At the beginning of March we headed to Bonneau for a week of community and client meetings for our two projects in the Northwest of Haiti. The team consisted of Chelina Odbert (Executive Director), Joe Mulligan (Board Member and Civil Engineer), Jessica Bremner (Program Director), Amy Linsenmayer (Landscape Architect), Andreas Quednau (Founding Partner, SMAQ), and David Harmon (Architect). Arriving in Miami from all over the globe we headed to Port-au-Prince where we then caught a small plane to Port-de-Paix. In Port-de-Paix we loaded in a truck to St. Louis du Nord where we would be staying at the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission our client for one of our projects in Haiti. For all but Chelina this was the first time any of us had been to Haiti and our first day was indicative of what would be an exciting and fruitful week of work.
Haiti, roughly the size of Maryland, is the western third of the island Hispaniola (shared with the Dominican Republic). Flying into Port-au-Prince one can see the difference in environmental degradation between the different regions of the island. For our projects in Haiti, environment is a critical element of livelihoods and economic development. One of the things you hear about Haiti, and what became extremely apparent over the week, is the need for transportation infrastructure. Our airplane runway in Port-de-Paix was unpaved and also served as a road for pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars alike. The only paved roads we encountered in the Northwest were along the main roads in the larger towns and one or two smaller communities. What does this lack of transportation infrastructure mean for Haiti? It means a 20 km trip in a military grade truck can take up to two hours. It means in places like Bonneau food insecurity and economic development is worsened by poor access that inhibits the import and export of agricultural products (nationally 50% of food requirements are imported). It means that construction, water access, sanitation, and electricity access and costs are directly related to transportation infrastructure. Our projects are directly affected by transportation infrastructure, which limits material access, markets for micro-enterprises, and construction equipment. This means innovation is key, creating new materials and repurposing old materials is required, and community participation is more then essential.