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article imageOp-Ed: How Haiti's shipping containers can become new homes

By David Silverberg     Jan 23, 2010 in World
The housing crisis in Haiti could be eased with an innovative solution: transforming shipping containers into starter homes. Find out how a group of researchers could turn this wild idea into reality.
The Haiti earthquake has suddenly shocked 1.5 million people into homelessness, especially affecting Haitian orphans. One of the more under-reported issues concerning this disaster is emergency housing relief and where to place the homeless.
Some companies have stepped up to help. InnoVida has donated 1,000 small homes to the region, and these 300-square-foot structures are made of epoxy, fiber and polyurethane panels, materials often used in boats and planes.
It's a good start but why not extend the housing relief effort with material already found in the region? Shipping containers are reportedly commonplace in Haiti, and these structures are sturdy, stable and weather-proof. Plus, some researchers believe they work as starter homes in the Caribbean.
A group of researchers from Clemson University, calling themselves SEED, intend to speed up efforts to bring this idea to Haiti. For several years, they've been developing a barge-shelter made from shipping containers strong enough to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.
How does it work? Well-placed holes are cut into the sides for light and air. The exteriors are coated with insulating ceramic paint to make the boxes liveable. The containers would also be outfitted with a starter garden -- a 55-gallon drum filled with dirt and planted for “emergency food restoration.” Reused tires would moonlight as instant raised beds. Waste units are implemented within the ports.
SEED is also trying to look at cost-effective solar energies to power cooking units.
According to SEED's website, "a 40-foot shipping container can carry 67,200 pounds and resist overturn when exposed to winds up to 140 mph."
Right now, SEED wants to increase their productivity in light of the recent earthquake. Martha Skinner, assistant professor and team member of SEED, said, "This situation [in Haiti] which is so sad is forcing all of us to be quicker to implement something of great need while people are ready to help. Logistically, getting containers to Haiti is one of the biggest hurdles now, with the port being a complete wreck."
Looking at how integral temporary housing has become for Haitians, SEED's project is the ideal solution, for now. Government and private resources should help SEED overcome the transportation challenges in order for the shipping containers to reach the right areas. Public attention could help raise funds and attract home-design partners. Corporate sponsors can pony up some cash to help speed up SEED's production.
While medical supplies, basic food and water and technical aid is a priority in Haiti, projects like SEED deserve consideration. They might not sound glamourous but their practical applications can turn unlivable space into desperately needed housing.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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