages, everyone could benefit.

    This seems naive but the more I think about it why not?

    If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Dalai Lama

    by ohcanada on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:52:45 PM PST

  •  Great diary, RL Miller. But I have to say that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I, too, have a problem with the title. Bigotry is bigotry - when is it ever soft? I have never understood that phrase.

    He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

    by StateOfGrace on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 08:58:11 PM PST

  •  If in the rebuilding of Haiti, Haitians are (4+ / 0-)

    employed in apprentice roles across the building trades, wouldn't that be a "two-fer?" It would create its own technically skilled building workforce with hands-on experience, knowledgeable  and hopefully committed to enforcing building standards in any future construction.

    When life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.

    by beegee kochav on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 09:30:37 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the diary. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, jayden, sherijr, RLMiller

    I enjoy your work.

    "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

    by Cure7802 on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 10:06:09 PM PST

  •  I see this issue as a perfect point of what Repub (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, RLMiller

    Republicans want ... NO REGULATION, NO BUILDING CODES,

    Republicans see this as government intrusion, as the heavy head of government ... Well republicans feast your eyes on what happens without it!!

    Seismologists in India recognize that multistory  concrete structures are far more vulnerable to collapse than single story bamboo homes (h/t to divineorder).

    And many of the poor on the subcontinent build multi level concrete structures to house their families without codes or rebar and are subject to earthquakes.

    Before we pick on them maybe we need to help them improve their lot.

    Don't want to pay for the uninsured? You already are! All You MoFos are Going to Pay!

    by Clytemnestra on Sat Jan 16, 2010 at 10:14:04 PM PST

  •  The tragedy inside the tragedy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, RLMiller

    Everytime a natural disaster hits a poor community, it's worse because everything in the physical infrastructure is inadequate to begin with.  And one of the tragedies is that the poor people always seem to get shuffled out to the most dangerous places.

    Haiti needs doctors and lawyers, but they also need to get their own aristocracy in the habit of treating their people as though they were, well, people.

  •  Hotels should be built better... (0+ / 0-)

    I hope that Haiti can get more resorts who will build quality hotels...this would create jobs.  The United States has made a effort to keep Haiti poor. Just think if we did not do this we would not be sending millions today.  Will America every learn?

  •  This is the price society pays (0+ / 0-)

    for spending money for war and economic speculation, instead of spending for social needs.  Decent, safe housing is a social need, for Haitians, and for anyone else.  That the international community has permitted the grotesquely unsafe building practices exposed in Haiti and elsewhere is to our collective shame.

  •  Anybody know how (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the Victorian timber-framed buildings, came through all this?

    I know there used to be some, because my husband came across a book, by accident, today while googling for timber-framing stuff!

    Like these or the book mentioned here.  (Please note, the announcement in the 2d link is from 2000; Amazon currently says this is a rare and EXPENSIVE item!)

    Anyway, anybody know if any of these survived the shaking?

    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 03:09:39 AM PST

  •  Suppose Haitian houses were pre-built steel boxes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    like these?  There is a whole new trend out there to re-use old unwanted shipping containers as homes. You can stack them 2-3 high, they go up quickly and relatively cheaply. And even if substandard foundations causes one to slip off, you can bet it won't crumble and bury the inhabitants. Check it out.

    Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

    by bigtimecynic on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 06:36:59 AM PST

  •  I do not know why (0+ / 0-)

    Some want to make this about republicans and government regulation.  This is about construction standards not government regulation.  These terms are not always the same.  The LDS church had twelve chapels in Haiti.  They all survived with minor damage and are being used as shelters for thousands of people of all faiths.  These building survived because that church had standards even though the government did not.  True they had north American resources.

    Metal Cargo containers seems the fastest solution for now.  You must protect the metal because it will rust over time.  However, in the hot sun I am not sure they will be that comfortable. You can stack these 5 high but I would not do so.  I would stack them one high and then allow light construction to be built on top of these.  This light construction would be expected to get lost in a hurricane(just as trailer houses are not expected to survive much here).  The metal container would be the safe room.

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