East Bay company designs shelter for quake victims

April 23, 2010 7:35:38 PM PDT
For many Haitian families it could be months or even years until adequate shelter can be built. Many are living under tarps or quake debris and that is the best they can do.

One East Bay company thinks it may have a solution.

When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Port Au Prince, Haiti last January, 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured, and 1 million survivors were left homeless. With so many homes and buildings damaged, many Haitians are struggling to stay sheltered.

"You can put up a tarp for $25, but that's all that it is," says Ted Garfinkle. "They are putting it up with sticks."

Garfinkle is with Lafayette-based Green Earth Packaging. The for-profit company designs Earth-friendly products. He says they have a solution to the tarps.

"This is a temporary shelter for the disaster relief effort," he said during a demonstration.

It is made entirely of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard.

"It's completely water resistant on the outside," he said. "It's flame retardant on the inside."

"What you can do design-wise with corrugated is just so cool, and really magic," adds Green Earth Packaging President Karen Levan. "All those people and those little sticks for these tarps, and one of the things that got to me the most was the fact that they had no sanitation, and none of the shelters offer a sanitation solution."

So, they designed one. Each one-room shelter ships flat on a wood pallet which becomes the foundation. A single shelter can be assembled in less than 30 minutes. They are sturdy, but still light enough to be easily moved into place.

What this company has designed and built for disaster relief includes the shelter, which can accommodate eight to 10 people, a waterproof cooler and a portable toilet. Company spokesmen say the total cost of the entire package is about $400 per unit.

The "Green-To-Go-Shelter" costs roughly the same as the tents currently being supplied by the United Nations relief project. The advantage at Green Earth Packaging is that not only will it protect people from the elements, but all the materials used are environmentally-friendly and can be recycled once they are no longer need.

Graham Hough designed the cooler and toilet. It also ships flat and provides an instant solution to the two major problems of how to store food and carry water, and how to dispose of human waste. The goal is to limit the spread of disease that frequently follows disasters on the scale of the quake in Haiti.

"This surface here can be kept clean. You can put a fresh bag in here for use. You can have multiple uses," Hough explained during a demo. "That's why it has a lid, and when you need to, you just slide this out, and the bag would be full."

Green Earth Packaging says it can have shelter kits ready to go in weeks, but bureaucracy has kept them from getting there. It has appealed to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund and the United Nations who is overseeing shelter relief. The company is now looking for help to get their shelters through before the situation in Haiti deteriorates further.

The makers of the Green-To-Go-Shelter say it should last six-months, under normal conditions. Fitting a tarp over it can make it last even longer.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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