UMCOR Haiti's Footbridges project proposes to erect five footbridges across a ravine so that the community's residents may safely cross during the rainy season.
By Jean Gaby Nord*
November 22, 2013—Imagine being prevented from doing ordinary household tasks – shopping for food, conducting business in the city center, and sending your children to school. Now imagine that if you attempt to perform these everyday tasks, you risk losing your life. Well, residents of Bristout and Bobin, two densely populated neighborhoods outside of Port-au-Prince, need not imagine — it is their reality.
Home to 24,000 people in an area of just 25 hectares, Brisout and Bobin are separated from the main portion of Port-au-Prince by a wide ravine. The neighborhoods sit on sandy soil that erodes easily. Although relatively stable during the dry season, the rainy season creates landslides and turns the ravine into a raging, impassable torrent. This, combined with the extremely high population density, renders conditions in and around the ravine deadly. In fact, almost every year people die attempting to cross the river.
Hit hard by the earthquake in 2010, a number of humanitarian agencies provided immediate assistance to the communities in the form of clean water, construction of public toilets and provision of health clinics. Later these interventions were replaced by the repair of homes and construction of temporary shelters. However, the issue of safe walkways and bridges remained unresolved and a top-tier concern.
To resolve this issue, the United Methodist Committee on Relief office in Haiti (UMCOR Haiti), proposed the construction of five footbridges. These bridges will allow residents to safely walk across the ravine and to connect the two neigborhoods with the larger community.
Through UMCOR Haiti’s discussions with the community, the team designed two of the five as covered footbridges for the wider part of the ravine to allow them to be used in part as a public space. In addition to the bridges, UMCOR Haiti will incorporate public green spaces at the end of the bridge and paths, including lighting, benches and landscaping, so not only can people use the bridges to cross the ravine, but they will also serve as a focal point for the community, giving residents a space to relax in safety.
According to Gareth Lewis, UMCOR Haiti’s Shelter and Reconstruction Coordinator, UMCOR took on the project not only because the community wanted and needed it, but because UMCOR could make a huge difference in their lives. “We could see how important this project was to the neighborhood. We no longer wanted to hear about people dying trying to cross the ravine to go food shopping” said Lewis. Furthermore, “by adding public spaces we will seek to make people’s lives a bit nicer as they will have a safe place to sit in the sun or relax in the evenings.”
At the time of this article’s publication, architects completed the project’s designs. UMCOR Haiti expects to complete the project by the spring of 2014.
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*Jean Gaby Nord is UMCOR Haiti’s Shelter Engineer and has been with UMCOR Haiti since March 2013.
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