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Posted 6/3/2014

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By Amanda Ellison

Home to a tropical paradise, a nation fights for its survival every single day. Since its inception, its people have faced insurmountable challenges and hardships; but they are fighters and overcomers, seeking a greater future for the next generation.

Because of its natural beauty, the country is referred to in French as “La Perle des Antilles,” (The Pearl of the Antilles).  Sharing a border with the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Haiti is the third largest Caribbean nation, yet one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its population living in extreme poverty.

In 2010, Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake, resulting in 230,000 deaths, 300,000 injuries, and displacement of nearly two million people. Following immediate relief efforts, the U.S. Congress provided $1.14 billion for reconstruction to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010. Of that, approximately $651 million was specifically allocated to begin rebuilding Haiti. USAID is the lead United States government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.

USAID called on the expertise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, to assist in rehabilitating and improving more than 150 kilometers of rural roads in Haiti. Poorly designed, constructed and maintained feeder rural roads (FRR) are a major constraint to agriculture development in Haiti. High transport costs and significant spoilage due to the poor condition of roads in Haiti have reduced competitiveness in domestic and regional markets.

Rehabilitation of FRR is a part of the Feed the Future program, a U.S. government effort that aims to address the root causes of global hunger by sustainably increasing agricultural productivity to meet the demand for food, supporting and facilitating access to strong markets, increasing incomes for the poor, and reducing malnutrition. USAID’s goal for the program is to improve the condition of the roads and bridges that farmers and growers use to transport their goods to market.

Recently, a Jacksonville District project team traveled to Haiti to begin their assessment of the road conditions.  

“It can be challenging to try and take engineering methods and solutions we would utilize here in the United States and apply them in a place like Haiti where the materials, labor, construction methods and maintenance are not as standard or reliable as we are used to,” said Crystal Markley, engineering technical lead for the Haiti FRR project.  “It requires some creative thinking outside of the box and a focus on what longer term sustainability means in rural communities.”

But Markley believes the Corps is up to the challenge and can offer viable solutions. “I think the Corps has a team of professionals that have unique and varied skill sets that they bring with them to the Feeder Rural Roads project.”

Markley is one of several Engineering Division representatives on the multidisciplinary project team, along with Tony Smith, Pierre Massena, Stephen Meyer and Edgardo Velez, as well as Edwin Cuebas, Construction Division and Tim Brown, Programs and Project Management Division.

The team will assist in providing appropriate, sustainable solutions to the roadway, drainage and structural features of the rural roads. An example of this is the use of a hard ford crossing in the place of enclosed culverts, which are currently used but often become clogged and blocked during large storm events. The alternative is a fortified road that will allow water to pass without significant damage to the road infrastructure. Vehicles, horses and pedestrians can cross during smaller storm events.  The open crossing eliminates the concern for sizing a culvert or the need to clean it out.

In the process of accomplishing this goal, the team is also striving to build capacity in the local construction market by hiring and mentoring local firms to be able to bid on the construction contracts to complete the work. The intent is for contractors to hire locals in each of the communities, to assist in the construction of the road and bridge, thus stimulating the local economy. Jacksonville District will also assist USAID in administering contracts by providing oversight during construction.

“If the members of the community assist in the construction of the roads, they will also have the knowledge and skills to assist in the routine maintenance of the roads in the future,” said Markley.

“When I travel to developing counties, I am always impacted by the lack of access to clean water and basic infrastructure that many people live with on a daily basis, and also how inventive they are in utilizing their environment and the few resources they do have to create a life for themselves,” Markley added.  “Observing what the Haitian people go through to grow produce and transport it via horse, donkey or humans on poor roads for long distances to market a few days a week is amazing.  It really makes you thankful when you return to the USA and can drink safe water from the tap, flush a toilet and drive greater than 15 mph on relatively smooth, safe roadways.”

Haiti earthquake Haiti Feeder Rural Road Jacksonville District U.S. Agency for International Development U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE USAID