Seeing beyond the present situation

By Kip Scheidler, Habitat for Humanity International’s senior director of global disaster response




Download this year’s Shelter Report, “Housing Cities after a Disaster.”


I remember as if it were yesterday what it felt like as I walked through a totally devastated small town in El Salvador just days after the January 2001 earthquake. A few masonry storefronts stood while the side walls of those same stores, made of adobe, lay on the ground. The rest of the structures in town, also made of adobe, were history. The only thing remaining from the 100-plus-year-old Catholic church was the bell, which was suspended from a tree in the church’s plaza. The priest was living under a tarp. More than 90 percent of the town lay in rubble. And yet I wasn’t overcome with a sense of hopelessness.

In that small town, there was clear leadership. The mayor, the priest, business owners and community leaders were able to quickly articulate their vision. They had resources, though limited, and were able to see how what they had — plus what my agency had — could result in a better tomorrow. They could see beyond their present situation.

Contrast that to what I’ve seen in Haiti, where things most often feel overwhelming. Humanitarian veterans who have been in the business far longer than I say they’ve never seen anything like it. There is so much to do, and every move in any direction is intrinsically connected to another complicated issue.

When you go from rural to urban, the issues become very complicated very quickly. Habitat’s 2012 Shelter Report, “Housing Cities after a Disaster,” lays out some of this complexity, makes solid recommendations and hopefully contributes solutions for the future.

We have to learn how to make situations in Port-au-Prince feel a bit more like that village in El Salvador — where a vision is held by the affected population, and organizations like Habitat are seen aspart of their solution. We welcome your contributions to the dialogue.