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100 days after Haiti quake, LDS relief efforts persevere

Published: Friday, April 23 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof.   (Intellectual Reserve Inc.) The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof. (Intellectual Reserve Inc.)

Editor's note: Second in a four-part series looking back at post-quake efforts in Haiti as Utahns and the LDS Church rushed to help provide humanitarian aid.

SALT LAKE CITY — Three months after Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake, the numbers seem overwhelming — a death toll climbing toward a projected 300,000 and a million or more Haitians homeless.

Humanitarian relief efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have resulted in equally considerable totals — more than a million pounds of food delivered and another half-million pounds of additional relief supplies provided.

And temporary shelters built through LDS-sponsored efforts? Just five.

More than 1,000 times that many Haitians took refuge after the quake in tents and on blankets on LDS meetinghouse grounds throughout Port-au-Prince.

The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof.   (Intellectual Reserve Inc.) The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof. (Intellectual Reserve Inc.)

Five shelters — it certainly wasn't from a lack of desire or effort.

Nor is it any different than what other charity and relief NGOs — non-governmental organizations — are experiencing in Haiti, said Lynn Samsel, the LDS Church's director of humanitarian emergency response and community services.

"It's a challenge not just for us — it's something every NGO and relief organization is struggling with there," said Samsel, citing the Red Cross' projections to build 50,000 small shelters in Port-au-Prince; they've constructed about 1,000 to date.

After spending five days in Haiti soon after the quake, he returned last month for two weeks to oversee the anticipated building of hundreds of shelters for families recommended by local LDS bishops after meeting certain criteria.

One key stipulation — proving ownership of a parcel of property at least 11 feet by 14 feet or having permission from the actual owner to reside for a minimum of two years.

The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof.   (Intellectual Reserve Inc.) The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof. (Intellectual Reserve Inc.)

Employing local cash-for-work crews, Samsel and LDS humanitarian officials were ready to start building the simple shelters — each one 9 feet wide by 12 feet wide, with a tin roof, a double-layer of tarp on all four sides and, if possible, a poured-concrete floor.

Seemingly simplistic, they were more stable and secure than some shelters built by other organizations. And considerably more stable compared to Port-au-Prince's bloated "tent cities" — tents and shacks crudely crafted from blankets, tarps, cardboard, tin and boards.

Once ready to start, the LDS effort faced hurdle after hurdle.

The availability of building supplies was consistently inconsistent — one day, no lumber; the next, no hardware — and so on.

The greatest challenge was a lack of appropriate or ready property — some still buried in debris, some inaccessible because of surrounding rubble, some threatened by unstable neighboring structures, and some without proper ownership or permission.

The church has since hired a local building contractor to oversee future efforts while continuing to donate to other NGOs, such as International Relief and Development, which is building multi-shelter communities on open properties.

Soon after Haiti's quake, the LDS Church began its blitz of food and relief supplies and sent its first-ever volunteer team of doctors and nurses — 14 specializing in trauma, orthopedics and emergency care — to provide early response medical aid.

Besides trying to provide shelter, the church's primary focuses are establishing a bishop's storehouse to store and distribute provisions and aiding in employment opportunities.

The LDS Church has property and plans to build a bishop's storehouse in Haiti, but the Freres neighborhood land is still housing some 360 homeless, with the meetinghouse grounds now clear of temporary residents.

Deploying an employment specialist and small management staff, the church has established an office in the Centrale Ward meetinghouse that works with bishops to pair individuals with prospective basic-wage jobs, such as the United Nations-sponsored cash-for-work program and groups like Catholic Relief Services and MercyCorps.

Other efforts include working with other NGOs to restart a projected 100 businesses that existed prior to the quake and to foster new businesses.

Another partnership program provides mentoring to would-be employees, as the church "hires" — or pays — individuals during a short training period while a business provides training and job experience for that company or its industry in general.

Still, assistance and aid seem to crawl in a country where even before the quake infrastructure was lacking and the Western Hemisphere's most impoverished economy struggled to meet the demands of a population exceeding 9 million.

"It's a unique situation — there's nothing to compare it to," said Samsel, who then did just that by matching it against the February earthquake in Concepcion, Chile — a quake of considerably greater magnitude resulting in much less destruction.

The use of quality construction materials and practices coupled with an adherence to current seismic codes kept Concepcion damage primarily to older homes and one much-photographed apartment building. While an estimated 500,000 residents were left homeless, others in Concepcion and in neighboring cities were able to assist.

Much of Chile's ensuing relief needs were met internally, with only a small portion of the LDS Church's offered assistance being requested.

"In Haiti, it was the entire city [of Port-au-Prince] — there was no part of the city not touched nor damaged," said Samsel, adding, "In Haiti, everybody was in the same boat."

LDS aid

Since Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake, the LDS Church estimates it has delivered more than 1 million pounds of food — most shipped from the United States and the Dominican Republic, augmented with some purchased locally.

The church estimates it also sent an additional half-million pounds in other relief supplies.

The totals do not include additional supplies — such as hygiene kits, tents, blankets and medical supplies — given to other charity- or relief-based non-government organizations (NGOs) in Haiti.

Through the first eight post-quake weeks alone, LDS Emergency Services shipped the equivalent of 55 truckloads of relief supplies to Port-au-Prince, including:

894,592 pounds of food

16,070 water-filtration bottles

104,924 hygiene kits

11,760 blankets

4,300 first-aid kits

2,711 tents

2,400 tarps

600 quilts

25 medical-supply modules

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

COMING SATURDAY: Revisiting the post-quake successes and challenges of adopting Haitian orphans.

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